Making the Mandala Field

Why are vegetable patches always rectangular? It was time for a big circular garden, we thought.

We are often asked if the design of the field has some special meaning or if it’s a symbol.

The answer is more practical: we designed the garden in four quarters with integrated pathways in such a way that the maximum width of the planting beds is 1,20m. This way we can reach into the middle of the beds from all sides and the pathways create a mandala like form.

In autumn we covered the ground with a thick plastic foil that had been left behind in the barn by the previous homeowners. Several months later, in February of the following year we uncovered the ground. Most of the plants under the plastic had composted which meant more nutrition for the soil and less work for us.

We created the edges and borders of the field with stone. We sourced the stones from a local quarry in the neighbouring valley. Unfortunately, the disadvantage of using stones is that they are a great hideout for slugs during the day that inevitably come out on the prowl for your leafy greens in the cooler hours of the night. On the other hand however, stones protect the soil from drying out and thus provide water for the vegetables planted in close proximity. Stones also provide shelter to other insects and lizards that are undoubtedly beneficial to a garden ecosystem. Our solution for the slugs was to lay a thick layer (5-10cm) of wood chips (pine bark) on the paths; this deterred the slugs significantly.

The garden was envisioned as a no-dig garden. Therefore, we spread a 5cm layer of compost on top of the field to act as mulch. This compost mulch layer protects the topsoil from the sun and heavy rain and provides the soil, microorganisms, mycelia and plants with nutrition.

When the soil is left undisturbed (undug) the mycelia, microorganism and plant networks remain in tact and continue to support each other. This leads to a wonderful increased harvest. Another advantage of no-dig gardening is the need for less physical work like tilling and weeding.

Additionally, we decided to “spin the wheel” every year and move the vegetables from one quarter to the next so that it would be only every four years that we’d grow the same veggies in the same space. This is known as crop rotation. It is in fact not needed in no-dig gardening but we thought why not.

The center of the circle contains a smaller circle, marked by wooden beams. The inner circle would eventually be roofed and covered in a creeper. We laid each stone one by one with hand and dug each wooden beam into the ground alone. This labour of love, our mandala garden, took us a few months to create and is worth all that effort. It is beautiful and functional.

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