Kwolz's Adventures in Saving the World

"Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better." -Albert Einstein

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One Shovelful at a Time

Posted by kevinwolz on April 19, 2010

I never want to see another shovel again. My shoulders are in knots. My wrists are in pain. My shoes are stained with blood and manure. I can’t bend my fingers. Wait a second here…saving the world is going to involve manual labor!? Well duh! Remember: ”EASY is what got us into this societal mess!”

This weekend I traveled up to Wisconsin with the main goal of constructing my summer garden. Our front lawn was ultimately chosen as the best location over the two community gardens in our area. The plus side: unrivaled easy access (Zone 1 in Permaculture lingo), complete control over water resources, and the most convenient teaching location. The down side: Grass and only a few inches of top soil, with pure sand beneath. Core samples revealed that the south side of the lawn has the most top soil (5 or so inches on average). This is better than the 2 inches on the other side, but still not optimal. The solution? Sheet mulching/the “lasagna” method. These terms describe the method of placing layers of “stuff” on top of the chosen site in order to increase fertility and soil mass. We hauled everything using our handy trailer and my dad’s and my  strength, and then my mom raked the layers smooth (THANKS to those two for putting up with everything and working so hard!). Here is my “stuff” of choice, from the bottom to the top:

  • ¼” cardboard as a barrier to the grass
  • Nitrogen Layer – about a yard of horse manure (generously donated by the friendly local Permie family…THANK YOU!), a couple of garbage bags of rabbit manure (thank you Freecycle!), and a bunch of “gunk” from the top of our swimming pool cover (a.k.a. my personal and sustainable peat moss-alternative production facility)
  • 4 cubic yards of half-finished compost from the local city compost facility (ALL shoveled)
  • 3 cubic yards of almost-finished compost from the same location (ALL shoveld…but slower this time)
  • A bit less than a yard of the best soil in the country to sprinkle on top (humbly sourced from Utopia…THANK YOU!). This soil is ALIVE: it contains billions of beneficial bacteria, fungi, worms, and other critters that are essential to a healthy soil ecosystem, and hence, a healthy garden. The idea is to “inoculate” the rest of the garden soil with this sprinkling so all that great stuff can reproduce like mad as they go through the other layers and populate the rest of the soil.
  • A thin layer of grass clippings to mulch the mulch. This will slow down rainwater to prevent erosion, help keep soil moisture in, and also add another spritz of nitrogen.

Over time, all of these layers will decompose into one uniform, healthy, and living soil. One thing I forgot to do in the rush of things was to loosen up the original sod layer (basically sticking in the pitchfork throughout the garden and wiggling it around) prior to piling everything else on top. Our front lawn is super compacted from heavy foot and vehicle traffic, so loosening this up would give the roots a bit of help as then grow downward. I guess we’ll just have to trust they’re strong enough now. Another problem to surmount is that of erosion. The garden area slopes lightly toward the south, off a rock wall. For the time being, we put up a silt fence to prevent the worst, if anything should even happen. Once plants get in, it shouldn’t be much of problem, but something is going to have to guard that side: boulders? Plants? We’ll see. Next time I’m up there, I would like to add another two inches of finer soil (finished, sifted compost from the city site) to top off the layers. THEN, I will actually have somewhere to plant all my seedlings!

There are too many pictures to post here, so I posted them on Flickr. You can see the entire process from start to finish, with explanatory captions along the way! (If you feel like it, my best/favorite nature pictures are also all up there on my Flickr photostream.)

On top of this fun project, I spent some of Saturday morning and all of Sunday morning at the local Permie family’s homestead (not too far off from one version of my dream home!) to help plant 1600 trees. The goal is to convert 6 acres of dead corn field into an edible/medicinal woodland and savannah. That’s a lot of trees! And even more digging! Talk about an awesome cause, though…I can’t think of a better way to channel my energy. Our team of about five was fueled by great bonding and conversation.

What a whirlwind of a weekend. So exhausting. So productive. Saving the world…one shovelful at a time.


3 Responses to “One Shovelful at a Time”

  1. Joan said

    Fabulous pictures, Kevin. I enjoyed seeing the birth of your garden. Lots of hard work and heavy lifting. Wow! Wishing you success and lots of healthy, delicious vegetables.
    I’m looking forward to eating some
    produce from your garden.

  2. rickdavey said

    What do you plan to do when the floods come? I remember them being up to that second rock wall once…

    • kwolz said

      That’s true, but that was a 500 year flood (supposed to happen once every 500 years). Unfortunately though, we’ve had like four 100 year floods in the last 10 years…so those numbers are becomig less and less accurate. Nevertheless, the lake look pretty stable right now (the mild winter helped), and that’s a risk that I’ve decided to take…hopefully I won’t regret it!

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