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From Lawn to Lettuce: Starting and Maintaining an Organic Garden in Your Yard Chris Thoreau UBC Farm 16 April 2011.

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Presentation on theme: "From Lawn to Lettuce: Starting and Maintaining an Organic Garden in Your Yard Chris Thoreau UBC Farm 16 April 2011."— Presentation transcript:

1 From Lawn to Lettuce: Starting and Maintaining an Organic Garden in Your Yard Chris Thoreau UBC Farm 16 April 2011

2 Quick Introductions Name and one burning question! 7 things you need to grow food Assessing your yard…and yourself Soil, soil, soil Building Your Garden Lawn Garden Raised beds Sowing and Transplanting Watering Fertilizing and Regenerating Soil Composting Field walk and raised bed building

3 Who are you and whats on your mind?

4 A Collection Of Gardens …a glimpse into the realm of the possible

5 1. Light (sunlight works well) 2. Soil (preferably fertile) 3. Water (preferably clean; chlorine free) 4. Heat (not too much; not too little) 5. Time (where am I supposed to find that?) 6. Skill (It'll come, trust me!) 7. Money (umm, varies in its priority level)

6 Establish Garden/Build Soil Sow Seeds/Transplant plants Feed and water plants Harvest plants Feed soil with compost

7 What do you have to start with? How suitable is your yard for food production? Soil Does your yard have soil? If so, how much do you have? How good is it? If not, can you build raised beds? Can you use planter boxes? Sun exposure How much direct sunlight does your yard get? A few things affect sun exposure in your yard Trees Buildings Fences Time of year

8 What do you have to start with? How suitable is your yard for food production? Water You will need some water for your plants You may want to install a rain barrel as well Security Open yards more susceptible to vandalism Even a short fence can make a difference

9 What do you have to start with? How suitable is your yard for food production? Patios Many herbs and small crops thrive in planters Strawberries Cilantro, Parsley, and Basil Tomatoes Indoors Dont forget about sprouting You can grow all your nutrient needs in a cupboard and on your kitchen windowsill

10 Any questions about your yard?

11 Gloves Shovel (spade) Digging fork Hand fork Hard rake Leaf rake Weeding tool/Hoe (many to choose from) Hand pruners (secateurs) Wheelbarrow Mattock Trowel

12 Important Soil Concepts Soil as a Habitat Soil as a Provider of Plant Life Physical Properties Texture Soil Organic Matter Structure Soil Chemistry – pH; C:N Ratio Your job is to energize the soil – to give it life… …and the soil can pass on that life to plants

13 Soil as a Habitat Micro-organisms Bacteria Fungi – both good and bad Viruses Macro-organisms Worms, Arthropods, Detrivores and Predators Plants Small Mammals Birds All powered by the sun

14 Soil as a Habitat We need to treat soil like a living organism, which requires: Food – organic matter Water Air – in space between soil solids Shelter – protect from sun and rain Cover crops Mulch Living Dead Snow Tender loving care…

15 Soil as a Provider of Plant Life Rooting substrate Water holding and release Nutrient supply and reserve Heat sink and release Soil gases Symbionts Bacterial and fungal Insects

16 Soil Physical Properties Three main aspects of physical soil characteristics Minerals (from rocks) Determine soil texture Sand Silt Clay Organic Matter Plants and Roots Detritus (decaying organic matter) Animal waste (including microbes) Pore Space Air and water space Hold nutrients in solution

17 Soil Texture The relative proportions of sand, silt, and clay; Or - how does the soil feel and act? Based on particle size and shape, but also on pore space Very important soil principle – this should be the first thing you ask about a soil

18 Soil Texture Sand Largest soil particles Also has largest pore space between particles Has gritty feel Water drains very easily Does not hold nutrients – AT ALL! Water carries nutrients away

19 Soil Texture Silt Usually physically formed out of sand Feels soapy Hold and releases water well Flat or round in shape Holds very little charge Carried in moving water

20 Soil Texture Clay Smallest soil mineral particle (<.002 mm) Has sticky feel Holds water very well Holds nutrients very well Platy-/flat-shaped particles Susceptible to compaction Many types of clays


