Thursday, August 23, 2012

Herb Garden - Laying the Groundwork

When Andrea told me her plan to expand the herb garden, and include so many different plants, I was afraid it might be overly ambitious. We had always planned to expand it, but now that the time has come, I have to wonder if we'll actually pull it off. This past week, though, we've made some progress towards that goal, so I'm feeling hopeful.

We have, literally, completed the groundwork for the herb garden. This past weekend while visiting family we were able to acquire a truck load of horse manure from my uncle, the horse trader. Our plan was to apply this manure the same way we had the rabbit manure last year in the section of the herb garden that has provided us with such great yields of peppers, basil, and other herbs. So before applying the manure we needed to put down cardboard in the section that had not yet had cardboard applied. This was only the 10 feet or so from the fenced in area to the porch, and then the strip in front of the porch. We were able to complete this with old boxes that we had been saving since we moved here.

Once the cardboard was down I spread the manure. The amount we had was enough to cover the sections recently covered with cardboard, as well as the section around the air condition that was covered with cardboard and straw. We also needed to cover the section that was planted in flowers, because the only soil there was depleted soil that had, in the past, been used for potted plants. Andrea dug up the bulbs she had planted there, and we snipped the tops off of some flowers that she thought might yield viable seeds. We then pulled up the plants and layered them on top of the existing soil. After doing that I covered it all with a layer of manure. I'm suspecting that this section may end up out-performing the others, since it has the extra layer of soil, even though it is lacking in nutrients, as well as the added organic material beneath the manure.

After spreading the manure, the next step was to cover it all with straw. We ran out to town one day and bought three bales of straw from the local farm supply store. I had no idea how much we would need, but was fairly confident that three would be enough. It turns out, however, that we really only needed about a bale and a half. I'll easily find a use for what was left, though, so am not concerned with over-buying. Since we had plenty, we tried to apply a nice thick layer.

Now we just wait, and let the composting process run its course. I haven't checked the planting dates for all of the plants Andrea has planned, but assuming nothing goes into the ground until at least April, that gives the material in the beds 7-8 months to break down, which should be more than enough time. We could have waited until later in the fall, but we had the manure and wanted to go ahead and get it done as soon as possible.

I did learn a few things from this experience. First, a load of manure, filled even with the top rails of my truck, will cover approximately 300 square feet. Of course, had we spread it more thickly, it would have covered less. It took less than 2 bales of straw to thickly cover that same 300 square feet. Going forward I'll probably plan for 150 square feet of coverage per bale. The other thing that I learned is that, even though spreading manure like we did will make your front yard smell like a barn, the scent goes away fairly quickly. Within a couple of days I noticed the smell decreasing, and by the time it was fully covered in straw, I really wasn't noticing much of any scent.

This part of the project was fairly inexpensive to complete. Since I was already making the drive to visit family, the only additional cost there was the cost to drive the truck instead of the car. I figure that I burned approximately 4 extra gallon of gas by driving the truck, which works out to something like $14. I also had to buy straw, which cost approximately $12 for two bales. So, for under $30 in expenses we were able to acquire the materials to greatly improve the soil in the herb beds, which should, in turn, greatly improve the yields. Had I found a local source for manure, that cost could have been reduced significantly. Also, straw can be purchased for less than I paid, but doing so requires driving farther, which is probably only worth it if buying several bales. I think that eventually I may take the trailer and buy a load of straw, but for now, it made sense to me to pay more for the few bales I needed, instead of driving farther.

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