Breaking of Tradition – Soil of Life

Last year we planted our first ever in ground garden. Prior to that, I had only grown “purties”. We were lucky enough to have a friend come over on his big ole tractor and till our garden spot for us in no time flat. We were so proud of the results, while the soil was rocky (a trait common here in northeast Oklahoma) it looked good and was nice and fluffy. We planted our seedlings and seeds in the traditional manner with anticipation of the bountiful crops we were going to reap. Despite our attempts at irrigation (we set up a t-post sprinkler system), the soil became rock hard, and the water seemed to just roll off and right out of the area. The drought and over 40 days of 100+ temperatures did us in.  I think we harvested 2 pounds of green beans, 3 peppers and 1 head of broccoli total. In short, the entire thing was a complete failure. We wanted to feel more secure about our future food security and health. We decided it was about time to begin researching alternative gardening methods that required less water, promoted soil building, and would demand less overall maintenance than the traditional gardening methods we had been taught all of our lives. It was time to break the tradition. Time to stop destroying the soil by digging and plowing and turning it over. We discovered Jack Spirko, and The Survival Podcast as well as Geoff Lawton, and his teachings on permaculture. We had found our inspiration, and determined that we will have a sustainable garden in the end.  Thus began the months of planning and preparation for our Kitchen Garden.


Phase one – Newspaper, lots and lots of newspaper! First load is in the back of the truck here, covered with a handy-dandy net to keep it from all blowing out. Pa hit a lick with the paper! See the wrapped skid in the background? That was load number two. Pa brought it all home, and we quickly loaded up a trailer that we had once tried to re-purpose as a mobile chicken coop. Needless to say, that was another failure (hey, we learn from each one). We did discover that old trailer holds paper and straw quite nicely and keeps it nice and dry.


Here I sit beside our pitiful garden spot from last year, hard, compacted dead soil overrun with weeds (which are not necessarily a bad thing, if you listen to the story they are telling you) and grass, oh and don’t forget them rocks. Pa got in there and hoed up the biggest clumps of grass and then we got busy. Our goal is sustainable food production. “If you’re not gardening in a harmonious way, where you’re putting back as much as you’re taking out, it is going to end sooner or later.” – Geoff Lawton


Next came a nice layer of goat poo compost. To start a garden, you need one to two cubic yards of compost for every 1,000 cubic yards of growing bed. By doing this, we are returning plant nutrients to the soil, encouraging organic growth. This stuff is great, and the wonderful thing about goat poo (any pellet poo can be placed directly on your garden or plants) is that it doesn’t get hot enough to burn your plants up. Our compost has been sitting for about a year, and is going to be just the thing to make our Kitchen Garden a great one. You can also put down manure, compost, or vegetable scraps from the kitchen – all will feed the worms.


Because our soil is already so rocky, we thought it best to lay down a layer of topsoil that had been dumped on the farm last summer. Pa ran the wheel barrow, and I spread it where we planned to have our beds. Using the no-till permaculture method, we are making double-reach beds just wide enough that we can reach to the center of the bed from each side. I’m a shorty, so we kept them at about four feet wide. By doing the beds this way, we insure that we will never step on the beds themselves, compacting the soil and destroying the organisms. We learned this lesson the hard way last year.


Now we are going to return a butt load of recycled trees to our soil in the form of newspaper – in essence, we are trying to mimic the forest floor. We wanted to lay a nice thick layer down, at least as thick as a Sunday newspaper. You can also use a nice layer of cardboard. Don’t be skimpy with it, just throw it down. Pa found that a nice flick of the wrist helped the paper to fan out as he threw it down. I stood ready with a hose to wet it as soon as it hit the ground, because that wind was determined to spread it all over the twenty. This will block weeds and choke out grass better than any of that high dollar black fabric you can buy. You just want to make sure that the entire area is nicely covered with paper. Some weed seeds only require one thirtieth of a second of light to survive. What’s that you ask? Quite literally, it is a blink of an eye!  This method is known as sheet mulching, and completely cuts out all the light to the ground beneath it. Per Geoff Lawton, mulch is like an insulation blanket, and will hold one-third its thickness in moisture. The speed at which moisture goes through the material is extremely slow, almost as slowly as a plant’s roots grow, which is perfect timing. The right timing is paramount in gardening as it is with so many things in this thing we call life.


