Sheet Mulch, Edible Guild and Mini Hoop House

After a few years of dreaming and several months of intentional observation, we've finally started a bit of garden here at our new home!  This weekend, we sheet mulched a new garden bed, planted a small guild of edible plants and put up a mini hoop house!


We've noticed that beside the garage is the warmest microclimate on our little piece of land.  This side of the garage faces southwest, gets plenty of sun, and is blocked from the winds that come onto the property from both the northwest and the northeast. The maple that was planted in the middle of that area about 10 years ago casted some shade on the garage.  Its trunk was also split in two; we expected that it would continue to split as it grew and could eventually break and fall.  So we decided to cut most of the tree down, leaving about 2.5 feet of its trunk in the hopes that it will coppice and offer branches for small building or arts and craft projects.  We now have lots of branches, which seem to be saying "hugelkultur", but we'll see where that goes later.

We have a lot of grass on this lot and decided to sheet mulch around the base of the maple to start our first bed of perennial edibles.

I started by loosening and aerating the soil with a fork in a ring around the tree. 

Next, I transplanted Egyptian walking onions, chives, garlic chives and daylilies near the outside of the bed.  Plants such as these with bulbs and which grow closely in clumps can help keep the grass outside of the bed from spreading back in via their roots.  Into the centre of the bed, closer to the base of the maple, we transplanted lemon balm and catnip. 
For each transplant, I dug a small hole and put in a handful or two of worm castings.  I surrounded the roots with the soil I had dug out of the hole.  Any chunks of grass with roots, I put along the outside the bed, with the roots facing up, to make a small border. 

Next I sprinkled a few handfuls of castings on top of the aerated grass INSIDE the bed and then covered the whole bed with a thick layer of newspaper.  The castings in the bed help to attract soil critters and the newspaper helps to smother out the grass in the bed, which will turn back into soil.  We put down one section of newspaper (5 to 10 sheets) at a time, making sure to generously overlap the sections of paper.  (This part we did together, as it was windy and helped to get all of it done as quickly as possible.)

We topped the bed off with a layer of straw about 3 inches thick and generously watered the entire bed.  Watering at this point gives the plants a good drink and helps to keep straw in place (we could have also watered while putting down the newspaper to keep it from blowing around).  We topped off the bed with several handfuls of wood chips to prevent the straw from blowing around.  I also thought it looked more "foresty" that way :)  We placed a few large crystals/stones, which we found in the garden, near the plants to absorb heat during the day and to help radiate some heat at night.  Our first garden patch here is planted!


More or less in tandem with my sheet mulching project, Sebastien was putting up our new mini hoop house, inspired by a film we recently watched on Eliot Coleman's four season gardening techniques.  We decided to put the mini hoop on a little patio area with concrete tiles beside the garage.  As I described previously, this area has a warm microclimate with great sun exposure and very little wind.

For about $55, we purchased the following items at the local Home Hardware:

  • 16 feet of 3 mil clear plastic (sold 10 feet wide, by the foot)
  • 5 10-foot pieces of 1/2 inch PVC pipe
  • 3 metal rods ~1/4 inch thick

Our mini hoop is about 8 feet long, about 4 feet wide and about 3 feet high.  The 5 PVC ribs are spaced out evenly along the length of the hoop.  Sebastien cut the metal rods in half and pushed a rod into the soil at the corner of where 4 concrete tiles met (the "tiles" are about 1.5 feet square).  Over each rod was placed one end of PVC pipe.  He pushed the other end of the PVC (which slightly surpassed the patio area) directly into the soil.  If the hoop house was entirely in the garden over soil, we could have done it with 3 or 4 pieces of PVC and no metal rods (we used the rods because the space between the tiles is smaller than the diameter of the PVC).  In the film, Eliot Coleman recommended spacing the PVC every 2.5 feet.

We covered the hoops with the length of plastic, weighing it down on the sides and ends with scraps of wood from the old barn (nails removed) and pieces of urbanite (recycled concrete) placed on top of the wood.

All of the seedlings which we started inside the house in our sunny room have been moved inside the hoop.  We also propagated cuttings of kiwi, mulberry and Asian pear, which are also now inside the hoop.

Yesterday was the first sunny day we had since putting up the hoop.  By mid-morning, it was less than 10 C outside and about 30 C inside!  Sebastien opened up one end of the hoop so the plants wouldn't cook.  In the afternoon, I crawled inside to check out the temperature.  It was about 27 C inside even with one end open; outside it was about 10 C.  And then I discovered, to my great delight that the hoop was tall enough for me to sit up comfortably - and it was long enough for me to lie down comfortably :)  So in addition to season extension for our seedlings and cuttings, I've discovered the greatest unintended benefit - having a place to relax and sunbathe in this cool spring weather! 

I forgot to mention that while we were sheet mulching and putting up the hoop, we had sun, strong winds, rain, snow flurries and pellets.  The next morning we had snow on the ground.  It made 30 C two days later seem like paradise.  Not bad for $55 and an hour of work.  Wow, what a weekend! 


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