Organic in Form and Function – The Garden Wheel
Oct 17, 2011
We moved out to the country in June 2005, and my first year’s “garden” was a couple dozen transplants from my mom. The next year, I decided I wanted to use permanent beds to create a unique and beautiful focal point for our garden.
Does it Matter What Your Garden Looks Like?
Because we have a passive solar home, we have large, south facing windows that look out over our main garden area. Even the picture window over my kitchen sink looks out at the garden – which is a great reminder to make sure to spend enough time in the garden. Having a garden that is attractive as well as functional makes it a pleasure to spend time tending it. Whenever someone visits our home, they can’t help but have their eyes drawn to the garden area, and the garden wheel never fails to drawn compliments.
Why Choose a Garden Wheel?
I decided to use a wheel form because I liked the “poetry”, if you will, of the garden turning along with the seasons. Because of the passive solar orientation and natural daylighting of our home, we are very aware of seasonal changes in the solar angle, and of the seasons themselves. I wanted to carry that awareness into the garden.
The wagon wheel shape has a practical aspect, too, as the “spokes” of the wheel provide walking paths between the permanent beds that make up the “gaps” of wheel. Beds are sized so every corner of the bed may be reaching without stepping into it, which keeps the soil from becoming compacted with foot traffic. The permanent beds also allow you to concentrate soil amendments where they are needed, saving time and money. I keep the pathways mulched to keep down weeds (I use some mulch in the beds, too), which also saves a lot of time weeding and eliminates the need for mechanical weed control such as roto tilling during the growing season.
Organic in Form and Function
From tiny acorns grow mighty oaks…
When I started looking through the old photos, it was pretty amazing to look at how the wheel began. There was literally next to nothing out in the yard – faded mulch from the previous year’s garden, last year’s Christmas tree, bird feeders and a bird bath, a couple of piles of rotten manure and a brush pile. In the first few beds I marked out, I simply laid down newspaper put some seed potatoes down, and covered them with half-composted leaves. (Note: this didn’t work very well, as it was a dry year and many of the potatoes dried out instead of growing.) As you can see in this photo, it was not much to look at.
(wheel post photo 1 – May 17, 2006)
After deciding on rough dimensions (inner wheel six feet in diameter, five foot wide path surrounding it, beds 10 feet long and four foot wide at their widest, paths between beds four feet at their widest), I more or less “winged it” for laying out the beds. As a result, they’re not precisely lined up with the compass points, but they’re reasonably close, and bed and path dimensions may vary a bit. I used a marked string and stick combo to measure distances from the center of the wheel, and used four foot wooden garden posts to rough measure the beds. As the beds were created, I pounded in posts in the corners to permanently mark them. The posts have remained to this day, as they are still handy markers when the garden beds are covered in mulch or snow. I’ve used them to locate patches of mache greens in February under a snowbank.
(wheel post photo 2 – May 29, 2006)
Keep in mind that this was being hand dug out of heavy sod, so it was slow going. After starting a garden in virtually undisturbed prairie, I now have a better appreciation for how pioneers were able to build sod houses, and what back breaking work it must have been. The above photo shows the garden in late May 2006, after the majority of the bed had been dug. It’s still pretty rough, but we’re gaining ground – literally.
Habitat for Beneficials and a Bountiful Harvest
Fast forward to August 2006. Two beds are still untilled, but those are occupied by the bird feeders. (They’ll be tilled the following year and the feeders will be shifted just to the east.) The heirloom tomato plants have gone crazy and overrun their four foot post supports. (Next season I switched to a combination of supports from above and below to give the plants support up to six feet.) Trellised pole beans and cucumbers share space with brassicas and onions. An experiment with corn and pumpkins in the same triangular bed was a flop. (The pumpkins got ahead of the corn and overran it. In later years, corn was moved to a bigger bed outside the wheel, and pumpkins were planted around it, which helps keep out raiding raccoons.) I was able to put up a fair amount of produce in our freezer and canning pantry. As my eldest put, we were “enjoying the bounty of our land”.
(wheel post photo 3 – August 24, 2006)
The center garden bed is a riot of herbs and flowers, blooming with color. I make it a point to interplant herbs and flowers around the garden as companion plants, but the center “hub” is a mini oasis for beneficial birds, insects and other critters. There’s a bird bath, and stones for toads and small snakes to hide under. Later, I added a ground level bath with stones in it for different bathing heights. The birds enjoy perching on the marking sticks and trellises, too, and I have seen them hopping around the broccoli plants eating cabbage worms. Sunflowers and other flowers are left to go to seed in the garden, and not removed until spring, so that their spent blossoms can provide additional winter food for the birds that stay in the area.
(wheel post photo 4)
I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of the first year of our garden wheel, and are inspired to “think outside the box” of rectangular beds. A slide show of the current garden years can be viewed below, and other photos are available on The Common Sense Homestead yourgardenshow homepage and on my blog at Common Sense Homesteading.