Here we have all of our sheet mulching spread out, and I am getting it nice and wet. This layer holds huge amounts of moisture and as I said serves as an insulation blanket. It moderates the temperature, keeping it warmer in winter, and cooler in the summer at the soil surface.  It will greatly moderate water flow, which will prove crucial if there is a water shortage or watering bans are put in place. Not to mention that we need to work at keeping the old water bill as low as possible. A properly mulched bed will require one-tenth the amount of moisture as a bare bed.


Here is our walkway, to insure we do not tread on our beds and ruin all of our hard work with compacting the soil. What is it you ask? A carpet runway from a refurbished commercial airliner. Pa lucked into several rolls of it last year, and we figured might as well use it to our advantage. The pot holding it down there holds mums that I am shocked are coming back after the long, hot, dry summer last year.


Next we needed rough mulch. We used a mixture of some old straw bales we had lying around, and hay scattered with random poo from the Spring Livestock Show held last month. We were able to get a nice big truck load of it, and Pa has since gone back and got two more, which will be used for our compost pile. These are all cheap materials, not too expensive. You can use straw, lawn clippings, wood chippings or mulch, shredded prunings, hay, or seeded hay. We wanted a nice thick layer of rough mulch, at least four inches thick. We made sure to cover the paper completely, you don’t want to leave any paper showing at all. You cannot use too much rough mulch, but you can definitely use too little. We opted for a nice thick layer 10-12 inches deep.


We felt the cold front that preceded the predicted rain, and had to wrap things up a little earlier than planned. We still plan to add more rough mulch soon, just wanted to get a good layer down to hold all them precious recycled trees in place. Then Pa wet it all down real well to help hold it in place with the winds picking up even more, as I ran in to town to pick up Fish Taco from work. A pretty productive day out here at Off-Kilter Acres. This entire system is so simple, but it creates soil as quick as it will create a nice crop of produce with little work to establish it. This is the ultimate easy system to put an instant garden together and it will create one-half inch of soil in one year as we garden. We are working with the soil type that we have. By using this method, underneath the layers of mulch we are building soil.

“You are never sustainable in a garden unless you are creating more soil than you are using. To produce, you must be creating soil as you produce your food, and then you’re sustainable. If you keep going that way and using that as the indicator – soil creation – you’ll be sustainable forever.” Geoff Lawton

I want to thank you so much for dropping by and sharing part of our little world today. Be sure to check back often for our updates. We will be planting the beds soon, and are running a bit late due to an unforeseen injury and our average last frost isn’t quite due yet. Please feel free to post comments, share your wisdom, and/or ask any questions you might have. As we begin this new journey, we are so happy that we are able to share it with you.

And with that, I’m Off!



5 thoughts on “Breaking of Tradition – Soil of Life

  1. Pingback: Stabbing Organisms and Planting Groceries | Off-Kilter Acres

  2. i didnt catch the time of year you did this, looks like fall or spring? also do you have to cut holes in the paper to put your seedlings into the ground?

  3. I LOVE lasagna gardening! I first learned about it when we were stationed north of Chicago. I only had one season to attempt any type of gardening, and I chose lasagna gardening. We lived in the old military mobile home park, and weren’t allowed to dig up any lawns. But since we lived at the end of a road, there were several empty lots with lots of concrete pads where mobile homes once sat. Yep, I built my lasagna garden on top of concrete! I started with thick layers of newspaper just like you did, and then lots and lots of leaves that had been bagged by neighbors, and lots of grass clippings, also from neighbors. We covered all of that with topsoil into which I had mixed the potting soil from old plants and flowers, also from neighbors. I grew the best crops of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and green beans ever! Easy-peasy, cheap, and successful!

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