Grit Blogs > Tackling the Country Life

Building the Garden

By Steve Daut


Tags: garden, vegetable, Michigan,

Steve DautI’m not sure whether she’s bragging or complaining, but Sue’s favorite expression has become, “Now even our projects have projects!”. Here we are in the dead of winter and we are in the midst of planning and preparing for our first garden together. Actually, we started planning it when we moved into the new house last summer, because despite the fact that the lot is 2 acres, it’s in the glacial terrain of Michigan, so there probably 20 feet of relief from the pond surface to the ridge along the back of the property. The lower areas are flat, but they are also in muck soil without much structural integrity, and riddled with moles and some pesky muskrats. The upper soils are very sandy without much organic material, and there’s not a flat spot to be found. And we have quite a few trees. 

After a few discussions and sessions of standing outside and staring around, we finally settled on a reasonably flat area northwest of the house. It works because it’s out back where we added a water spigot and it’s close to the house and the compost pile. Other than the slight slope and the sandy soil, there were only three problems with it. 

First problem: a mature tree smack dab in the middle on the south side of the plot. Second problem: the east edge of the garden area butts up against the woodpile which was cut into the hill. The current vertical, wooden retaining wall is falling down and will need to be rebuilt before we can expand the garden that far east. Third problem: Since we connect through forested land with the Waterloo Recreation area, which at 30,000 acres is the largest State recreation area in the Lower Peninsula, we get a lot of deer. Although we don’t see huge herds of them, they are a constant presence. The story goes that when the previous owner used to “feed” them, one winter day he counted 65 out on the frozen pond in the front yard. Since the nearest farm is half a mile down the road, our garden would quickly become the salad bar of choice for venison on the hoof. 

So at that point, the project sprouted four preparatory projects- cut down the tree, fix the retaining wall, build an electric fence and of course plan the garden itself. After I paced off the area, Sue got to work on the plot plan, which will result in some raised beds on the southwest corner of the area, and slowly expanding the garden to fill the whole area. I figure that gives me at least one summer, if not two, to get the retaining wall fixed. 

Then when we got a little break in the weather a week ago, I started on cutting the tree down. Well, I got part of the way done with that, noting that all 3 of my saw chains are dull as butter knives, when the chain started jumping off the saw. I’d put it back on and it would jump off again. As it turns out, the chain tightener and brake assembly was broken, so I had to order a new one. Since I had to wait until it got shipped in, I decided to go ahead and get the chains sharpened. That, of course, was project number 5. 

Finally, I got the chain saw fixed and went to work on it today. All I have to do is haul all the stacked wood down to the woodpile and project number 6 will be done. I plan to chip up the smaller limbs and branches and mix it in with a tiller to start building up the organic content in the soil. 

So project number 7 will be to rent a chipper.

shawn raymond
5/7/2009 6:29:44 AM

Well how is the garden coming? Used to live on the edge of Waterloo also. Great gardens I used to have. Should add some pics


shawn raymond
5/7/2009 6:27:39 AM

Well how is it going? Is it looking better. Use to live in the same place as you. "On the edge of Waterloo"