Now the trouble is that Susan and the garden tour host began with relatively small lots. We have three, and we began with not so much as a tree.
I read about lasagna gardening, and about Ruth Stout's method, but Handsome Man was leery regarding our compacted construction clay. The Seven Year Plan includes planning two beds, tilling the hard clay, adding compost, tilling again, laying wet newspaper down, and mulching the whole thing. I call it “Half-Baked Lasagna,” because it includes a layering of newspapers. From there all similarity ceases. With two new beds a year, seven years will go fast. There are undoubtedly better methods, including those already mentioned, but this is ours.
In Year One, last year, compost was easy since Handsome Man worked at a farm then. We have a pickup, and mulch was cheap last year. But then there was the tiller. Some poor little woebegone tiller borrowed from the brother-in-law, who borrowed it from an uncle, was the first lost victim of the Seven Year Plan. It wouldn’t run, then it wouldn’t move the clay, then it wouldn’t run again. Handsome Man hurled it across the yard while yelling something about a varnishing piece of mechanical wizardry. Varnishing? Handsome Man has a PhD in Creative Cursing, which is handy when tilling up a new bed. By the way, when it was safe, I learned that “varnish” refers to when an engine gums up. One year later, the weeds were nonexistent, and the bed had some initial plantings.
This year, Year Two, we knew what we were in for and prepared in advance. My sister and I pulled all the slick sheets out of the newspaper before ever leaving the recycling center. Last year’s use of slick paper netted many unwanted toadstools in the flower bed. One hundred bags of mulch lay piled in the driveway in anticipation. Handsome Man bought a new pickup with which to haul the rented tiller. Bagged compost, purchased on sale in July and totaling only $20, meant no more shoveling doo-doo out of the back of the pickup. New pickups aren’t meant for that sort of degradation anyway.
Labor Day is for labor when you are on the Seven-Year-Plan. I painted the outline of the beds with orange parking lot paint in the morning. The shape of the bigger bed looked odd from the street, so it was enlarged toward the east. Then it was beefed up southward and again eastward. It became large. Very large. Handsome Man kept saying something about not mowing as much. I tried to mentally fill the space with dainty dianthus and frilly delphinium, but had to resort to envisioning mighty hibiscus clumps and daunting masses of 15-foot pampas grass. The first step in the Seven-Year-Plan, planning the bed, was abandoned of necessity.
Tilling went well from my sitting-on-the-mulch-pile perspective. At times Handsome Man commanded the tiller like a pro. At other times, the tiller pulled him around as though it were in charge. At lunchtime, Handsome Man’s teeth still chattered from the tiller vibration of the morning.The bags of compost had gotten wet and sticky in their two months behind the house, but we carried them to the new beds forty pounds at a time. The good news is that tilling is always easier the second time through. Stinkier maybe, but definitely less labor intensive.
Newspapering was another story. Do not attempt to lay newspaper down on a windy day. That note bears repeating. Do not attempt to lay newspaper down on a windy day. You can’t water it down quickly enough if it’s windy outside. Trust me on that one. Newspapers ended up in the city park. Honestly, it couldn’t be helped. Do not attempt to lay newspaper down on a windy day.
Mulching was relatively painless. Bags of mulch don’t weigh what bags of compost do, and by then we were inspired by the vision of Year Two’s project end.
The result? The Year Two Plan was for two beds totaling 884 square feet. We now have over 1300 square feet of newly tilled, composted, newspapered, mulched earth awaiting spring planting. With over 17,000 square feet left, perhaps a Fourteen Year Plan is in order. But I have a Seven Year Itch.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on October 24, 2007. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)