by Charlene Burgi
Last week my husband Jack and I put into practice something I mentioned in a previous blog. We started the process of backfilling the floor of the greenhouse with good soil mixed with composted material. This bright idea will extend the growing season by providing a protected area allowing veggies to grow when temperatures drop below freezing.
This process included first lining the floor with cinders to aid with drainage. We added wire to ensure rodent and gopher control. This was no easy task since the greenhouse was already standing on a grid of 4×6 lumber and anchored to the ground. Jack has the patience of a saint and carefully measured each piece of wire and secured it to the wood. He believes in the adage, “Measure twice, cut once.” I then lined the wire with cardboard with less concern about the perfect fit. The cardboard will add more composted material to the soil in time.
The next step was to add the soil, which Jack brought up from the field below the house. That soil sits within the valley where the topsoil is rich in nutrients. Nonetheless, he mixed the soil with well-rotted manure from the donkey’s corral and other material composted from the garden last fall. And did I mention we needed yards and yards of material to accomplish this task?
Jack then created a staging area to bring tractor loads of the prepared soil close to the entry of the greenhouse doors. I began to shovel the soil one scoop at a time. This landscape contractor of mine smiled at my effort, then grabbed two wheelbarrows and lined them up. The combined length of the wheelbarrows was slightly less than the width of the tractor bucket, but it saved hours of backbreaking work attempting to move the soil one shovel at a time.
Once the greenhouse floor was up to grade, I watched Jack wheel the big tractor loader around the staging area as if it were a spatula in the hands of a seasoned pastry chef icing a cake. The once turbulent ground became smooth and appeared light with no sign of compaction. It was like watching an artist at work with this huge piece of machinery.
I admired the outcome. Having tried to use the tractor in the past, I knew this was not as easy as he made it look. I also acknowledged that he was an efficient master at installing the three foundational elements of a healthy garden: drainage, grading and irrigation. A garden is sure to fail or cause problems for the homeowner, as well as the plants, with even one of these three elements poorly done.
Grading prevents water pooling in any area and ensures that water is not directed toward your home or your neighbor’s. The grade should be smooth and set to mimic its natural surroundings.
Drainage ties into the grading process. Good drainage prevents plants from sitting in water and developing root rot. Drainage should be designed to spread the water evenly and slowly over the property so it can sink into the soil rather than create divots and cause erosion. Bioswales and seasonal dry creek beds can be used to accomplish this goal.
Last, but not least, is installing an efficient irrigation system. Overhead spray systems require head-to-head coverage. This means the spray from at least three spray heads should be throwing the water out far enough to reach the spray heads around it. And drip systems should be considered for all vegetation blocking the spray from any spray head. Note that mixing different kinds of nozzles or different types of irrigation systems on the same valve can create havoc in an otherwise healthy garden.
There is so much information on this subject. It takes a tremendous amount of knowledge as well as a strong back to master the foundation of a beautiful garden. Note I haven’t mentioned anything about putting plants in the ground. I classify that as putting pictures on the wall after the house is built.
Is there a National Landscaper’s Day that I don’t know about? These professionals beautify our world. The work is hard, dirty and, at times, backbreaking. Their reward is the outcome of the job. We should think about creating such a day for them. At least, there should be some acknowledgement of this profession when we see masters at work.