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  • Meg Grimm

Prep for Burial - Dirt, Shroud and Coffin

Updated: Sep 26, 2018

Chronicles & Confessions of the Veggie Patch

An unfolding adventure tale of amateur vegetable gardening, peasant style.

-With detailed steps for establishing your own organic vegetable garden.


Series Post 1: Prep for Burial – Dirt, Shroud and Coffin


You want to use the coffee table?” asked Max with a doubtful expression.


“No, but if we don’t, you’ll have to build a garden box,” I replied, equally doubtful. “Do you really want to do that?”


He could do it, of course. He had been collecting pallets for some time now. Though why bother when we already had a perfectly good, rectangular-shaped box that happened to be made from pallets?


The long, spacious piece affectionately known as the “coffin table” had been slammed together one day in yesteryear as a prop for a murder mystery dinner. Max and I had used it in our home as a coffee table ever since. Everyone who saw it loved it, and so did we.


But we were lazy, and that was the truth of it.


The coffin table would easily fit into the barren flower beds along the side of the garage. It was the perfect dimensions. If Max built another box of any other size, we would have to till the earth wherever it was we decided to place it in the yard.


Tilling the earth did not sound impossible, but I knew I had to diminish the threat of weeds as much as I could. Our yard was mostly just a meadow of dandelions during the warm months. Their wispy seeds would float right into the garden and choke out all our plants in no time because we were going to be poor weeders. In other words---it would all be a waste of money and time.


I knew I’d have to do weeding during our first-time gardening venture, but truthfully, I didn’t even know how to weed yet. I’d never done it. It sounded tedious, vexing and time-consuming. Meanwhile, I had approached this project all along with the most important factor in mind. My husband and I were just plain lazy!


Lazy…but resourceful.


Being resourceful meant that we were still willing, however reluctantly, to make sacrifices of our money and time now in order to spend less of them in the future. (That included being as healthy as possible to help avoid future medical expenses.)


Time. Time was really the crux of the matter though.


There was so much in this world I wanted to learn about and become, but time was a limited resource. Every day, all humanity makes choices about where we will give our time. We each have the same amount of it in the day, but it often doesn’t feel like it.


Max and I were pretty responsible choice-makers. The problem was that we could never fit everything in and still have time left over for our real dreams, our real plans, and our deep passions. (Such as penning a spectacular fiction novel, for me.)


So, if I was going to add healthy lifestyle choices into our daily routine, I had better figure out (and quick!) how to do it the most effective and efficient ways possible. Organic vegetable gardening absolutely could not take up too much of our time. It also had to be worthy of our financial investment, or Max would surely make us go back to his bachelor diet of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on 50¢ white bread served with tap water.


Although Max’s pre-marriage years of frugality had served us well (zero debt with our house and cars paid for in cash), purposely living without lights, heat and nutrition was where I drew the line.


The winter had been long. People joked that we had skipped over spring entirely. Now here we were at the beginning of May with the first truly warm, sunny days of the season greeting us on occasion, but the plans for my and Max’s first vegetable garden were still incomplete.


During a chance visit to a bargain book store a few weeks back, I had picked up two gems from the dusty bottom shelf of the gardening section. Thankfully, both straightforward manuals had sparked my excitement for growing my own food more than anything else yet. I scanned the pages and took notes on what applied most to our situation.


On the few bright mornings and afternoons that followed, I took a little stroll around our house to map where the sun blazed the yard unblocked. A container garden on the back patio would never work, I realized to my dismay. What little sun ventured into the space was during all the wrong times. Therefore, I would somehow have to find another strategy to best fight off weeds.



Organic Veggie Patch, Step 1:

Decide what kind of garden you will have and where it will be.


Plants need 6 hours of sunlight. Some plants thrive with hot afternoon sun, but morning sun is most beneficial for many plants. The ideal place for a garden is where the sun shines during the hours of 9am-3pm. In a perfect world, the garden should be slightly higher than its surroundings and slope gently to the south. Until you can create this through the years, a level garden will do. Cold air flows down but will remain trapped where it cannot drain away. Consider a fence on the north side of the plot for tall plants to climb. Tall plants should be on the north side as they might otherwise block sunlight from other plants.


Container gardening is equally possible. Use the largest containers you can find; most plants will need at least 5-gallon pots for their root systems. Try to use terracotta, ceramic, metal or wine barrels rather than plastic. (Don’t forget to check thrift stores before spending extra money!) Pots will need drainage holes cut in the bottom and to be elevated.



