Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Reclaiming lost ground

Last year's mulching experiments around the wild edges of our yard were a big success, so I've been reclaiming quite a bit more nettle and bramble covered ground this year using the same techniques. Some areas I'm planting into and other space is going to rest it out under cover until next year.

The most exciting area is a patch I call 'Damson Corner' on account of its numerous damson trees. I've laid on lots of cardboard with inert top soil laid on top of that. Through these layers, I've planted two goosberry bushes, three black currants, plus lots of wildflower plants - my first range of cosmetic/medicinal herb plants. There were already a number of damson trees, an elderflower, a pear and a plum tree here, so this is now making up my first little area of forest garden.

So for my technique - the bushes all got planted straight into the ground and then were carefully covered with cardboard and soil, making sure to overlap the cardboard by at least 20cm each time to prevent weeds breaking through the joins. Then the wildflower plants were planted on top of the cardboard:

First I marked out the divisions between areas of different plants using a little scattered compost.

Then I gathered together my equipment - knife, bag of compost, plug plants.

Then I laid out my plug plants so that I had them relatively equally dispersed and at the correct spacings.

Then for each plant, I cleared back the soil, cut a little slit in the cardboard underneath..

..then heaped on the compost so that I could plant the plant on top of the cardboard and covering the little slit so that the roots could get through to the soil below.

et voila!

Once the plants are up to size, I'll mulch around them with straw to make sure I don't get any weeds taking over.

This project follows on from some very successful experiments last year, when we used two different mulching methods and both to areas of ground completely covered in nettles and brambles. Firstly, for a patch that we had no intention of planting out straight away, we laid on black fabric mulching sheets - the kind you buy on large rolls from the garden centre. We just laid these on top of the young spring weeds, weighed them down using big stones and left it from spring last year through until early spring this year. The results can be seen below - lovely clear soil! Amazing considering what was there last year.

The second patch got covered with cardboard, soil and straw using the same methods I've outlined above. This year, the cardboard has broken right down into the soil and most of the straw has too.

Very few nettles have broken through and for those that have, we've now applied another thick layer of straw to try and hold them back. The comfrey plants are coming through good and strong and should be ready for their first harvest later this year.

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