Monday, January 11, 2010

Thank the heavens for a new Gardening year!

Wow, didn't last year's gardening just suck? Well, ours did anyway. If yours didn't, you can just keep that to yourself....

So anyway, onward and upward, right? We learn from our successes and our mistakes, and remember that Mother Nature can be a right bitch, and that we will only only only purchase Certified Disease-free seed potatoes, we will not use saved seed potatoes from last year, and we will destroy any potato volunteers from last year, now won't we? Yes we will!

So anyway, I'm knee-deep in my Fedco catalog (what, you don't know what Fedco is? Oh good heavens, get thee to the website!) picking plants, daydreaming about how gorgeous my garden will be this year, and reading Thomas Keller's new "Ad Hoc at Home" cookbook, which is its own form of cruelty in these desolate, vegetable-less days. Sipping my husband's latest home-roasted Brazilian coffee. Small joys are key.

Part of my plan for this year is to finally embrace that a large chunk of my garden is almost unusable due to the nearby trees. It's not that they shade too much, since my garden is to their south (though at the height of summer there's a bit of cover, but this is probably a good thing). But a tree can out-compete my little seedlings for water & nutrients any day. Pair this with the fact that at least one of these trees is a black walnut, which will actually poison surrounding plants, and I've been fighting a Sisyphean battle here. So I am going to embark in a multi-prong strategy to deal with the situation.
  1. The 6-ish wooden-sided raised beds I built last year? Yeah, those are awesome. I'm building more of those. Oh yes.
  2. Tomatoes (the most susceptible to juglone poisoning from black walnuts) simply will not be in my ground-based garden. I can't fight that anymore, I concede. Instead, my tomato plants will all be in homemade Self-watering Containers, protected from poisoning and the vagaries of my own watering habits....
  3. I am going to install some kind of barrier between the bottom of the northeast corner boxes and the sub-soil. Now, I must admit, this makes my earth-mother/permaculture/holistic cycles/soil-system side go batshit, but the simple fact is, the trees are taking all of my plant's food & water--these two entities are not playing nicely, and they need to be separated (I'd put the trees in a time-out if I could, but that hasn't proved possible.... yet). So, I will till up that section, move all the soil off to one side, and put down a barrier, then the boxes (which will, of necessity now, be about 12" high), then refill with soil.
And so, I come to the question and answer portion of this blog post. For all you gardeners out there, especially if you've done something like this in the past, what barrier method did you use? I know there are several existing systems that follow a plan like this--the latest edition of Square Foot Gardening does it, for example--but I don't have access to those books right now. In my ideal world, this would be a permanent (or at least mostly-permanent) thing--I wouldn't have to dig it all up and start over every year or two. And it will have to have some kind of drainage, so just a solid layer of plastic may not work (then again, maybe it will--I'm open to suggestions). My two best ideas right now are to either use some sort of permeated gardening cloth, but I worry that this will still allow too much passing back & forth between the boxes & the trees. My other thought is a good 2-3" barrier of large gravel. So what do y'all suggest?


  1. I think the gravel will allow too much water and nutrients to leave the beds and feed the trees. What about a 2-3" layer of clay? It's semi-permeable, the trees won't likely invade as quickly, and it will separate the bed from the subsoil in an EarthMother-Happy kind of way.

  2. When we broke ground on our main garden bed we were astonished to find that roots from a mulberry tree traveled the entire length of the bed, which was 33 feet long. The bed began just under the drip line of the tree, and obviously the roots extended WELL beyond that line. We cut them out, and it was a bitch. But I couldn't see any other solution. (The tree is dying a slow death anyway, so I don't feel too bad.) Now mulberries aren't much in the allelopathy department, especially compared with the walnut family, so that's not the concern. But yes, feeder roots are a major issue. Can you get at those roots well enough to cut them? I have seen a section of maple feeder roots from underneath a compost pile that look like one of those green scrubby pads for cooking pots. They will rob nutrients out of enriched beds like anything!

  3. @historicstitcher: that is a fascinating idea--I'd've never thought of it. Do you have any suggestions for where I can get clay in those quantities? I might be able to hit up some of our local university Ceramics classes to order in a few extra bags of some of the basic clay components, then I could just dump it in and spread it (the ambient moisture would probably turn it to clay pretty quickly). Other thoughts? We actually don't have much clay in our soil 'round here.

    @Kate: oh believe me, I cut them wherever I find them! Pains in the butt, aren't they? The first year I sliced up a lot; the past few years I've found a few more growing through, but nothing near as bad. But I know there are some roots that are down lower than I typically till or dig, and I'm hoping to just make a barrier between them and us. *sigh* Maybe I should just build these beds on my concrete patio. Grrrr. >=(

  4. one of these days you should just hack up that concrete and move your patio area to over by the trees.
    Not like that's a big job, right?

  5. You're welcome to some clay from my house--it's all we have in our soil.

    Due to a serious weed problem, I put down some weed barrier at the bottom of my raised beds. You can get some that is woven so finely no roots can penetrate it. It's been in place for 2 years now. It works well against Canada Thistle--I don't know about tree roots though.

    My raised beds are only 6 inches deep, and things seem to grow pretty well in that amount of soil(except for carrots, for which I have a deeper bed).