22 Soil Texture How to Determine Soil Texture Feel test Gritty, soapy, or sticky – how much of each Worm Test Pick up some soil, get it wet, and roll it into a worm or squeeze out a ribbon between your fingers Clay soil makes a long worm or ribbon Silty soil makes a shorter worm or ribbon Sandy soil falls apart Jar Test Shake sample of soil up in a jar – watch particles settle in order: Sand Silt Clay

23 Soil Organic Matter Organic matter includes all biological materials – living and dead We usually add dead organic matter to our soil: Dead and decaying plants or animals including weeds, food scraps Animal manures Microbial by products Why is organic matter important? Increases soils water holding ability Stores and supplies nutrients to plants and microbes Holds soil particles together (structure); stabilizes soil Reduces erosion risk Minimizes soil compaction Breaks up clay soil and holds together sandy soil

24 Soil Organic Matter Most important soil management tool Should be between 10-20% or more of soil weight Not all organic matter is created equally Avoid woody materials Though they make a good mulch for perennials Should have carbon to nitrogen ratio of 24:1 or lower

25 Soil Organic Matter and Texture We add organic matter to the soil to change how the soil acts Added to Sandy Soil OM increases water holding capacity Makes sandy soil more nutritious – holds nutrients better Added to Clay Soil: OM increases drainage, loosens heavy clay soils Added to Any Soil: Increases biological activity and diversity

26 Soil Structure How the soil fits together Think of soil as groups of particles and organic matter – not individual pieces These groups are called Aggregates We promote good structure and aggregation through: Maintaining a healthy habitat Adding organic matter Minimizing soil disturbance

27 Soil Structure

28 Soil Chemistry Soil chemistry is very complex and very important …but way too complicated to discuss here in detail! Two important concepts to know for now: Carbon:Nitrogen Ratio Soil pH

29 Soil Chemistry Carbon:Nitrogen Ratio Carbon = browns or dead material Nitrogen = greens or living/active materials Refers to the number of carbon molecules in the soil (or compost pile) relative to the number of nitrogen molecules It is the nitrogen we are concerned with – it is the most important plant nutrient Ideal ratio is 24:1 or lower Why is this? Bacteria need 24 C molecules for every 1 N molecule they consume Somewhat like balancing proteins can carbohydrates Microorganisms get to the nitrogen first – the plants get what is left Without nitrogen, plants cannot grow so well

30 Soil Chemistry Carbon:Nitrogen Ratio Some sample C:N ratios Grass Clippings: 5-12:1 Fallen Leaves: 20-25:1 Sawdust: 350:1 Wood Chips: 500:1 Coffee Grounds: 20:1 Animal Manures: 10-15:1 Kitchen Scraps: 20-40:1

31 Soil Chemistry pH Measure of soil acidity Scale of 1-14: 1 = most acidic; 14 = most alkaline/basic Desired pH is between 6 and 7 Different pH levels make certain nutrients available or unavailable Soils here are mostly acidic (low pH: 5.2 – 5.8) Add lime (calcium carbonate) to make less acidic (raise pH)

32 So where is this soil I am speaking of? Under your grass Somewhere else in the Lower Mainland In other words – you can work with the soil youve got, or you can bring in new soil Only import soil if you need it - otherwise import compost

33 We will look at two approaches: Converting lawn into garden space Building raised beds

34 How you turn your lawn into soil depends on how quickly you want to have a garden: Quick Approaches: Rototiller Sod cutter Hand turning Combinations of the above Not-so Quick Approaches: Smothering Sheet Mulching

35 Quick Methods Rototiller Quickest way to convert grass to soil Chops up grass and buries it and kills it Chopping up grass allows it to decompose more quickly Loosens compacted soil Continuous tilling damages soil Can cause subsoil compaction Destroys soil aggregates Also kills earthworms, fungi, and other beneficial organisms

