I moved into my house in November, but didn’t get to work on the back yard until the ground started thawing in late February.
The back yard was covered fence-to-fence with a thick layer of green astro turf, which was a pleasure to rip out, cut up, bundle and slip into the weekly trash pickup over the course of a month.
After the turf (and other junk including rusty old gas grill and stationary bicycle) was gone Boyfriend and I were left with a clean, muddy slate. There was not a weed to be seen, but there was quite a bit of rubble, including shards of glass and chunks of cement and old bathroom tile. We even found a rusted-solid chain dog collar, complete with tags. I’m confident that with a little more digging we could have unearthed a complete canine skeleton, but we decided to leave Fido in his place of rest.
We brought in a compost bin (in the back right area of the photo), and a large pile of Christmas Tree chips that I scored at Mulchfest. Since the whole garden consisted of little more that mud, our primary focus was on bringing in biomass. Nothing wants to grow in old, compacted dirt – plants need nice rich soil full of nutrients and loam.
With help from my Dad and a mini-chainsaw, we chopped down two largish dead trees along the back fence and laid them out to form the sides of the garden beds. We cut and stacked the smaller branches for burning in a fire pit that we got for Christmas (thanks Boyfriend’s Parents for that one). By chopping at the soil a bit we were also able to get the soil to drain so that it dried out – the dirt had been so compacted that water pooled on top of it. With a few bags of peat moss and another several garbage bags of maple leaves that my Mom brought down from her yard in Massachusetts, the yard started looking like a place where plants might actually want to grow.
Then we got a dirt delivery. It was really big and heavy (say, 40,000lbs), but it did the trick in terms of filling up our beds and bringing some good rich soil into the mix.
Boyfriend and were responsible enough to get the dirt in the back yard tested before we started planting in it, and it turned out that there was some lead in there (enough that it was a danger to small kids but not to big kids like us), but otherwise the quality was pretty high. So we shoveled the new dirt right on top of the old stuff and didn’t bother to put down a layer of weed cloth or anything
This is where things start coming together. Although largely empty, the yard is taking shape. The beds are full of soil and seed, and we planted a little apple tree in an attempt at blocking our view of the compost bin. We put in a circle of white bricks (that we scored for cheap at an awesome local restore) around the fire pit and sowed grass seed in one corner (this was at Boyfriend’s insistence. I’m personally not a huge fan of lawn, but now that it’s in and we don’t have to water anymore I must admit it is kind of nice. Plus, the cats LOVE it). At this point there was little to do other than hang out and wait for stuff to grow.
And grow they did. This is mid May. We’ve got edible spinach, arugula and cilantro at this point and most of the rest of the vegetables are starting to shoot up. Our little apple tree is filling out, ivy has taken over the back fence (this is a perennial that we probably couldn’t get rid of if we wanted to), the nasturtiums are blooming, and we’ve hung up the hammock because all we want to do is hang around in our little green paradise.
This is early June. We’ve also put in a small rose bush, an azalia, and a half dozen different perennials the Boyfriend’s Mom brought us from her garden.Some of the vegetables are growing too fast (the spinach is bolting already), and some are still rather wimpy (that means you, beets!). I put down some fish/seaweed mix fertilizer that I ordered from Neptune’s Harvest – it stinks like a bucket of chum but should do the trick.
By mid july the corn is already taller than me, we’ve got little green tomatoes, full-sized green beans (whose vines have taken over an entire fence and the extension trellace that we built for them to climb), big turnips, little beets and carrots, tons of herbs, lots of flowers (including cilantro and squash blossoms and a couple of enormous sunflowers), teeny onions, and a veritable bush of arugula and nasturtium that we’ve been harvesting for over a month already. I just planted another round of lettuce because the spinach has come and gone and the soil was ready for round two – I plan to keep re-sowing until it snows.