I decided that a tall box garden would have to do for most of the plants that Max and I wanted to grow. The height would hopefully block some of the traveling weed seeds. I would fill the box as much as possible with homemade potting soil, leaving our own clayish yard dirt for the bottom. Who could know if our soil was healthy or not? I knew we weren’t going to spend money on testing it so better to not risk it.


(*See below this post for a potting soil recipe.)


The coffin table did not have a bottom, so water would be able to drain straight into the earth, and the box would not need to be elevated. Plants that might take up a lot of space, such as tomatoes, could be placed nearby in large, separate containers with drainage holes and elevated on cinder blocks.


With the garden plans now made, it was time for the hard parts---putting it into action.

I knew that my laziness came mostly from not knowing how to do this. Once I had actually produced a vegetable garden and had some experience, all mystery would be gone. This was just the first experiment, and that’s why it needed the most devotion.


Nevertheless, I was determined to not let it fail. We had to do it as right as we could, otherwise it would be a waste of our resources.


“I want to look at prices for soil this weekend,” I reminded Max on Friday.


“I can’t believe we’re going to buy dirt,” he complained.


“It’s not just dirt,” I told him. “It’s things like nitrogen and calcium and bone and blood, or something like that.” I couldn’t remember exactly what all it was we were looking for and why, but I was armed with six pages of typed notes for the whole enterprise.


To have healthy soil, we apparently needed potting soil, compost, fertilizer, and perhaps some mulch if we wanted to take it a step further. (Confession #1-) Until I had read those books on gardening, I had no idea there was difference between these.



Organic Veggie Patch, Step 2:

Prepare your mixes.


“Fertilizer” feeds the plants while “Compost” feeds the soil. Have these mixes prepped and ready for both preparing the soil and during planting season.


(*See below this post for how to make Fertilizer and Compost.)


I chose to purchase some commercial “Potting Soil” to help fill up my containers and box garden because it saved me from having to test my yard soil for lead. Besides, container plants do not do well in regular dirt alone. They need a little extra umph to assist with proper drainage and so forth. That’s where “Coarse River Sand” comes in as an element added to potting mixture as well. It helps aerate the soil and promote drainage.


“Mulch” is optional since mulch-like Compost is already going on the garden throughout planting season. Mulch can include straw, pea straw (both rich, organic matter), Lucerne hay, autumn leaves or newspaper clippings. Some people have been known to use grass clippings. You can mulch around your plants to help protect young sprouts from the scorching sun. Mulch will also protect plants during extreme temperatures both in summer or winter. Finally, mulch also helps retain moisture in the soil.


(Confession #2- I have no idea what pea straw and Lucerne hay are.)



The next morning, Max and I found ourselves wandering aimlessly through Rural King.


“I don’t want to ask anyone for help because I don’t know what I’m talking about,” I explained to him on our second lap.


We had found some potting soil on display near the front of the store. It was $3.99 for one puny-looking bag. It would take a heck of a lot more than a few of those to fill the coffin table!


We had also spotted some fertilizer in another place. Since seed meal, kelp meal and bone meal were not specifically jumping out to make themselves known, I would have to opt for purchasing an already mixed bag of fertilizer rather than mix my own as one of the books had suggested.


Also, when coarse river sand was nowhere to be seen, we finally decided to ask. It turned out that we could order outside items, such as bags of sand, at the register during check-out and then go out to the parking lot to pick them up.


After making our first monumental purchase of five bags of the potting soil, one bag of fertilizer, and two bags of general-purpose sand from outside (since something called “coarse river sand” was not to be had), we entered the maze of bags, potted trees and other garden wares in the parking lot. What did our wandering eyes behold but rows of much cheaper potting soils! So this was where they hid them. Who knew?


We took the time to make an exchange for the cheaper potting soil. The total of our purchase that day came to $34.00.


We laid our earthy investments on a pallet in the garage. Just looking at them sent a little thrill surging through me. We were really, finally doing this, and so far so good!


Monday turned out to be warm. When I came home from work, Max was cutting the grass. Grass and dandelion clippings smothered the yard in patches like thick moss. I looked at our little flower bed and felt a pang of motherly concern. Spiny dandelion shoots were already popping up throughout the bed even though Max had just dug out the top layer of grass and weeds the weekend before. Something had to be done.


