We have used several gardening methods in the past and this year we decided to go back to the one technique that proved to be the easiest to care for and appears to have provided the absolutely best harvests we ever had.  Two years ago we used a mulching technique that kept weeds at bay and then provided the best garden spot we ever had last year. We planted corn in that area and canned 110 pints, froze 20 dozen ears and gave away corn to several friends and family. Unfortunately we did not continue with the mulch, so we are doing quite a bit of work this year to catch up.  After this year, we should be set for the easiest and best gardening ever.  There should never be a need to plow or till the garden again, watering should be minimal, and weed control should be easy to maintain.  We have read the book “Lasagna Gardening” by Patricia Lanza and watched the video about Back to Eden Gardening which explains the gardening technique developed by Paul Gautschi.  I don’t know that we are specifically following either exactly but using some parts of each.

This is what the area looked like in early spring. We planted in half barrels last year and decided that this technique is not for us. The watering requirements did not fit our schedules and we still had weeding that required much bending over. Considering that, we decided that going with mulching was best for us.  Many people are happy with barrels and other raised bed options. Isn’t it wonderful that there are so many ways to provide for our families so that each of us can utilizes what works best for own families.

                                             

The beginning of prepping for this year, involved weeding out the barrels, raking out any roots missed by pulling the weeds. The composted soil is now ready to be layered into the garden.
We gathered mulch and additional compost and had piles ready near the garden site.  The mulch was free from the city close to where we live. It is from the chipping of brush that is cleared from the roadways each year. After the first year of decomposition, it is safe for our garden and in years after that it breaks down into nice black dirt that the worms love and the plants thrive in.

The compost is free from friends near us who own horses. They pile the manure outside each time they clean out the stalls in their barn. We try to get it after it has decomposed for a couple of years. It is great compost to add natural nutrients to the garden.

The last item to get together before the actual work begins, is a collection of paper feed sacks, cardboard, cardboard boxes, newspaper, etc. These are all free and friends are usually more than willing to give their “trash” to you and  are layered on top of the ground.  These work as the initial weed barrier to prevent the grass and weeds from coming up into the new compost/mulch layers. I will explain the wooden trough you see in the above picture in a bit.

Due to the weight of the barrels full of dirt, we found that dragging them into position with our UTV was the easiest for Papa and me.  The feed sacks were held in place with a few rocks until the weight of the compost could hold them in place. When you live on top of a hill, you get to enjoy a breeze all the time, but you also have to contend with things moving in that breeze so something to hold down the edges saves a lot of frustration and maybe even some ugly words!

This what the deep layer of compost looked like before any mulch was added. Let’s take a look at the mystery trough on the right side of the garden area.

Papa built this box as a trial this year to plant some onions in. It was secured on top of the feed sacks and filled with compost. This will give the onions several extra inches of compost and will hopefully result in larger onions for the winter.

If there were any question of how fertile and healthy this compost/soil is, I think the size of this worm settles any question at all! 
Finally, a deep layer of mulch is added. It is hard to see in the picture just how deep this all is, but it is well above the head of the rake which is several inches tall.
This is what the rows of cool season plants looked like when first planted in the original area.  
Another friend brought some of these wooden pieces to me. They are bottomless, and hinged. The store nice and flat and don’t require all the extra water that our old barrels did. I’m trialing potatoes, beets and carrots in them.  I’ll update soon when we see how these vegetables are growing in them.
As long as we stay up on adding layers of mulch, we will not have to go through all this extra work again, and the weeds are few and far between. The weeds that do find their way into the garden are easily pulled and tossed.  The last layer of the process is one I didn’t get pictures of. I added a layer of rabbit manure from under our rabbit pens.  This give the plants a nice compost tea drink everytime it rains or we have to water.  This process of the deep layer of mulching keeps the ground from drying out.  We have been blessed with rainfall so far this year, at times even more than needed.  One additional advantage is that the ground does not get muddy or soggy.  It might be a little spongy, but I can walk into my garden after a 6″ rain with no fear of leaving footprints or even tracking mud into the house. 
This technique uses free and natural materials.  We did use our UTV to drag barrels and Papa used the tractor to move compost and mulch. The benefit of being a Modern Missouri Pioneer with this is that it saved some manual labor, aching backs and potential blisters. However, nothing about this technique relies on modern conveniences and could easily be done off grid with just a little extra labor.

  
Since the “big” garden area has been composted and mulched in years past, we decided to just till the weeds under and put on a thick layer of mulch to prepare it for the coming season. We will plant our corn, squash and pumpkins in this area this year and maybe change it up next year.  So far the weeding has been minimal and the corn and squash are growing great.  I need to take some more pictures and show some progress shots.  We planted our corn in intervals this year.  We planted five rows, waited two weeks, planted 5 more rows, waited 2 more weeks and planted 5 more. The plan is that we will not have all the corn ready to pick and process at one time.  So far, all of it looks good, except the last 5 rows. The germination of these seems to be inconsistent, and while it seems to be coming up well at this point, the germination has been very spread out.

The following pictures are some shots I snapped a few weeks ago in the garden. I’ll take some more this week and do some current shots. 

Happy gardening! Hopefully each of you is having great success. The weather has been more cooperative than usual in SouthWest Missouri this year. 🙂
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