It is not technically springtime in Kansas City, that is sometime between April 15th and April 30th if you follow frost dates. But, for all practical purposes, it's spring. The mornings are chilly to cool and smell of that intangible freshness that perfumers always attempt to imitate, but fall short of. By two o'clock the temperature has, for the past three days, been above 55 degrees. My tulips are showing short green leaves, no matter the trampling from the boys, and there are little patches of wild strawberry leaves amongst whatever grass can manage in the neglected space of my lawn. Which, short of mowing, is everywhere in my lawn. Never been one to perpetuate the habits of of the British aristocracy. (More on that another time.)
For the past 5 months I have been practicing a haphazard and scattered form of French Intensive,and Lasagna gardening. With the loss of my job in August, plenty of free time on my hands and noticeable loss of income I decided last September that I better make good on my intentions of cultivating a kitchen garden.
Unfortunately there were a couple of problems with this plan. One, I had attempted a super lazy form of lasagna gardening before only to be outdone by the lawn/weeds so I was really going to have to change my methods. Two, gardening although one of the oldest and most natural forms of food production in the world can be alarmingly expensive in this modern, post-industrial society. Because of this, especially for a renter, it is very rare to come across a ready-made garden bed. Usually what you get is a terribly root-bound lawn over a layer of broken concrete, glass, and just plain garbage that the builders decided they didn't have time enough to haul away.
Enter French Intensive gardening. In this style you "double dig" your garden. Digging the top 10-12 inches of soil out, setting it aside, and loosening the remaining 10-12 inches with a gardening fork while adding compost, peat etc. You then replace that top soil you dug out and mix the whole thing up with the garden fork. Because of the depth of arable soil in your bed, you can plant closer together and the roots of your plants will naturally grow downwards. This gives you a perfect opportunity to "cleanse" your soil of rocks and whatever else people like to bury. I had one boss tell me he found carpet underneath his lawn. Nothing grosses me out more than used carpet, nothing. In any case the French potagers were developed in this style to compensate for decreased gardening space and to maximize output. Pretty much everyone who gardens in France uses this method. I don't even think they have a name for it, they just call it gardening.
I only had one problem with this method. By hauling the dirt up and out of the ground and stirring it up, you end up destroying one of your garden's best friends, worms. I mean, you could buy worms, but ninjas is broke and unemployed, and trying not to pay for things that nature can just give her. So I would have to find some other way to finish preparing the soil. I turned to my old, slightly suspect, friend Lasagna gardening. I figured, if I turned the sod, the grass would break down because there was no sun to feed upon and the roots would break down because they weren't able to extract nutrients from the soil hence no encroaching lawn in my garden plot.
I squared out two spaces in the yard on either side of our patio 4' X 6' each , and dug up the sod square by square in the French Intensive way, then following the habits of the Lasagna or Compost gardener I flipped each piece of sod over, grass side down and proceeded to litter it with the last of the grass clippings, sheets of unused newsprint, and broken down cardboard boxes. After that we got so into the habit of throwing kitchen scraps out onto the patch that even while visiting my "mother in love" (more on that later) I felt compelled to throw vegetable scraps out in her backyard also. Composting is addictive!
Fast forward to March after the snow from 3 snowstorms had melted and I had this beautiful, brown, startlingly dirt-like soil. Sure, there were leftover onions and blackened banana peels that hadn't quite broken down scattered here and there, but even though they were recognizable they didn't seem to be attracting any flies. And by now there were plenty of flies hanging around the compost pile.
By then we were putting our kitchen scraps in an old popcorn bucket and I could move on to the next stage of plot development. I hauled it over to the local state run composting site Missouri Organic and got a trunk full of fresh (and by fresh I mean steaming and smelling like the cow it came from) garden soil and mulch for the startling price of $6.00 USD. Local, organic, and CHEAP! I spread those out, soil then mulch, and as a finishing act, I took the fork and loosened the soil bit by bit, 10 inches deep in 6 inch increments. After a final watering to jump start decomposition my beds were prepared.
Hopefully, after this year, I won't have to buy garden soil anymore. I think mulch will always be a necessity for water conservation and weed deterrent. I am attempting to garden organically in the ground, and in all containers but the raspberry bush and strawberry plants. So I will be employing several methods to dodge and confuse pests as opposed to using herbicides or fungicides (more of those next post)