If we plopped the coffin table over these baby weeds and dumped dirt on top of them, they would simply meander their way up through the layers of rich potting soil and rear their heads in our garden.


Out came the phone and Google. Black plastic was the cheapest, most natural answer, according to my brief search. That and perhaps vinegar. I dumped some white vinegar in a spray bottle and began spritzing the fledgling weeds while I waited for Max to stop mowing.


“We have that black oil well stuff,” he said. (The resourceful pack rat to the rescue.)


I don’t even know how he came to be in possession of a giant patch of thick material half the size of our driveway that oil well workers apparently use for makeshift wells of water. But he did, so instead of black garbage bags or a tarp, that is what we measured and used. According to the article I had read, we wanted the material to be as thick as possible. This definitely fit the bill.


The lack of sunlight coupled with the heat absorbed by the black material would kill the weeds, giving us a fresh start. (Confession #3- I never knew why people put black plastic over their flower and garden beds. I thought it might have to do with keeping them safe from extreme temperatures!) The article claimed that it would take about a week. That was okay. We would still be on schedule.



Organic Veggie Patch, Step 3:

Preparing the soil.


Add compost to your planting soil to prepare it, and then wait for a few weeks before planting. Microbes will burn nitrogen and oxygen quickly, leaving the soil’s nutrients temporarily unavailable.


My garden/potting soil will be made up of deep yard soil on the bottom of my containers, and then on top of that a mix of commercial potting soil, commercial fertilizer and coarse river sand. (See recipes below.) I will add any compost I may have ready to the top, as well as some hay from the neighbors for mulch.



Next stop: Compost.


Since the time we were married, Max had made me dump kitchen scraps into a plastic ice cream bucket that he emptied in the woods not often enough. This eliminated stinky garbage and cut down on waste altogether. I eventually became used to the change, but I feared for the poor woodland creatures that surely tried to eat the tossed-out gluck. Now, though, I had read how to do compost the right way and to recycle earthen waste back into the environment. You know, like a true peasant, instead of helping to produce more methane gas in a landfill or dumping little rotten piles into the woods.


Except for fish and meat scraps (which could also potentially be given to dogs), vegetable and fruit scraps could be put into a compost pile or bucket for the garden. I immediately began keeping the types of scraps separate, and Max and I decided that our compost container would be a medium-sized, blue plastic bin we had in the garage. As far as I could tell from my research, nearly any container would do for the job. We would attach it to a sun-lit area of the property for heat and shake or stir it on occasion. Stirring the scraps supposedly accelerates decomposition.


(*See below this post for how to make compost.)


According to author Arabella Forge, an Australian self-proclaimed “frugavore” (one who wastes nothing and grows their own food), this was all going to be easier than it seemed. Once the garden was established, it would be “very little work.” The author of the other book from which I had devised my plans, Randy Shore, assured me that the soil and sun would do the rest. (What a novel notion.)


Like me, both writers had grown equally fed up with high prices of organic foods and poor-quality supermarket produce – two of the biggest challenges for eating healthy. So, they made up their minds to make changes. Randy moved his wife and two kids out of the city to an acre of land for farming, and Arabella transformed her front lawn into a garden plot to the chagrin of her soccer playing kiddos. Years later, Randy and Arabella’s learned expertise and recipes were now organized in handy guidebooks for people like me – people like them – people like you.


This first blog series of mine that follows the gardening aspect of peasant life is both exciting and scary to document. It could go well or poorly. I cannot possibly predict the outcome. All I know is that I have learned so much already about the amazing recycling system of creation. It’s strange that it’s information that would have been well-known to anyone living in any previous century. (Confession #4-) I feel embarrassed to be so oblivious, yet I’m still too elated to be much phased. I can’t wait to understand it all; I can’t wait to master it; I can’t wait to share it.


Sure, I’ll include the steps for organic vegetable gardening according to the professionals (how else are you going to learn the right way?) and tips according to my trial and error, but I myself am nothing but a rookie. Less than a rookie. (Confession #5-) I couldn’t even recognize half of the vegetables Max’s parents gave us from their garden last year because they didn’t look exactly like the produce in supermarkets.


What I am is a person who wants to put an end to all that nonsense, and I’ll let you know how it goes along the way. Hopefully, I will prove to both of us that it’s possible for even the most ignorant and inexperienced person to truly vegetable garden as a frugal peasant---simply, easily, affordably, effectively, and efficiently---and all without wasting too much precious time.


