Sunday, June 3, 2012

Gardening Class 102 - learn by example.

At Cherry St I had a very limited amount of space to garden in.  My plot was 12x12', and I could only grow corn, peppers, 2 types of potatoes, garlic, beans, onions, carrots, 8 varieties of tomatoes, okra, basil, red malibar spinach, lettuce, broccoli and zucchini squash.  Yeah, all at once.  And I had enough to freeze and give away. Honest!  Plus - I could push a wheelbarrow around inside the garden and could reach everything I wanted to pick.  Oh - even better - I never weeded and didn't ever touch a shovel.  HONEST!  How?  Raised beds and a high-intensity method called Square Foot Gardening. It was very little work yet huge yields, and I was anxious to get started at the new place.

Pros:  TONS!  Too many for me to get into.  Read up on it yourself, or just see paragraph #1.
Cons:  Upfront expense and it creates a fairly structured garden appearance. 

In a nutshell - you raise the garden up and contain it within walls.  You can use cement block, decorative stone or even just wood.  (read up on the chemicals involved in pressure-treating, I like to use regular pine for anything near what we'll be eating...).  Don't worry about the existing soil - fill the beds with peat moss, compost and vermiculite or perlite (the exact stuff potting soil is made from). Make your beds narrow enough to reach in from either side - 4' is about the maximum width you'll want to deal with.  Divide each raised bed into square foot sections.  Each section will be filled with one, four, nine, or sixteen plants, depending on their size at maturity.  

When I first started getting the garden together this year, I figured I'd have to make due with a bare-bones setup.    I reused some old oak fenceboards for around the asparagus (Mary Washington and Purple Passion), had an old tractor tire and some mucktubs filled with soil that would make due. I considered doing a traditional, square dirt patch garden, but after digging the trench for the asparagus I said screw it.  A small garden is better than having to dig! 
A friend had some raspberries to share,  so I dug some pine needle compost out from under the trees, and the raspberries got a raised bed, too.  A lot of grass is poking up through, so as the Merchandiser comes and Josh mows, I lay the paper down around the branches and then smother it with grass.  No more weeds and it will be great compost.  

Well, wouldn't you know it, mom decided to replaced most of the pasture fencing - so I got a ton of oak boards to reuse.  The corners are 2x2" pine - I was going to pound them into the ground to anchor the beds, but when I started pounding the screws snapped, so, well, there you have it.  They're 6" deep, I'd like them to be deeper, but I'm not going to criticize my free boards.  

Someone on Craigslist had composted horse/chicken/sheep/goat manure for free, and loaded it for the same price.  Awesome - but I"m prepared to do some weeding because of the horse manure.  These are butternut squash coming up, the marker is cut from a plastic window blind that broke.  One blind will give me about a hundred of these babies, plus I will cut them very small to mark seed trays.  Waterproof and will last several seasons.  

 Peppers and eggplant.  Each bed is no wider than 4', I want to be able to reach the middle from both sides.  They can be as long as I want - in this case I was dealing with 8' boards, so that's the longest I'm using.  There's 2x8' beds, 4x6' beds, 4x8' beds and some 4x4's.
Each little pepper (and eggplant) gets 1 square foot of space.  So in this little 4x6' bed I can have 24, yes, twenty four, pepper plants.  There's some jalapenos, sweets, habanero and black beauty eggplant.

 More eggplant. 

There were a lot of boards!  I'm not sure what's going on with the fence yet, the pickett reminds me of a grave yard, the woven wire is just there to keep the dogs and chickens out.

This year I'm planting strawberries, peppers, eggplant, carrots, basil, swiss chard, tomatoes, green beans, wax beans, pole beans, yellow and green summer squash, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, watermelon, corn and asparagus, potatoes, sweet potatoes and turnips. 

Yeah, it looks crazy organized and like hours and hours of work every day.  But if you know me, I'm all about short, simple and minimum maintenance.  You do the math - and feel free to come get some veggies, I'll have more than we can eat! 

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