gardening from the ground up; starting a new garden


When we moved from our home in Nashville, we had to leave our garden behind.  It was difficult to leave it; we had worked so hard to establish beds and more importantly, spent so much time nurturing plants of all kinds.  From herbs to fruit trees and perennials to attract beneficial insects and butterflies, our garden was a work in progress and we were sad to leave it behind and there isn’t a day that goes by that I do not miss that garden.

When we began the process of searching for a new home in Williamsburg, the layout of the yard was just as important to us as the house itself.  We knew it had to be a space where we could grow a garden that included honeybees and hens.  Luckily for us, we were able to find a home with what we think will be the place for a beautiful garden that will provide us with plenty of space to grow what we need to feed ourselves.  And yes, that is quite a lofty goal, to feed ourselves but  in the grand scheme of things, if all of us made the move to grow something to consume rather than purchasing it all, surely it would make a difference.  Of course, that is  providing it was done organically, but that is a conversation for another day.

For some time now, I have wanted to grow at least 50% of the produce my husband and I can eat.  As urban dwellers, we are restricted by laws that do not allow livestock and we are okay with that, we have no desire to raise animals for meat.  But fresh eggs and honey-those we can produce in our neighborhood and that is a great start. However, unless we get a garden growing, we are going to be purchasing everything from the grocery store.  

For the time being, I have put aside a serious search for employment in the hope of working from home.  Knowing that we would have a reduction in income, we made the decision to build our garden from free materials as much as possible.  Luckily, we have a lot of large trees in our yard and having trees means having lots of leaves!  We gathered up as many as we could and made piles all over the front yard so that they could begin the important process of breaking down into soil.  Gardening naturally and inexpensively doesn’t get any easier than the lasagna method.  Building the beds from the ground up, layer by layer makes beds full of natural humus teeming with beneficial micro-organisms.  The only down side; quantity.  Since everything breaks down over time, you need large quantities to fill beds.  For now, we have leaves and cardboard and a supply of coffee grinds and in time, our own compost.


Recently, I sat down and designed the layout for our garden.  We made the decision to use the front yard for our beds since it gets the most sun.  Our choice of the front yard seems odd to some but in all honesty, what purpose does a beautiful lawn serve?  It is time-consuming, it has to be mowed, chemicals come into play and in the end, you cannot eat it!  We have a dog and she too needs space to run, so the back yard is being reserved for things like a dog run, a chicken coop, a bee yard and whatever else we want to do out there-a barbecue pit comes to mind.


On a recent afternoon, we discovered a bunch of bricks laid out in the front lawn.  It seems that previous residents had a bed in the front yard and over time, the lawn grew over the bed.  We grabbed a couple of shovels and began digging them out of the lawn.


It was an oddly shaped bed built from a random selection of bricks that were most likely left from another project.  They circled a crepe myrtle and looped around a corner of the yard.  Since we were preparing to build our garden, finding free bricks was a happy surprise.  They definitely fit the budget and will come in handy for outlining a bed.


The bricks were in the lawn for some time, the grasses and weeds were well established over the tops of each brick and it was fairly easy to scrape it away.  The unhappy surprise, our soil is mostly clay.

IMG_2409 So what do we have here?  The cardboard serves as a compostable weed stop layer.  It will slowly breakdown and as the process takes place, the plants growing in the lawn underneath it will die.  We have been stopping by a Starbucks regularly for coffee grinds-did you know that they have a “Grounds For Your Garden” program? Not every store participates which is sad but if your local shop does, grab some!  We have been using them in our new beds by pouring some on top of the cardboard and then topping it off with the leaves.  The high nitrogen content of the grounds will help the leaves compost. Even with the discovery of clay soil, we are confident that we can be successful gardening out front.  The truth is, as the leaves, coffee and everything we layer into the beds breaks down, we will have a beautiful, black layer of compost that we can turn into the soil to amend the structure.  While the coffee grounds may not be organic, we are not using any synthetic fertilizers and that in my opinion, is a huge plus!

Be sure to visit here often to see how the garden progresses!

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