Putting the Beds to Bed: Home Edition

Having made my manure-supplier call for the farm gardens (and realizing it’ll be a week or two before I’ll be able to get that project underway), I settled on using these lovely weekend days to focus on getting things in shape at home.

The home gardens don’t get much love during the regular farming season–they’re pretty low maintenance with a lot of perennials and bulbs and nothing that is extremely finicky.

Occasionally I’ll put something in that’s marginal, but my usual policy on those types of things is “live and let die.”  If it finds a happy niche and can thrive, great–if not, I’ll dig out the stump and toss it in the compost when I get around to it.  Sometimes by that time, the plant has decided it does want to live after all.  But not always.

The upper part of the backyard fits nicely into this “live and let die” policy–it’s mostly creeping charlie.  One of the previous owners tried to stave it off by planting shade-loving grass back there, but I don’t mind the charlie–the bees seem to like it and it doesn’t need mowing much.

As long as it doesn’t get in my raised garden beds (and it doesn’t), I’m content with letting this terribly invasive bane of a lot of lawn-owners have its way back there. The other denizen of my backyard is an enormous cottonwood tree, which I love for its stature, but hate for its seasonal mess-making.

Of course it’s dropping leaves now, and the leaves of the cottonwood are a persnickety beast.  They have a waxy coating that makes them resistant to breaking down like a well-behaved maple leaf does.  But I don’t let this bother me too much–I use them every fall to (very slowly) build up the sloping areas back there.

berm of leavesRight now there’s also a mound of grass clippings in the backyard that has been sitting there molding for several weeks, since that night I was headed downstreet to a party and ran into a couple guys mowing one of the larger yards in my neighborhood.  A yard that’s unsprayed.

They were dumping the clippings in the back of their pickup, so I asked if I could have them.  They assented, and when I cam home that night I had a nice pile of good organic material.  I’d thought I was going to bring it out to the farm to help with composting, but it hasn’t gone anywhere.

So I’ve been using that organic matter in putting everything to bed around the house–over the layer of compost I cleaned out of my bin and spread over the lower part of the raised bed:

sheet compostingOn top of the apple tree bed in front, to hold down the layer of maple leaves I raked out of that part of the yard:

apple tree bed fall 2009And also over the maple leaves raked into the bed below the window box:

front bed fall 2009The last spot to get a dose of the grass clippings is the upper part of that raised bed–the part that holds the perennial herbs.  I was kicking myself for not cleaning the paint chips out of there better, and then doubly kicking myself to have waited until the cottonwood leaves started to fall.

As a result, I had to clear a thick layer of cottonwood leaves out before scooping off the top layer of my precious (precious!) soil into a bucket for disposal.  I’m so angry with myself for not insisting on tarps earlier in the house-painting project–at times it feels like the great Midwestern latex gyre around here.

But after the tossing of the leaves and small branches that the cottonwood also loves to drop indiscriminately everywhere and the scooping of the paint chip-laced soil, I planted a few cloves or garlic in that bed, plus some multiplier (or “potato”) onions, and gave it a nice, fluffy layer of grass clippings.

herb garden fall 2009Right now in this bed I’ve got a nice patch of sorrel, thyme and lemon thyme, a rosemary plant that will get its first hardiness test this winter, French tarragon, a tiny just-hanging-on clump of chives, that domineering but extremely happy sage plant, and a clump of lavender that just keeps going despite its marginal hardiness here.  Oh, and the three mints: chocolate, apple, and what I think is probably spearmint.

The garlic and potato onions are below the sage plant where you can’t see them, along with some other onions and leeks transplanted earlier in the season.

Right now I’d say the gardens are mostly ready for the winter months, but there’s still some annual plant  life left in a few places–the north side garden just keeps truckin’, and I really need to dig out those blasted orange daylilies and cover up the barren soil there, as well as sloping a little better away from the house to prevent basement moisture in heavy rains.

And then there’s the front window box:

window box survivors fall 2009While the nasturtiums all gave up the ghost, some borage (that wasn’t leaning out away from the house too far), calendula, and leaf fennel are still hanging on in there.  It’d seem a waste to yank them out when they’re still so lovely, so I’ll hold off ’til the real winter sets in–and it’s time for the next round of home garden clean-up.


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