I remember talking with a silver-haired lady a few years back about gardening. She said she has created eleven gardens in her life, and I remember thinking that sounded like a lot. Yet here I am, living in a rental house this year, again building another garden.

How many is this for me now? There was my childhood garden and about six or seven rentals that ranged from sunny windowsills to blisteringly hot balconies to nutrient-sapped outdoor spaces. I hit it big when we bought our house in Portland with a huge yard that I converted into an edible urban homestead. While that house in Portland waits patiently for us to move back in, we’re living in a rental house while I finish school.

No matter how temporary though, I need a garden. The Urban Farm is my shared garden, but I want to  walk a few steps at home to find fresh herbs and vegetables. So almost as soon as we moved in here, I began sheet mulching, also called in-situ (or “in place”) composting.

Over the last two or three months, I determined where the sunniest spot would be for a garden in our backyard. To keep it tidy for our landlords, I kept it a simple 10′ x 10′ square near the edge of the backyard. I began by laying in food scraps, dried leaves and used bedding from the chicken coop. I sprinkled on a bit of finished compost to help innoculate the layers with microorganisms.

Things seem to be going well thus far. We have added more chicken bedding here and there, tossed it once or twice, and it has been quietly breaking down this winter. The chickens are free-ranging often on these cold winter days and they help toss the layers up together in their never-ending quest for worms.

When the layers have broken down more, I’m planning to create a hard edge with either rocks, scraps of broken concrete or some other “found” source. That should make the garden plot look more intentional and tidier. For now though, I’m letting it do it’s magic.

Mid-February is when peas can start going in the ground, as I remember from the old saying “plants your peas on President’s Day”. I am hopeful the soil will be ready for planting by that time. We should know by that time how long we will stay in this house, which will determine a lot of what I grow at home this season in my backyard vs. the Urban Farm.

It feels good to be out there in the brisk cold working with my hands again. So much of my time is spent at a computer for school doing design work. But nothing gives me satisfaction like sweating over a patch of earth.

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Written by Renee Wilkinson