Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I'm Dreaming of a Green New Year

It's -20 outside, with a solid layer of snow on the ground, and yet all I can think about is the garden I plan to plant this spring. We always want what we cant have, don't we? Hahaha. Come summer I'll be wishing I could be skiing, but that's beside the point.

I spent the past spring fighting off the influx of weeds that was pretending to be my lawn. The place I purchased had been sorely neglected for 5 years by the previous owners, more than enough time for dandelions, crab grass and thistle to take root and choke out the actual lawn. Tackling them gave me a good idea of what kind of soil I'm dealing with when it comes time to plant an actual garden.

Absolute crap.

For whatever reason, builders here are allowed to put a layer of sod down on top of the clay and call it good. No top soil, nothing. So, I have to figure out how to make a wad of clay into a passible environment for vegetables to grow in, and I have to do it as cheaply as possible. I'm suddenly glad I started thinking about it now, rather than waiting for spring to figure out a solution.

My plan basically comes down to adding sand to loosen the material up, some cheap topsoil to give it a bit of a starter, and adding as much organic material as possible to try and enrich the soil. Friends of mine have a farm I could get some manure from, but I'm not sure I could handle a 5 hour drive in a Smart car full of manure. I'm fine with going out of my way to grow organically, but I think that well exceeds my limits. Maybe I'll do it if my allergies are really bad and I can't smell anything.

I remembered that Starbucks has a program where you can get free 5lb bags of used coffee grounds for your garden, so I figured I'd check that out.

I went to a couple of stores and was told that while they knew about the program, they didn't do it. Talk about wind out of my sails; I was quite disappointed, but not entirely deterred. Thankfully, Starbucks isn't the only place that makes coffee. I took an empty yogurt container into work and emptied the used grounds from our floor's coffee pot into it. I'm going to need to take bigger containers in to work, as the yogurt container was full before the end of the day. The container is currently sitting on my back porch frozen solid waiting for spring, and will soon be followed by many others. I've also been saving my used tea leaves as well to add to the mix. Egg shells and vegetable peelings will round things out until I can get my hands on some manure. I'll have to talk to some of the farmers at the local farmer's market about that. Perhaps trade a load of manure for an afternoon of shovelling?

The other half of the mix, the sand, is going to be a little more difficult. If I was up north near my parents it would be much easier because a) they have a truck to move it with, and b) there are public sand pits where you can go to get free sand. Here, not so much. I've heard there are places in town you can go to get free sand to put on your walkways during the winter while it's icy, but I'd want to make sure I wasn't leaving people with slippery sidewalks so that I can have an inexpensive garden. That wouldn't be fair to them. The other thing I'd have to check is whether or not they've mixed any salt into that sand. It would kind of defeat the purpose of mixing up healthy soil if I throw salt in there as well.

Topsoil, unless I can find some somewhere that's been screened, will probably be coming from Canadian Tire. I can get 10lb bags of the no name brand soil for $2. Seriously, using brand name soil is like drinking brand name water: pointless. I'd like to remove the cost of this one, but it's going to be difficult.

Once I've got that under control I'll be putting in potatoes, carrots, squash, lettuce, beets, peas, rhubarb and possibly asparagus. I'd like to put in onions and garlic, but they need to be put in the ground during the fall to grow to any appreciable size, as we have a fairly short growing season here.

What do you guys think, am I missing anything important? If you have any cheap tips or ideas for rehabilitating clay soil I'd love to hear them.



Moonwaves said...

Just trawling through the archives so forgive me if you have since come back to this point and addressed it again. Not sure how far along you are in your garden planning or actual doing but for the purposes of this planing will assume nothing is done yet. Apologies if I'm writing very basic stuff you already know - it's hard to tell but better to tell you something you already know than not tell you something you don't know that might be useful.

Using raised beds is a good idea if you can - there may be some cost in constructing them (or not, if you have spare materials from your house renovation lying around). The soil will be better because it's not so much mixed in with the bad soil that's already there. The temparature will be a little higher than so you can plant slightly earlier and potentially grow a little later than otherwise.

If you're interested in using the cardboard weed suppression idea, start collecting up cardboard anywhere you find it. You can end up using a surprisingly huge amount of it and it does need to be renewed every year or so.

Can you find a friend with a bigger/different car or trailer to go and pick up manure with you? Is it already well-rotted manure? That wouldn't smell so much - I definitely wouldn't want to be driving with the tear-inducing smell of relatively fresh manure nearby. But a fairly general rule is never refuse free manure or compost unless you absolutely have to.

Check out freecycle for topsoil or compost or post a wanted for it - you might have the same issue (i.e. collecting it in a small car) but it's surprising how often people are trying to get rid of it.

You will be starting a compost heap, won't you? Or have one already (even if it can't actually compost in the cold of winter)?

Cassie said...

You're right, I haven't done anything yet. There is still a good solid lift of snow in the back yard, and the front lawn only started showing through the snow this week.

I may do a raised bed in the back yard if I have enough stone to do it. By cardboard weed suppression, do you mean just laying it down on top so the weeds don't poke through? I have lots of cardboard downstairs, and I have a roll of black landscape fabric as well.

I'll have to look into freecycle, that's a good idea. I will be starting a compost heap when the other part of my fence is up, unless I get ahold of one of those composting contraptions that speed things up. In the mean time I'm just saving my egg shells, tea leaves and coffee grounds from work to mix into the soil.