Until next time, I remain


Peasantly Yours,

Meg Grimm




Meg is a writer, dreamer, church secretary and member of her church council. When she is not working in ministry, she spends her days creating new plans, uncovering secrets of the historic past and trying to snatch as much free time as she can to pen her book ideas. Meg is a newly-wed, age undisclosed, who is committed to living a natural lifestyle according to what she understands from God’s Word. She drags everyone that she can along for the ride, especially her beloved husband and pets.






Potting Mix Recipe

2 parts commercial potting mixture

1 part compost or worm castings, mixed with bark or garden clippings in a 50:50 blend.

1 part coarse river sand

*Use commercial garden mix or potting soil for container gardening and starting seeds.



Fertilizer Recipes

Possible Ingredients for Homemade Fertilizer

Seed Meal: Alfalfa, soy, cottonseed and canola – contains nitrogen, phosphorus and a trace of potassium

Bone Meal: steamed or dolomite bone meals provides slow release phosphorus, and calcium

Kelp Meal: dry fertilizer that is low in nitrogen, high in potassium and contains copper, zinc and magnesium

Blood Meal: Does not go in general-purpose mix; provides quick hit of nitrogen

Lime: Coastal soils are acidic, interfering with nutrient absorption. Lime reduces acidity in sand and may improve structure of clay soils.


*If you keep the components of your fertilizer in their separate bags, you can mix different fertilizer for each bed of vegetables that you plant.


Basic Fertilizer Mix: 10 parts canola seed or alfalfa meal, 1 part bone meal, 1 part kelp meal (This mix is also used as a compost accelerator)


Potato Fertilizer Mix: 2 parts seed meal, 1 part kelp meal, 1 part bone meal


Spinach Fertilizer Mix: 6 parts seed meal, 1 part kelp meal, 1 part bone meal, 1/10 part blood meal


Liquid Fertilizer: 1 part compost, 3 parts water. Stir and leave for 2-4 days to ferment. This is a tonic for plants.


*Place small shovelfuls of fertilizer in holes before planting each plant or seed. Afterward, a little fertilizer here and there when plants appear wimpy is a good practice.

*Bugs flourish when soil is acidic. Add dolomite lime and some compost or fertilizer to boost plant immunity.



Compost

You don’t want your compost pile too wet, or it will rot, or too dry, as the organic materials will not have the moisture necessary for decomposition. A good moisture content is the same as a wrung-out sponge. To maintain the correct moisture, layer “brown” and “green” ingredients to create balance.


Brown material (full of carbon) includes straw, shredded newspaper, cardboard, dead leaves, wood chips, paper bags, husks and nut shells. Avoid cedar and juniper duff or laurel leaves, as they slow microbial action.


Green material (full of nitrogen) includes vegetable peels, fruit rinds, coffee grinds, tea leaves, grass clippings, prunings and even weeds if they have not gone to seed. (Beware dandelions – which can still go to seed after plucked.)


Use uncooked meat and fish at your own risk. These do not always break down quickly depending on circumstances and their use in a compost pile is debated. It is not recommended for beginners.


Keep compost in an actual pile in your yard or in any sort of container. Compost tumblers are an option for purchase. “Tumbling,” “stirring” or “pitch-forking” your compost heap will cause it to decompose faster. Sometimes farmers use multiple piles so that when one is ready, scraps are being added to the others.


Compost is ready when it is a rich, dark, crumbly texture with a warm, earthy smell.



A Note on “Worm Farms” – a composting option

A “worm farm” is also known as a “self-contained vermicomposting kit” and is sold at garden centers or seed suppliers. This is an option for when regular composting is not ideal and needs are perhaps smaller-scale. Feed the worms kitchen scraps (except for dairy products, acidic foods such as onions and leeks, and citrus fruits), and they will produce a special juice (referred to as “liquid gold”) that comes from a tap in the bottom layer of the farm. Dilute the juice to use as fertilizer and use the worms’ waste (“castings”) in potting mixture. Do additional research to learn proper worm farm care.



Other Terms

*Basalt Rock: a rock mineral sold at most nurseries; contains trace minerals for plant growth. Can be added to compost heaps or worm farms to facilitate growth and fermentation and to balance out pH levels.

*Dolomite Lime: a naturally occurring rock mineral that boosts plant growth and alkalizes the soil. Can be added in moderate amounts throughout plant’s life. Some plants prefer an acidic environment, however.


#gardening #organic #vegetables #compost

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