Our 20 x 20 Vegetable Garden

So a few posts back I updated you on our spring activities. The Handyman and I broke ground on our 20′ x 20′ vegetable garden and we put down a silage tarp to do several things: kill off the remaining grass, warm up the soil, and draw up the earthworms for some all-natural aeration and decomposition. The silage tarp remained on the garden plot for about a month, and boy did it work!

The grass is completely dead, there are visible holes from the worms, and it was easy to feel how much warmer the ground was just by sticking your hand into the soil. That little trick saved us a LOT of work!

Every year the Handyman takes our shredded leaves and grass clippings in the fall over to a pile in our neighbors’ field. They let us borrow their wonderful tractor with a vacuum attachment on it that just mulches and sucks those things right up. Now that they’ve been sitting for a few years getting nice and composted, we want our leaves and grass back!

I’m not a compost expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I do know that good compost is made from a mixture of brown and green vegetation. Compost from just dead leaves will be nitrogen-poor and take years to decompose. The addition of a “green” (like lawn clippings) adds nitrogen and speeds up the composting process. That said, our compost probably still could have used another year. In the future, we are going to be more conscientious about stirring it, and possibly even add another nitrogen source. I bet we’ll have plenty of chicken manure! Still, even partially decomposed leaf compost attracts worms, and worms leave worm castings, which is fertilizer gold. It can also help to hold moisture in the ground, similar to how mulch works. So even though it’s not completely composted, we decided to go ahead and dump it on and mix it with the top few inches of soil. We even got the kids to help.

We purposely only went down a few inches into the soil to not bring up buried weed seeds or disturb the natural layers of soil. Ideally we would have used a broadfork instead of using a tiller at all, but since they run around $300 we decided to go with a more economical approach this year. The Handyman has plans to construct his own broadfork in the future. Did I mention that it was raining the entire day we did this? Baby Cakes was enjoying watching the tilling from underneath the umbrella.

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The next step was putting up the fencing. We are using the same 6′ tall 2″ poultry netting that we used for the chicken run. Buying it in bulk really saved us some money. It will be buried in the soil about a foot out from the edge of the fence, just how we did the chicken run. It won’t keep everything out, but it will deter some of the lazier critters. We are also using some more landscape timbers instead of 4×4 posts. They are considerably cheaper, and I really prefer the rustic look that they add. We also got some free labor from Matt, one of the Handyman’s friends. He dug the holes for the landscape timbers to go in. Better him than me!

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Here’s Matt, hard at work digging holes.

On a note totally unrelated to the fact that Matt was drinking beer while digging, a few of the timbers are … slightly … off. Only a foot … or two. But we now have a door we could drive the tractor through, so I guess that’s a plus.

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While Matt and the Handyman were doing all the heavy lifting, I decided to go ahead and make my garden rows. Taking the advice I got from Dax, I decided to make my garden match my tools. The rows are about two feet wide, which seems to be pretty standard for a small garden like ours, and the space between rows is exactly as wide as our rake. It’s not an exact science, but I can definitely see how taking the time to match to your tools will save time and energy in the long run.

I got to see what it was like to have an audience while working. Look at all these big strong guys watching me do the work. No one is even pretending to help! I guess that’s how the Handyman usually feels, huh?

I ended up making a path down the middle, going around the pallet wood herb planter that the Handyman made me for Valentine’s Day this year, that split our eight 20′ rows into sixteen 9′ rows. The rows run north-to-south, so the sun will rise at the back of the garden, and the front will get the afternoon sun. I like this layout because it allows me to better arrange the plants so that the tall ones won’t shade the short ones. My indeterminate tomatoes will go along the back row, for example, so that they’ll get lots of sun without acting as a screen. I want to be able to control the shade my plants get, so the default is to give them all full sun. Soon I will be building shade cloth tents to protect some of the more sensitive plants from that hot afternoon sun as we progress into summer. My goal is to be able to grow lettuce all season long.

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So it was a lot of hard work, mostly by the Handyman, but it is finally finished! The plants we started from seed have been in the garage hardening off, getting ready to be transplanted. Mother’s Day is when my local expert tells me it’s safe to plant in the ground. I can hardly wait!

I am so excited for my finished garden. It’s funny, because the Handyman and I were so concerned that we were getting in over our heads with a 20′ x 20′ garden, but now that we see it we wish it was bigger! Luckily the Handyman thought ahead, and put it where it will be easy to expand it another 10 feet next year.

The next few projects will be planting our vegetables, running water out to the workshop and/or building a rainwater irrigation system, painting garden markers with the kids, building a duck house, and possibly another giveaway! Stay tuned!

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