Building the Garden

Following permaculture principles, we decided not to disturb the existing soil life and instead sheet mulched the 2000 square foot garden.  We also wanted it to reflect patterns found in nature and found instructions for building a mandala garden in a simple permaculture projects book [1]. We repeated the pattern 7 times to create 61 symmetrical garden beds. 

To build it, we first collected several truckloads of cardboard from local retail stores. They tend to have a large amount around, especially on delivery days. We then laid the cardboard over a mowed field, overlapping the edges by a few inches. Next, we covered all of the cardboard with 6-8 inches of mulch. Lucky for us, there is a local family-owned greenhouse and nursery 2.5 miles from the farm that sells bulk landscaping materials. So, we rented a dump trailer for a week and hauled  and spread the mulch ourselves - 24 cubic yards of it!  A very timely rainstorm thoroughly soaked the mulch and cardboard, saving us the effort of watering it before adding the top layer of soil, an additional 27 cubic yards of compost.

Once we had the garden materials in place, we built the beds by marking symmetrical circles using a flour sifter and raking the soil into 1-meter diameter circles that are each 1.8 meters apart from each other.  Each mound is about 12 inches deep with carved swales around the circumference to capture and conserve water. Lastly, we connected the outer circles in a repeated pattern to make longer garden beds and increase the gardening area.

The design allows us to conserve resources through thoughtful garden bed construction, which in turn reduces the amount of labor and other resources required to maintain it. It also allows for easy access to all of the garden beds without stepping in them, and allows us to create various environments that more effectively provide for different plants' needs.

[1] Getting Started in Permaculture, by Ross and Jenny Mars, 2007.