Fair Field

Spring 2017 – Fair Field Flourishes!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Fair Field is fair, and a field.  It is fair, as in lovely, as in just; it is public land, and anyone can pick. It is a field, a meadow, where diverse plants can flourish. This Field focuses on food-producing plants, including flowers and seeds; food for people and birds and bees. Birds and bees need food like the rest of us, so you’ll see comfrey and fireweed, for example, to please the bees and mulch around dwarf trees. The Fair Field helps show passers-by how to put degraded public land to more productive use. The Fair Field helps teach adults how to share.

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 October 2013 – Fair Field Founded!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn October 2013, a small group of volunteers founded the Fair Field on the boulevard along Fairfield Road, between Vancouver and Cook. Sheet mulching turned grass into garden in a few easy steps. In our climate, it takes 6 to 10 months for compostable materials to boil down to soil, but you can plant earlier than that, including on day one. The rainy season is a good time to sheet mulch: early fall seems to be the best time; early spring can work well too. Avoid sheet mulching during dry summer months.

Basically, we placed a layer of unwaxed cardboard (with tape & staples removed) on top of the grass and placed layers of compostable materials on top of the cardboard. We alternated thin layers of ‘brown matter’ (for carbon) with ‘green matter’ (for nitrogen). Examples of brown matter: dead leaves and wood chips; examples of green matter: manure, coffee grounds, and fresh grass clippings. Food scraps count as green matter, but probably aren’t a good ingredient on the boulevard. Dogs might dig for treats, disturbing dog owners and boulevard gardeners alike.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASheet mulching does less to disrupt soil ecology than digging up the grass, and builds new soil on top of the old by leaving materials to decompose in place. As microbes, worms and bugs work their way through those materials, new soil is created and old soil is loosened. Water thoroughly before, during and after layering the mulch, to speed decomposition and help hold materials together. For more information on sheet mulching, check out Factsheet #7 on the Compost Education Centre website.

Special thanks to: Community Composting for donating 12 x 20-litre bags of finished compost to the cause; Caffe Tre Fantastico and Koffi for keeping used coffee grinds for gardeners; and extra-special thanks to Javen Bernakevitch of Permaculture BC for donating straw and wood chips seeded with mycelium. A terrific top layer!

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The Fair Field covers about 380 square feet.  Gathering plenty of compostable materials, in advance, was an important preliminary step.

To sheet mulch, the recipe is simple enough: Roughly 50% brown material, 50% green material, laid down in thin alternating layers.  No need to dig up the grass.  On the boulevard, the soil might be compacted hard like cement.  Lay down enough compostable material, and let the worms and other wigglies do the work!

For your info, here’s the list of brown materials we used (because plants need carbon):

  • Well over 400 square feet of unwaxed cardboard, with tape, stickers and staples removed (I suggest plenty of extra cardboard, because some gets tucked in around the edges of the garden, and each piece should overlap at least a few inches with the neighbouring piece);
  • 16 huge bags of leaves, mainly from maple trees (easy to find in the fall);
  • 1 potatoe sack of wood chips and 5 small boxes of straw (top layer).

Here’s our list of green materials (because plants need nitrogen):

  • 10 garbage bags of horse manure (purchased for $1.50 per half-bag from road-side stops in Saanich);
  • 1 garbage bag of coffee grinds (your local coffee shop might be happy to help);
  • a few garbage bags of fresh grass clipping and yard trimmings;
  • 12 x 20-litre bags of finished compost.

And of course, plenty of water. Notice that all of these materials can be made or gathered, for little or no money. We could have used even more materials, to thicken the mulch. Better to have a little too much than not quite enough!

Don’t forget tools, like shovels to dig edges and pitchforks to aerate hard-packed soil. Sadly, you’ll need a lawn mower. The grass could use a crew cut before you begin. Take heart. Once the garden is rooted, you might hoe, but never mow!

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