Reading about Permaculture and Edible Forest Gardening has given us some ideas about how to help change our new space and outdoor living area into more of an edible paradise.
But it all begins with the dirt... er, soil. And a LOT of ours has been covered in red volcanic lava rock over black plastic for 30 years. So I let my fingers do the walking and craigslist has come to the rescue.
People have been showing up to rake our rocks into small piles, then shovel them into their trucks and give them life somewhere else. One guy landscaped his aging father/retired rocket scientist's back yard. Another backfilled a retaining wall. Another is giving them to a school for their yard. Some people have come once, and two have come four times. Even with all of these people lending us a hand and giving our rocks a second lease on life, we still have a LOT left. I think it may be slightly under half, but am hopeful that it is a steady stream of people. I am really glad I don't have to rake and haul them to the dump myself, or hire someone to do it.
We have decided that sheet mulching is the easiest way to make our soil friable and support our new ecosystem. We are doing a very simple weed barrier and mulch method. For the weed barrier, we are using old cardboard boxes and old shopping bags. The mulch has come by the truckload from local tree services with wood chippers. I found the first tree service online doing a search for "free wood chips" and my city name. I got myself on a wood chip list and it took five weeks of waiting for the load to arrive.
The next three (yes, three) loads came when I responded to a craigslist posting for free wood chips. Turns out, they have wood chips every day. Now I have three loads of wood chips on the front lawn (this photo only shows one load, actually) and was tempted to have another delivered tomorrow (my husband talked me out of it).
We have been moving the chips in as the lava rocks are taken away. In these areas, we are only using wood chips, since there are no weeds to shade out. We are doing about 6" deep. In the areas that are next to the house, we used a weed barrier and a 6" layer of chips. On the small piece of lawn that is being converted to farmland (see top photo), we used cardboard boxes overlapping by 6", then a 6" layer of chips. If all goes well, we will be able to plant it out in a year. Over the course of that time, the chips will decompose the weed barrier and it will attract bugs, worms, and microbes~ basically, composting in place while shading out the existing lawn and weeds.
One of the best parts so far has been the neighborhood kids coming over to run up and down the pile, or to grab a rake and help move chips until they get bored. That, and the sweet smell of the chips. This last load is pine and smells like the holidays.