A few years ago, I hiked the Inca Trail in Peru and learned about Pachamama. In the simplest of terms, she is Mother Earth. Wikipedia’s definition is:
“In Inca mythology, Mama Pacha or Pachamama is a fertility goddess who presides over planting and harvesting. Pachamama is usually translated as “Mother Earth”, but a more literal translation would be “Mother Universe” (in Aymara and Quechua mama = mother / pacha = world, space-time or the universe).”
While the term was new, the concept wasn’t. Many cultures have Earth associated with the feminine and giver of life and sustenance. That resonates with me, and gardening is my tribute to Mother Earth. Plus, I get to play in the dirt all summer! I hope my story inspires you to get outside and play in the dirt while doing right by Pachamama.
Let me start by saying I’m not an expert but someone that enjoys gardening and the many values that are inherent in the simple act of gardening. Well not so simple with zones, seasons, rotations, nutrient needs, pests, and microbiology of the soil. My yard is in a perpetual cycle of experimentation whether that is cover crops to add green manure, milky spore for Japanese beetles or my latest no-till and sheet mulching. To the untrained eye, it looks like disaster and chaos but in my head it’s self-sufficiency, lowering my carbon footprint, and healing the land. While I’m not an expert, I’m not a complete newbie either. I’ve been gardening to some degree my entire adult life. I like to think of myself as living in a sustainable manner, though I often appear like the bag lady hoarding newspaper, cardboard and looking for free stuff on NextDoor. In return I’m pushing zucchini, tomatoes and peppers to neighbors, friends, and innocent passersby or what I like to believe is “building community”!
This year I decided to remove the grass in my front yard. Besides it being the water-conscious choice, every self-proclaimed gardener needs more garden space! Am I right?!? Maybe this is an addiction, but I digress. The first decision I had to make was how best to remove the turf. My Google searches led to following options: mechanically remove the grass, solarize, chemically treat (oh heck no!) or something more regenerative by way of smothering the grass of light. No need to explain pesticide use. I thought about solarizing, which literally cooks the grass until it dies, but that kills everything from pests to the good microorganisms. I decided it needed to be either mechanical (hubby with a new shovel) or regeneratively or a combination.
The second choice I needed to make was what to put in its place. I have about 400sqft of space and I knew I wanted flowers as well as more space for food. For the flower garden portion, I needed it to be pretty since this was in the front yard. I’m a right-brain individual and struggle with “pretty” in general. But trying to find the right flowering plants that factor in drought tolerance, non-invasive or native species, colors, heights, spacing and bloom time was too much for me. I needed a turn-key solution.
Enter Resource Central! They are the folks who created Garden in a Box. They offer professionally designed, plant-by-numbers solutions. All the design work is done for you. You simply pick a design that fits your space and sun requirements, pay, and pick up the plants when they’re ready. They offer this twice a year, Spring and Fall and they sell out. If you are interested, get on their email distribution so you know when they open the ordering. Here is the link: https://resourcecentral.org/gardens/.
For the flower garden, my husband removed the grass using a shovel. I think he enjoys the mindlessness of the physical labor. Then I laid down 5-7 layers of newspaper to create a weed barrier and watered down the area. This was now ready for the Garden in a Box plants. You simply dig a hole through the paper and plant. Even though it wasn’t necessary, I placed a little compost in each hole. I couldn’t help myself.
The second half of the space will be used to grow food, so building nutrient-rich soil will be needed. But I still had to kill the grass first. Enter the free cardboard I’ve been collecting from neighbors. By covering the turf with cardboard, you smother the grass of light, but the grass dies in place and contributes nitrogen to the soil. The cardboard will also breakdown in place and add carbon. Nitrogen and carbon are the building blocks of compost so this method kills the grass while building the soil. This process is best done in the Fall so the work happens over winter when most things are dormant anyway. Continuing the pattern of nitrogen and carbon layering is what is referred to as sheet/lasagna mulching. This concept also leads to no-till gardening which is my experiment for the next few growing seasons.
Lastly, I put wood chips on top of the entire yard. This is another free resource as tree removal companies rather give away their wood chips than pay for disposal. The half with the Garden in a Box is all set. The second half with cardboard will decompose over the winter and begin building soil for vegetable beds next Spring. I’m happy with the results of our project so far. I can’t wait to see The Garden in a Box in full bloom by year two or three.
Trupti Suthar lives in Sunnyside and is president of Sunnyside United Neighbors. When she is not organizing events and building community, she is in her garden or in her kitchen whipping up delicious food with what she grows.