Done with Stage One!

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Yesterday I was supposed to drive my daughter to the city an hour away to take a five-hour driving course. At the last minute, her high school roommate arrived at the local train station for an overnight stay and Lucy was able to switch the driving course to next weekend, so instead of seven hours of commitment for me, there were only two. I spent the remaining five hours weeding the 200-foot future garden bed — and finished it!

I was tired and slightly foggy from dehydration but very happy. This was a huge grunt job. I could hear Allen in my mind saying, “Good girl.”

You may recall I started this work in early July.

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I paused for a week to work on fencing and the area I had weeded with so much sweat sprang right back after a single rain.

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Meanwhile, the original plants were now nearly a meter tall. I am not quick on the uptake, but I had begun to wonder about the identification of it as jewelweed. Where were the orange flowers? The hollow stalks? My right arm ached from pulling these plants from the ground one by one. A couple of days ago I went searching in the book of weeds Lucy gave me for Christmas.

Oh, dear. Lamb’s quarters. (I have read about lamb’s quarters for years but pictured it looking very different and close to the ground.) Even more than stinging nettles, lamb’s quarters is edible and nutritious — it is called the Prince of Wild Greens and often compared to spinach and chard — but it is considered a weed by most people. One of its common names is Muck Hill weed, due to its fondness for manure piles. (My soil had been mixed with my composted manure pile.)

However, what made me truly anxious were the lines: “Each plant can carry up to 75,000 seeds” and “Lamb’s quarters can take over a garden, so if you find it, pick it before it goes to seed.” I was looking at a forest of lamb’s quarters, all thick with seeds, soon to drop. I now regarded my two heaped compost bins with the wide-eyed fright of someone looking at a nuclear reactor.

I wanted every lamb’s quarter out of that garden bed immediately. 

I pulled plants yesterday like a machine. Forget the compost bins! (I’ll add emptying them to the list). I made a giant stack of lamb’s quarters in the back acres. By the time I dumped the last load at 5 PM, I was blurry with exhaustion. My right elbow throbbed. Nevertheless, I felt great. I may not have skills, but I can work.

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As you can see in the top photo, there is still plenty to do.

  • I need to use a spade to cut out all the sods directly under the wall which the excavator could not reach (the boulder in the garden in the foreground is swamped by sod).
  • There are twenty feet behind me that require shoveling, where the excavator bucket dropped but could not reach to spread topsoil.
  • I need to measure the height of the wall at various points down its length and figure out the varying widths of the garden bed. I learned about the proper proportions of a garden border from Cassandra Danz in her funny, helpful Mrs. Greenthumbs gardening books. There is classic proportion, which you figure out by taking 1/2 the height of your object, and adding 1. Thus, for a 5-foot stone wall: 2.5 + 1 would mean a 3.5-foot-deep border. However, my wall starts out at 18″. I do not want an 18″-deep bed. It would be lost in the grass (the future grass. Use your imagination!). And at its widest spot, a classically proportioned garden would still be a tiny ribbon against an enormous view. Therefore I plan to use reverse proportion. In this formula, you put the garden bed at the beginning of the equation, to end up with the height of the wall. 8-foot-deep garden bed: 4 + 1 = 5-foot stone wall. (This is a lot of logic and math for a scatterbrain like mine. I will need to do all the math for varying heights ahead of time or I will become hopelessly muddled, staring at the wall in perplexity.)
  • Once I have the varying widths marked on the ground with stakes, I need to lay out a hose, to create a gently curving edge down the length of the border. This edge I will lightly mark with spray paint directly on the dirt. (Yes, I know, but it is a very narrow, light line.)
  • Once I have the edge, I can begin assembling and fitting together the large stones that will enclose the raised border. Given that Damon excavated subsoil, and then replaced it with topsoil mixed with compost, this border will not start out very “raised,” but I expect it to become deeper with time and amendments.
  • Once I have the edge, I can till inside the border, killing any new growth of weeds. I will throw out as many of the thousands of small rocks as I have energy to remove, and rake the soil smooth.
  • Once the soil is smooth, I need to cover the whole garden with a  light-blocker, to keep down another weed explosion. I plan to go to the dump today in search of newspaper. The good thing about newsprint, as opposed to black plastic, is that it will degrade and disappear into the soil over time.
  • Once the soil is covered with newspaper, I plan to cover the newspaper with straw. I have found straw over near Lake Champlain and will pick it up this week. Straw is the stalks of cereal grains, thus its seed heads have been removed. (Though it’s very tempting to use hay for mulch, the thought of introducing more unwanted seeds into this bed makes me shudder.)
  • Once the garden is covered with newspaper and straw, I need to gather all the excess stones and rocks and dump them in the woods.
  • Once the excess stones and rocks are removed, I need to rake the ruined lawn edge and sow grass seed.

I would like to think I would have time to actually plant something in the garden bed this fall, but looking realistically at the coming month and matching it against my list, it probably will not happen.

However next year should be fun!

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