With irrigation construction complete, the next phase of our garden installation was site preparation. All that sod had to be removed and it was time to address the soil nutrient and structure needs of our new digs.
I’m a big fan of taking pictures through all stages of your homestead’s growth. So this is your gratuitous shot of Juniper on our front porch, marking the moment in time when we broke ground.
I’ll discuss the various methods for removing sod in a post next week, but in this case we chose to remove it with a mechanical sod cutter due to time constraints and the immediate desire to plant the area. (After eight years of growing our former homestead, I’m ready for our new homestead to arrive pronto!) I rented a sod cutter from a local shop and, with the help of my dad, began removing the grass strip by strip.
It was my first time using a sod cutter and I did a pretty crappy job, if I do say so myself. It was pouring rain and we have heavy clay soil, which made the whole process a slippery mess. There were lots of thin strips that I missed and in some areas I didn’t cut deeply enough. We spent the better part of a weekend trimming all those areas.
We made a massive pile of the cut sod! Thank goodness it’s in the backyard so the neighbors can’t see it… Some of it we will compost and some we will mound up for a play area. I hate to get rid of any of it since there is a lot of valuable topsoil attached to the rots.
With sod removed, it was time to deal with what lays underneath: compacted, heavy clay soil. To help with both nutrient levels and soil structure, I called in the big guns. And by big guns, I mean manure.
We brought in composted cow manure from Mt Scott Fuel, and the word “composted” is key. Composted, or aged, manure can safely go over your plants without burning them and it’s a lot less stinky than the fresh stuff – a nice bonus for the neighbors. I added enough for all plant beds to have about an inch-thick layer on top of the bare soil. Top dressing the plant areas with manure will provide high nitrogen levels to the soon-to-arrive plants.
The final step in soil preparation was adding a thick blanket of wood chips over the entire area, which I received from a local arborist for free using ChipDrop. Wood chips are high in carbon, making them slow to break down, and a thick top layer of this mulch will help with weed suppression and water retention. In a couple years, the wood chips and manure will compost further to increase the soil structure of our heavy clay.
Many wheelbarrow loads later, we are ready for plant installation – my favorite phase of the construction process! Stay tuned for details on that final part of this series.