Sidewalk Habitat Food Forest

Nuttalls woodpecker in Sidewalk Veggie Bed

A Nuttalls woodpecker keeps a wary eye while feeding on a sunflower head in the author’s sidewalk veggie bed.

What to plant?  We have a sizeable bed of soil and want to get a crop in before the season slips by.  But what should I plant in our sidewalk veggie bed?  I don’t usually get too involved with shoulds in my garden but there are some mindsets that are starting to rule me.  Native plants, for one.  FOOD, for another.  Ease of planting, cost, water use, and joyously beautiful presentation are just a few other considerations.

Did you say joyous?  Oh, then sunflowers will cover that.  I heard FOOD (all caps to drown out my grumbling stomach).  Amaranth, and its nutritious leaves will fill that job.  And for ease of planting, crimson clover will gladly carpet the soil.  Settled — our front garden (along the sidewalk) veggie bed will be planted out with sunflower, amaranth, and crimson clover.  But none are native to our part of California.  Will our flowery cast of characters be a beneficial addition to the wildlife of our garden?  I sure hope so!

Alas, none of the sunflower, amaranth, or clover plants are natives to our wildlife garden.  But they will abundantly contribute to our wildlife garden?  Yes they will — all three plants have done so in past years.  All three plants are popular habitat resources for many critters, and those critters are mostly native.  So, some bending of the rules for my perfect World.  We will let the native plant issue slide (for just now) BUT will work hard to maximize the veggie bed’s wildlife garden features.  Let’s start from the bottom up.


The soil in this bed has progressively gotten richer over the years — the adobe soil we inherited has responded well to yearly hugelkultur layering.  The planting cycle has been: 1) Early summer — sunflower crop is planted, grows to maturity, and withers in place.  2) Late fall — sunflower/pumpkin stalks are “chop-and-drop’ed”, and then covered with soil.  Garlic is planted.

I want better soil in our veggie bed.  So out goes the old soil, an act that violates the no-till farming that I usually adhere to.  In go organics, some dripping with Life.

Oak Bark Harvest as first layer of hugelkulture.

Oak bark harvest as first layer of hugelkulture.

The bottom of the now enormous hole is lined with oak bark “harvest”.  Besides microbes, the bark comes with a custom collection of fungi.  Good soil stuff!  Good start-a-food-web-for-wildlife stuff!

Chicken Pen Treasure

Chicken pen debris pile (a mound of sticks that lived with the chickens) is layered above the bark harvest.

Hot organics are now in the hole, waiting to be buried.  The nitrogen-rich chicken poop will heat things up, perhaps give the veggie bed its own micro environment suitable to thriving microbes and plants.

Alfalfa Straw Tiles in Veggie Bed.

Alfalfa Straw Tiles in Veggie Bed. Note that soil will surround each alfalfa tile.

My favorite layer is next: alfalfa straw tiles.  Makes perfect sense, especially if you love to experiment like I do.  Previously, I buried the tiles to get some nitrogen rich organics in another bed, then harvested the rich compost six months later.  I have been a tile man ever since.

Old soil returns.

Old soil returns over the alfalfa tiles.

Time to start cleaning up the sidewalk of the soil pile.  The old soil is shoveled over the alfalfa tiles.

Alfalfa Bed

Alfalfa bed will create a moist, rich layer (critter highway) in the planting bed.

I love lasagna.  And where better to cook than in the garden?  So the next layer is not green noodles, but more alfalfa.  This layer will not be tiles, though; it will be a shredded bed of loose alfalfa straw.  My way of mixing things up, a high-rise apartment for biodiverse animal habitat.

Soil layer on top of alfalfa.

Soil layer on top of alfalfa.

Add soil.

Surboard Retaining Wall

Surfboard Retaining Wall will allow more soil to be added to the planting bed.

The oak harvest, chicken pen debris, and alfalfa in the bed has taken up a great deal of volume.  Although the mass of those organics will be ten percent of todays volume in six months, we want to add more soil to the bed today.  The planting bed’s retaining wall is built up by adding another horizontal plank.  Meet Surfboard, a beautifully carved plank of redwood trunk.


Millipede in Sidewalk Habitat Food Forest

A millipede crawls out from Straw Bale Recliner Veggie Bed.

Earthworm Soil Harvest

Earthworm Soil Harvest. Many microbes besides the red wiggler worms means primo soil additive.

Earthworm Box soil is added for all the rich microbes and red wiggler worms.  The wigglers will die because they are compost worms and will not thrive in an ordinary planting bed.  Perhaps the buried alfalfa will extend their life.  Either way, they will contribute to the bed’s food web — somebody’s got to like dead red wiggler for dinner.

Earthworm Bin Harvest layer.

Earthworm Bin Harvest layer.

The earthworms are covered with fresh greens.  I finally got to pruning the grapes!  Nice to turn one job’s debris into another’s treasure.  Soil is added to cover the greens.

Organic fertilizer and glacial rock dust are sprinkled on the bed.

The bed’s original topsoil layer, which was set aside for this final soil layer stage, is used to cover the bed.

Sunflower, amaranth, and crimson clover seeds are sprinkled onto the topsoil and mixed in by hand.

Sunflower, amaranth, and crimson clover planting.

Sunflower, amaranth, and crimson clover planting.

Old (seasoned) rice straw is used to mulch the bed.  The old straw will have less viable seeds, be heavier, and is easier to work with than a new bale.

Add water.  A heavy sprinkle of hose water is used to drench the bed.  Water down below will stimulate life in the Habitat Food Forest.

I am eager to see this forest of flowers grow!

To see some videos of this project, go to:

Enjoy your wildlife gardening.  Habitat It!


© 2013, Tony McGuigan. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us

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About Tony McGuigan

Tony McGuigan is the author of Habitat It And They Will Come:  The Why, Who, and Fun-How of Creating Animal Habitats in Your Yard. Tony brings his many diverse skills and passions to Spore Lore’s products and services. His experience as a registered nurse and background in early childhood development, accounting, building, plumbing, sustainable landscaping and gardening—along with being a papa, avid outdoorsman, and enthusiastic student of life—infuses his work as a writer, photographer, editor, and publisher with a uniquely creative perspective, courageous out-of-the box thinking, and immense humor. Related to gardening and ecological landscape design, Tony holds a Sustainable Landscape Professional Certificate from Sonoma State University and a Permaculture Design Certificate from Regenerative Design Institute. Although grounded in cutting-edge research and literature of the field, Tony is pragmatic, not a purist, is unconventional in his landscaping approach yet has an eye for the aesthetic, is a master of reuse and recycling, and is a keen observer of nature and nurturer of relationships—animal, plant and human. Follow Tony on Facebook and also on Twitter 


  1. sue dingwell says:

    Tony, I love it! Soil lasagna! We just hauled five Subaru car loads of stuff to mix up for a city-sidewalk garden like yours. Soil is key. Can’t wait to see the photos from the feast. Thanks for the creative ideas,

    • Tony McGuigan says:

      Yes, will be nice to see sprouts, then blooming flowers. Have fun with your city-sidewalk garden.
      Tony McGuigan recently posted..Sidewalk Habitat Food Forest

  2. Donna@Gardens Eye View says:

    Tony I love your layer choices and it is just shining with nutritious soil…you can just see it!
    Donna@Gardens Eye View recently posted..Those Wonderful June Blooms

    • Tony McGuigan says:

      Thanx for the good vibes re the soil’s health. Will be fun/rewarding to see what comes of it all. Perhaps too many sunflowers! (Is there such a thing?)
      Tony McGuigan recently posted..Sidewalk Habitat Food Forest


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