36 Quick Methods Rototiller Can loosen up soil before hand with pick axe or mattock Multiple passes can be done over several weeks to break down grass and condition soil Subsequent cultivation can be done by hand Compost or manure can be added on second cultivation After tilling, grass takes time to break down, so planting cannot happen immediately Can remove grass first with sod cutter Grass can be composted and used later

37 Quick Methods Sod Cutter Removes some topsoil, grass, and tops of roots Makes rototilling easier Area can be ready to plant quicker - less grass to decompose Area can then be rototilled or dug by hand Sod cutter is a heavy machine – lots of work! Another rental expense

38 Quick Methods Hand Digging Use spade or garden fork or combination Most cost effective approach – especially on smaller areas Flip grass to expose roots and bury grass Cuts off light Dries out roots kills grass Area can be chopped up with mattock first – then dug Grass takes longer to breakdown than rototilling

39 Not-so-Quick Methods Smothering and Sheet MulchingSheet Mulching Eliminating light from your lawn will cause it to die…slowly Grass is unable to photosynthesize Becomes biologically active to quickly decompose grass The work can be done quickly but the process takes time Good to do in winter to prepare for spring

40 Not-so-Quick Methods Smothering and Sheet MulchingSheet Mulching 1. Let your grass grow quite long and then cut it to the ground The grass acts as a nitrogen source 2. Cover your cut grass with other high N materials and water Manure Compost Food scraps 3. Cover with more material to block out the light Cardboard or newspaper Tarp or lumber wrap Old carpet Thick leaves (good final layer – looks better than cardboard)

41 Not-so-Quick Methods Smothering and Sheet Mulching 4. The covered areas will now be biologically active and soil organisms will decompose the grass and leave the soil bare 4. This process also tends to loosen the soil significantly 5. Leave covered all winter (or spring/early summer) Make sure grass stays well covered Secure top material well to prevent blowing off 6. Remove tarp if used. Then: Dig materials into the soil which should now be relatively loose Add compost Create raised beds if desired 7. You should now be ready to plant!

42 Not-so-Quick Methods



45 Easy to build and install Can be 4 to 24 tall Can be done quickly Cab be built on concrete Easy to manage Aesthetically pleasing (perhaps) Use Cedar or synthetic lumbersynthetic lumber Further treat Cedar w/LifetimeLifetime More expensive Requires importing soil

46 Process is easy Mark out the area(s) for your raised bed(s) with twine Chop up the grass in this area with a mattock (if not already rototilled or sheet mulched Place the raised bed on top Add more soil/compost Use wood chips or other mulch in pathway to eliminate grass If building on pavement Use taller height – at least 16 Can start with a base of wood chips


48 Raised beds without wood Less expensive and easy to do Process: 1. Mark out beds and paths with twine 2. Dig soil out from paths and dump on beds 1. Soil in paths serves no purpose 2. 6 – 12 deep (about shovel length) 3. Smooth top of beds with rake

49 Some raised bed tips: Bed width should be 36 – 40; length is up to you Width makes it easy to reach in to middle of bed Pathways should be 1 ½1 to 2 wide Makes access easy Mulch pathways with high carbon material Helps maintain bed integrity Wood chips Sawdust Straw


51 Direct Seeding Sow in rows or broadcast Be sure to seed at appropriate time Good for greens and root crops Spinach Oriental greens Arugula Radish Carrots Parsnips Beets

52 Direct Seeding Smooth soil surface with rake Try to remove clumps if present – want smooth surface Mark rows with tool of choice Seeds should be planted at a depth 2 ½ times the width of the seed Space seeds and rows according to package Cover seeds with soil Tamp down soil to ensure contact between soil and seed; (sprinkle with compost) Keep moist (do not soak) until germination

53 Direct Seeding After germination – watch for weeds Thin plants as needed to ensure space when mature Thinned plants can be eaten or transplanted ProsCons Easy to do and quick Reduces root disturbance Can undersow into established crops Must wait for soil to warm up Young seedlings vulnerable to pests

54 Transplanting Starting plants in trays and transplanting into garden Sow in trays just like outdoors Can space plants closer in trays Grow until true leaves well established Transplant outside when weather permits

