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Home Kitchen Garden Bare Ground

Each time I mow the lawn, I dump the clippings in the garden. The accumulated depth of the fresh clippings might total four feet, but the clippings decay into the soil. By next spring, the soil is bare… though weeds abound.

This past week finally produced the kind of weather that gets me started in my home kitchen garden. While conventional wisdom says to get out there as soon as you can work the soil, I tend to delay a few weeks. There are a few advantages to this strategy:

1. When the soil first thaws, it tends to contain a lot of moisture; working in the mud is unpleasant, and waiting a week or two lets the soil dry out a bit.

2. I’m usually pruning and grafting fruit trees until their buds start to open; I do this in late winter because those days aren’t miserably cold, but it means I’m busy in the trees when my soil thaws.

3. After the soil thaws, it takes a few weeks for the weeds to start growing. Were I to start in my planting bed at this time, I might not spot the dandelions, thistle, and elephant grass that rooted last summer. These grow rapidly, and in a few weeks their new growth will make them easy to spot; I begin spring planting with a ceremonial removal of last year’s weeds.

4. Sure, cold-weather crops such as peas, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, and onions will withstand cold days likely to hit after the soil thaws, but they won’t do a whole lot of growing. I’ve seen peas sprout in the produce drawer of my refrigerator where it’s always about 42F degrees. But after a month at 42 degrees, the peas were still just sprouts. Why not let the soil warm just a bit so the seeds feel cozier when they go in the ground?

A First Look at my Garden Bed

Last week, I finally assessed my garden bed. To put things in context, here’s how I left things in the fall:

I mulch between planting rows with grass clippings from my lawn. I pile these on all growing season. They keep the weeds down except along the plantings—wherever I maintain a gap for vegetables to grow, there is a green oasis of competing weeds.

Home Kitchen Garden Mint Family

If you find a square-stemmed plant with purple blossoms in your home kitchen garden, it may not be a weed. These are members of the mint family, and you may be growing them as herbs. The square-stemmed plants in my kitchen garden are probably catnip. I don’t want them there, so they’re weeds.

I pulled the tomato stakes and threw most of the dead tomato plants in the compost heap, and I swiped a few panels of the garden fence to put around fruit trees I planted in November. Finally, my kids raked the lawn and tossed all the leaves onto the planting bed.

There was little snow over the winter, so there was nothing to compress the leaves and encourage them to decompose.

Here’s what I found in the garden:

The grass-clipping mulch is gone! It has completely rotted away to bare soil. I’m used to finding a thin cap of dry, decomposing grass on the soil at the beginning of a growing season, but there is none.

There are leaves all over the planting bed, though most had gathered at the east end, blown there by the prevailing wind and trapped by the garden fence. The prevalent weed is dandelion, but there’s also a patch of something out of the mint family—I guess catnip because it has no minty scent.

Rhubarb on the left, and oregano on the right are making excellent starts in my home kitchen garden. I reserved about four feet at one end of the raised bed for perennials, and these are the ones that thank me.

Already, rhubarb is pushing up through the leaves, and there’s a lot of green deep under the dried stalks of last year’s oregano. I planted a single pot of oregano four years ago, and it’s now a four-foot diameter circle that laughs at winter chill.

Finally, I found clusters of delphinium leaves in a corner where I planted them when I planted the oregano. I don’t know what came over me that day; it seems a travesty to have given up garden space for something I’m never going to eat.

Just One More Thing

As I scanned the garden bed, imagining where I’d plant each type of vegetable, I noticed a small patch of grass clippings where a tomato plant had stood last summer. I suspiciously (and gently) moved some of the grass aside and made an aggravating discovery: a rabbit had beaten me to my garden. The nest held at least four nearly-naked babies.

This is the third season I’ve found such an obstacle in my planting bed, and I’ve managed to work around rabbit babies in the past. Thankfully, mother rabbit didn’t approve of my meddling, and she carried her babies off to a new nest later that day.

Home Kitchen Garden Rabbit Babies

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4 Responses to Assessing My Home Kitchen Garden

  • Daisy says:

    Oh, my, that’s a young baby bunny!! Still wrapped in mama’s fur, too.

    I haven’t tried grass clippings as mulch, if you can believe it. I usually just compost them. I’m making changes this year, trying to be more efficient. This could cut down on time spent weeding.

  • admin says:

    I wrote about using grass clippings as mulch in the bottom three posts on the blog page, Small Kitchen Garden Compost. When I glanced through those posts just now, I notice I left out two important points:

    1. Just as a compost heap holding fresh lawn clippings can put out a pungent aroma after rain, so can a kitchen garden mulched heavily with grass clippings.

    2. Walking on grass clippings in your garden makes your footwear most inappropriate for house-wear; many’s the time I’ve swept up fallen Klingons from the kitchen and dining room after tracking them into the house.

    It seems that in some on-line discussion in the recent past, I read the suggestion to cover my grass clipping mulch with cardboard or wood when I’m working in the garden – or even leave cardboard on it through the season. Seems like a good idea, and I’ll give it a go this year.

  • Amy says:

    That plant of which you speak may be creeping charlie. It is a member of the mint family, but doesn’t smell minty. It can be somewhat fragrant though.

    I’m always torn as to what to do with the leaves that find their way into my gardens & landscaping. It is a huge task trying to get rid of them all, but the oak leaves seem to never ever break down, so something needs to be done I suppose.

    Perhaps if I finally get a compost bin going, I can try shredding them and adding them to the mix.

  • admin says:

    Amy: Thanks for the comment. Your observation about the mint-family plant in my garden reminds me of a short conversation I once had with a farmer. I pointed out some beautiful chicory flowers along a farm path and asked, “What do you call those?” Without missing a beat he replied, “Weeds.”

    With regards to oak leaves: I did an experiment some 13 years ago. I dug a hole about two feet deep in my garden bed in late autumn, and poured about 15 gallons of vegetable matter into it. Then I filled the hole back up with soil I’d removed to make it.

    When I started to work in the garden next spring, I dug where I’d buried the vegetation. I found no evidence that I’d buried anything there; the organic stuff had decomposed and diffused through the soil.

    I don’t know what you’ve already tried with your oak leaves, but a compost bin, barrel, or tumbler oughta help a lot. In the meantime, you could try the experiment I did: bury a bunch of those leaves under soil and check on them four or five months later.

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