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Garden beds and borders

Posts: 489
Location: Dawson Creek, BC, Canada
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I am guessing that this is the right forum.  It could be the left forum for all I know.  

I have one strip of land on my "pasture" (40 year old fescue sod, with lots of other stuff).  It's about 800 square feet (about 80x10).  It was under black plastic for a season, and then this year I have potatoes growing there (under wood chips).  About 4-5 feet south (uphill) of this strip, is where I moved the black plastic to this year.  To move it any further south in the future, means less and less distance (I am running into a jackleg fence at an angle).  Perhaps 12-15 feet north (downhill), I have a layer of clear plastic on the ground this year as well.  It perhaps covers 90 feet in length.  Partly to compare black versus clear for this purpose.  Deer seem much more willing to walk (and poke holes into) black plastic, than clear.  Black plastic seems to have a lifetime of about 2.5 years.

In the 4 foot wide space, I have 3 mini plantings.  Two failed.  One I don't know about, maybe next spring it will surprise me (a fern that I planted).  But the fescue hay is trying to grow into the strip of wood chips covering potatoes.

In the 15 foot space, I had driven the pickup delivering wood chips for the potatoes (I was trying hilling with wood chips) in there, it was soft because it was wet, and so now there are some ruts (no tire spin) there.  I am beginning to think you use enough wood chips to begin with, adding wood chips for hilling is annoying.

Many years ago, I tried trial plots into the fescue sod by cutting out 1x1 foot squares.  Doesn't work.  The fescue grows at some point, and whatever is growing in the 1x1 gets no light and dies.  The fescue might take all the water, and so it dies.  The fescue emits allelopathic compounds, which prevent the trial plants from growing.  Could be all 3, could be other things.

I've been planting trees elsewhere, nominally using a 2x2 cutout of the fescue sod.  But, most of the time I've come along and put a couple of inches of wood chip mulch around these locations to a diameter of 6 feet or more.  The trees seem to be doing okay, except where some mistake of mine caused the trees to die.

This year, I cut out seven 2x2 plots for planting squash in the fescue.  This was a miserable year here, no heat and too much rain.  But, less than half of the squash locations (7x4=28) got beyond the dicot stage.  A couple started vines.  I think the longest vine was 3 inches or so.  I harvested no squash.  My intention is to blame this on allelopathy of fescue.  In the centre of all those plots, I inserted a Kousa dogwood seed, and maybe next spring I will see dogwoods?  I could try the squash again.  My intention is to dig 3x3 plots next to these squash locations, to see if 3x3 does any better than 2x2 (or 1x1).

For next year, I have a 4 foot gap.  If I put plastic in the middle of the 12-15 foot gap for next year; I could have a couple of smaller than 4 foot gaps.  So, I am looking at how big does a garden need to be, to survive in fescue, and how small is a viable patch of fescue.

I have used vinegar as a herbicide in the past.  But, the local low price super markets decided to mark up the price of that vinegar more than 10% this year.  WHOA!   Do I want to use vinegar as a herbicide, if the local retailers are seeing it as a profit centre for their grocery stores?

It isn't that I want to have fescue between my garden plots.  I could try mowing.  I could place wood chips.  I could spray vinegar.  Maybe there are other things.  I am willing to try ideas.

In order to have some tangible benefit for the local food bank, I think I need to get to the point where I have 1 acre of potatoes growing each year.  And other stuff.  But, using plastic to "suppress" the fescue to allow potatoes to break up the fescue, and so to produce a number of garden strips is the idea I am thinking about.

I got 2 kinds of seed potatoes from a local Hutterite colony.  The red potatoes are supposedly the ones in demand, and I was seeing potatoes with very little to almost totally scab.  I had more of the white potatoes, and so far I haven't seen scab.  On land which has probably never seen potatoes growing.  So, I think the thing I should do is to continue using these white potatoes to "work up" my land, and after a couple of years of potatoes, then think about growing other things.

I do have some tree splitting wedges and a sledge hammer (or two).  If the best thing is to put wood borders on a garden (nearly 100 foot long), I can do that.

But I would like suggestions as to how one sets up a bunch of "gardens", so as to produce potatoes and other vegetables.  I am pursuing tree planting, which is guilds and stuff as well.  Maybe this set of gardens is just temporary?

Posts: 1566
Location: Victoria BC
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I thought this was the gripping hand forum?

What about pigs to murderkill your fescue before chippingnan area and armouring the borders?

I am not sure wood borders would stop it, but I don't know fescue.

What about a dense comfrey or rhubarb patch as a border?
Gordon Haverland
Posts: 489
Location: Dawson Creek, BC, Canada
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By and large, my fence isn't fit to hold in large (or small) animals.  It sure doesn't keep out the deer.  But otherwise, the idea of having pigs do in the fescue sounds wonderful.  I am hoping to get a chicken tractor built this winter, so that next year I can have a dozen chickens tilling away at something.

I do have a patch of comfrey established, I haven't started propagating it to other places yet.  I think the thing to do is propagation by stems?  But, I am unsure about eventually having a large area in comfrey.  Even if it is sterile.

Rhubarb sounds interesting.  I had read that planting rhubarb outside the drip line of your trees (if you have nothing else to put there) is a good thing.  A couple of years ago, I put a "pot" (coir) of rhubarb into the fescue.  The pot was tiny (1 inch).  This year, I've broken the sides of the pot, in case this is a case of root bound, but this rhubarb plant is TINY!.  It had 2 stems this year, I think both stems were about 1 inch long.  It may be allelopathy from fescue that is stopping it from thriving.

I am expecting that next spring, I will buy a 4 inch chipper/shredder.  I got no deliveries of wood chips this year.

For the most part, the trees on my land are "native": trembling aspen, balsam poplar, various willow, and sometimes birch, spruce or pine.  None of those trees produces a durable outdoor wood.  I am going to set up to grow both Osage-orange and black locust for fence posts.  So, when the tree gets tall enough to be a fence post, there will be the top of the tree (and some branches) to chip/shred.  Chipping either of those woods should be significantly harder than aspen.  I am kind of hoping that Honey Locust might work for outdoor wood (not in ground contact).  So, fence boards and what not.  But, my fence boards are nominally 16 foot 2x6, so growing a honey locust to the point where I can harvest 3 2x6 out of it will take a bit longer than growing fence posts.  I may be able to get other 2x or 1x out of what is left on the honey locust.  I am also going to grow a lesser amount of bigger posts, for corners, gates and so on.  But as the trees on the farm mature, I will have a whole slough of things different from aspen that needs to be chipped or shredded.

At some point soon, I will be starting to plant alder near trees like oak, walnut, ... to try and give them competition for light.  The easy alder to get, only grows to 20 or so feet.  So, I will probably have to get some other variety of alder which grows taller to be competition beyond 20 feet (and presumably could be planted further away than the 5 feet for this more shrub like alder.

But alder grows fast (and apparently makes good charcoal), and so it too will become fodder for the tree chipper at some point.

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