55 Transplanting Transplant soil mix Straight compost can be OK Adding perlite/vermiculite makes more porous Can also use sand, peat moss, garden soil Easy Transplant Mix: 2 parts well-screened compost 1 part vermiculite or 1 part sand Add peat to make lighter Add granular organic fertilizer if desired

56 Transplanting Grid planting or row planting Grid planting ProsCons Get an early start on crops Especially long season crops Tomatoes Peppers Plants get head start on pests and weeds Can plant in exact spot desired More work than direct seeding Requires indoor growing space Transplants are time sensitive

57 Once established crops need a few things: Water Water according to plant needs and soil texture Sandy Soil Water more often, but for shorter periods Clay Soil Water less often, but for longer Water in evenings or mornings Less evaporation than at mid-day Over-watering can be as bad as under-watering Hand water or sprinkler Water spray should be gentle on soil Do not let water pool Mulching (covering) the soil preserves water

58 Once established crops need a few things: Nutrients Compost is your main source of nutrition Compost tea can be made and sprayed on leaves Longer season crops need more nutrients Side dress with compost throughout the season Specific fertilizers for other nutrients Rock phosphate – Phosphorus Greensand – Potassium Alfalfa meal – Nitrogen Lime – pH, Calcium and Magnesium

59 Once established crops need a few things: Weeding A weed is an undesired (or misunderstood) garden plant Weeds compete with your crops Light Water Nutrients Best to remove weeds when they are very small But - leaving weeds until they are a bit bigger allows you to grow your own organic matter! Pulled weeds can be left as a mulch or composted Do not let weeds go to seed Some weeds are edible!

60 Once established crops need a few things: Mulch Mulch covers and protects the soil Creates vibrant bioligical activity Reduces evaporation in the summer Keeps soil cooler Many types of mulch: Leaves (ideally chopped up) – collect in winter and store Grass clippings – great light mulch for freshly-seeded beds Straw – long lasting mulch Compost – very versatile stuff this compost Newspaper – do not use the obituaries…its bad luck!

61 Once established crops need a few things: Harvesting Some crops can be harvested repeatedly Kale Chard Parsley Summer squash Some Tomatoes Others harvested just once Lettuce Spinach Root crops Do not let crops over mature – they will go to seed (bolt)

62 Plants remove nutrients from the soil – these nutrients need to be replaced Compost does much of this Cover crops also contribute Crops grown to enhance the soil –not to harvest Protect the soil in the winter Add nitrogen to the soil Legumes take N from the air and add it to the soil Done by bacteria that live on plant roots

63 Add Compost to the soil: In the spring When transplanting or sowing Through the season around base of plants Mulch the Soil: In summer to reduce evaporation and add fertility In winter to protect soil structure Remove mulch in spring to warm up soil

64 The rapid biological decomposition of organic matter All garden and household veggie waste can be composted This compost can be returned to the soil Requires five things: 1. C:N Ratio (24:1) – equal parts browns and greens 2. Moisture – as wet as a wrung out sponge 3. Air – aerate compost with tool 4. Surface Area – chop up material before adding 5. Diverse materials


66 Lettuce Kale Chard Parsley Squash Tomatoes Beets Parsnips Garlic Peas and beans Raspberries Rhubarb Strawberries But its most important to plant what you like to eat!

67 Establish Garden/Build Soil Sow Seeds/Transplant Plants Feed and Water Plants Harvest Plants Feed Soil with Compost

68 It all starts with the soil…treat it like a living organism Soil texture tells you how your soil acts Drainage Nutrient retention Build soil by adding compost and other organic matter OM influences how soil acts Improves soil structure – aggregation Avoid woody materials in the soil We want to energize the soil – make it active Add compost to soil throughout the season Get to know your tools – use what works best for you

69 Use best method for you to establish garden from lawn Do not make beds to wide – maximum 40 Use a combination of direct seeding and transplanting Grow crops at the appropriate time of the year Grow what you like Pay close attention to your garden to learn from it Talk to neighbours and other gardeners The best fertilizer is the gardeners shadow!. Have fun!

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