Believe it or not, you can have a natural yard without a yard.
First, if you have a balcony, you can put some native flowers on it. Bees and butterflies will find them!
Second, you may be able to join a community gardening program in your city. Working a plot provides all the benefits of the physical act of gardening (it burns almost as many calories as going to the gym!), plus you get fresh, organic vegetables at virtually no cost.
Third, you may be able to use what is called a landshare. Landsharing is a system in which a person who wants to garden but has no land connects with someone who has land but can’t or doesn’t want to maintain it. Someone in your community may be willing to let you tear up a section of their lawn and plant vegetables or native flowers, in exchange for a share of the produce and a reduced need to do yard work.
Small spaces can make a big difference. Together, we can create a healthier environment for ourselves and other species.
Ask a permaculture practitioner to name a design pattern, and they’ll probably describe the herb spiral – a way of creating a lot of microclimates and producing a lot of food in a small space.
An herb spiral is built by piling up a mound of soil. Stones are then placed in a spiral pattern down the sides of the mound, and the soil between the rows of stones is flattened out. This forms a sort of spiral path, which serves as a planting bed.
As the name of the design suggests, it is customary to plant herbs along the spiral. The plants are placed according to their preferred microclimates. A species that likes cool, damp spots can go at the bottom of the shady side of the mound, while a species that thrives in hot, sunny, dry conditions can go on top.
By building up, the spiral creates a lot of planting space in a small footprint. It also makes plants easier to reach.
Building an herb spiral outside your kitchen door can provide you with fresh flavor all summer long.
Every vegetable garden needs paths – if you can’t reach the plants, you can’t eat them.
The simplest layout for a garden is to plant in rows, alternating planting beds with paths. This design, however, results in a lot of space devoted to walking, relative to the space used for producing food. That’s not a very efficient way to garden in a small yard.
Raised beds are a little more efficient. Because they’re higher and easier to reach, the beds can be wider, increasing the ratio of planting area to walking space.
An even better way is a layout called a keyhole garden. This design features a circular planting bed with an open work space in the middle, and a single narrow path connecting the inside to the outside. By standing in the center and by walking around the outer edge, the gardener can reach all the plants to care for and harvest them, while not taking up any more space than necessary for paths.
This image compares traditional rows, raised beds, and keyhole gardens.
Keyhole gardens must be relatively small, since they only work if the gardener can reach the middle of the planting bed from either side. When more space is available, however, multiple keyhole gardens can be linked together in a pattern called a mandala garden.
By using space creatively, we can produce a surprising amount of food, even in a small suburban yard.
No, it isn’t a garden that produces the ingredients for a baked pasta dish. Rather, it’s a type of raised bed that is built in layers, like a lasagna.
The first step in building a lasagna garden is to choose a good location and put down a layer of sheet mulch.
Next, add layers of organic material, such as compost, grass clippings, fallen leaves, or old newspaper. A frame can help to hold the materials together, but isn’t strictly necessary.
A lasagna garden should stand eight to twelve inches above ground level. It needs to be built higher than this, though, because the materials will settle a lot as they break down into soil.
As with a Hugelkultur bed, a new lasagna garden should be watered thoroughly, to help the materials break down and to provide plenty of moisture for the soil. Once the lasagna garden is established, it will hold moisture well and need little additional watering.
Late summer or early fall is a great time to build a lasagna garden. Plenty of yard waste is available for building up the layers. The material will break down over the winter, and will be watered in the spring by rain and snowmelt. Then, it will be ready for planting!
Seeds and seedlings can be planted directly into the lasagna garden. A final layer of mulch – such as straw or wood chips – will help prevent unwanted plants from inviting themselves in.
A raised bed is exactly what it sounds like – a place for plants that is higher than the surrounding ground. There are a number of advantages to raised beds.
First, when plants are grown on a higher level, it is easier for the gardener to reach them. Raised beds reduce the need for bending, squatting, or kneeling.
Second, raised beds are established by building up instead of digging down. This is generally an easier way of replacing a section of lawn.
Third, by working up from ground level, raised beds build soil. Healthy soil helps plants grow quickly.
Fourth, ground-level beds are tempting to walk on, but raised beds aren’t. Resisting the urge to walk on a planting bed helps avoid soil compaction, which is bad for soil quality.
The easiest way to establish a raised bed is to place a frame in the desired location, and fill it with store-bought soil. Frames can be bought at a gardening store, or built at home from scrap wood. Be sure to use wood that is not treated with chemicals, as the chemicals can leach into the soil and harm plants.
The next post will look at a special type of raised bed that supercharges soil and reduces work throughout the gardening season.
We all have to eat. Some people, however, believe that the production of food is unsightly, and should take place far away.
Perhaps this is part of why food in America travels an average of 1,500 miles from where it is produced to where it is eaten. It is also why a woman in Michigan was threatened with jail time for growing vegetables in her yard.
While centralized food production does allow for economies of scale, transportation is expensive, and fruits and vegetables lose a lot of their flavor and nutrition during the journey. By growing edible plants at home, we can enjoy better-quality food while paying less than we would at the supermarket.
Growing food at home also gives us an opportunity to limit how much pesticide is on our produce, to enjoy the health benefits associated with gardening, and to teach children about healthy eating.
It’s also popular in Madison – many people have fruit trees or vegetable gardens in their yards, or are raising chickens as a source of eggs. Those who’d like to help provide local food for others can apply to plant an Edible Landscape on city-owned land. And those who don’t have a yard of their own can obtain a community garden plot, though currently all 61 of Madison’s community gardens have waiting lists!
The next few posts on That Blog will look at different strategies for producing food in our own yards.
Garlic mustard is a plant that tastes like it sounds. In its native range, it has been used as a cooking herb for centuries.
Its native range, however, does not include Wisconsin. Here, the plant tends to spread widely, and kill other plants. It does this by poisoning fungi that live in soil and benefit native plant species.
Garlic mustard is easy to recognize: it has fan-shaped leaves and small flowers with four white petals. Unlike dandelions, garlic mustard is easy to pull up. This is an effective way of getting rid of it.
After garlic mustard is pulled, it can be sent to one of three fates:
- If the area has not been treated with herbicides or other chemicals, the leaves of the plant can be eaten. They are delicious in salads and pasta sauces, or on their own!
- If the plant may have chemicals on it, but it has not yet flowered, it can be composted.
- If the plant may have chemicals on it, and it has flowered, it should be placed in the garbage. This is because the plant can finish setting seed after being pulled, and the seeds can survive the composting process, allowing more plants to pop up the following year.
The leaves of garlic mustard look like this:
The flowers look like this:
A group of plants looks like this: