I do realize it's not even Christmas yet, but I am already planning my garden. I'll be starting seeds in January and February so that I can get them into the ground in the early spring. There's a lot of planning that goes into a successful garden and no time like the present to get rolling on it.
Just getting the ground ready where I live is going to be a chore. For the past several years I have been limited to container gardens as the soil in my yard is clay and rock and covered with a thick Bermuda or Zosia grass. The plan is to collect some old materials, create raised beds, and try to lower my grocery bill in this rough economy. The added bonus is that I will know exactly what is in the food that I grow and not have to worry about all the genetically altered, chemical laced foods in the stores today.
I found this old photograph of my great grandfather and his dog, sitting with a friend in what appeared to be a garden. I asked my mother why he and his friend were sitting in the garden chatting away the day instead of in the yard. She replied that the garden was the yard. There wasn't much grass to mow because almost every square inch was planted in something edible.
As you can see the area is filled with grape arbors, vegetables, and herbs. Knowing how my grandparents lived, I am sure there were a mess of chickens running around somewhere to fertilize all that nice greenery.
I started gardening for fun when I was young. And when my children were young I gardened out of necessity and canned foods. Sometimes I even sold off surplus goods to pay for other things we needed but couldn't grow myself. One year I made use of a glassed in back porch and raised enough garden starts alone to buy myself a very nice tiller, which I used to tend a half acre garden. The tiller is long gone, as is that nice fertile plot of ground I tended. I have moved a couple of times since then.
Gardening fell by the way side over the years as I worked more and more to support my family. Thinking back I may not have had to work so hard for someone else had I continued to garden and grow the food I placed on my table. Alas, that's history.
Living now in an area with poor soil the biggest chore will be to make raised beds and get them filled with the proper organic matter to produce a good crop. Acquiring the the materials may be the biggest expense in the project and choosing where to set them up is another matter all together. The bonus is that with raised beds you don't have to worry about tilling or an over population of weeds. By building your beds from scratch you can choose what goes in them and therefore choosing more nutrient rich compounds to create your soil.
Also, raised beds contain more nutrients per square inch, if made properly, than that of the average soil. This means that you can raise more food per square inch than you can in a traditional garden bed. Plants that would normally be set 18 inches apart can be packed in at half that distance and therefore producing more food per square inch. I have a friend who gardened in raised beds for more than a decade before he passed away and his entire yard was a garden with raised beds spotting the landscape.
My compost heap out back is small, but I intend to raise it with wire and build upon in greatly between now and the spring in hopes of having a super boost to add to my raised beds. One thing I am lacking, but can find an abundance of, is manure.
I would really like to have a few chickens but alas the people in my subdivision would have a stroke if I acquired even a handful of birds. It would be fantastic to have fresh eggs and an unlimited supply of chicken poo to add to the compost heap. But the restrictions here prohibit any foul of any kind being raised.
It's crazy, I think, since we live eight miles from the nearest town, out in the boonies so to speak, but I should manage not to break too many of the rules here. Were I allowed to have a few birds, I would probably have a coop that looked much like this. As it is, I'll be begging local farmers for my poo supply this year. <sigh
It is my hope that in the spring I can have ready my beds and soil, have enough plant starts to grow enough vegetation to get me through until the next growing season, spend less at the grocery store, and maybe have a little extra to trade or sell for the other necessities of life. The economy is not getting any better, the job market is not growing, and this is just one thing I can do to better myself and reduce my living expenses.
Something I have now, that I didn't have back in the days when I was an avid gardener, is the internet. I no longer have to wait to be able to buy the books I need to gather information to make a more productive garden. Information is at my fingertips and I take full advantage of that. Check out this neat little growing chart that helps you keep your soil viable just by rotating your crops yearly.
So time to catch up on some reading, get out the old gardening books, and get at it. Time to put my skills to work.
Planning a garden is a task all it's own. Narrowing down what you have the time, space, and ability to grow in your region takes a little doing. The basics would start with making a list of the things your family eats and how much of it everyone will consume.
In my case, it will be mostly me who eats from the gardens so the list is a little more limited than if I still had a growing family at home.
So if I make a list of the things I eat or will use, then narrow it down by what I can grow in my area,and what is cost effective to produce, I come up with this list.
After the list is complete it's time to start a little planning on which varieties of plants you will be growing, and when to plant each seed to get started. Some plants take longer to germinate than others so it's important to have everything sprouted and at the right stage before placing everything outside into cold frames, and that will mean sowing seeds at different intervals.
I don't plan to build cold frames this year since gathering the necessary materials to build the raised bed garden with be enough of a task. I have a much more simple solution.
On my deck I have a sizable, rectangular, glass top table. My plan is to wrap it in heavy, clear plastic and set my seedlings under it on racks I already have. (As a winter experiment, I plan to try to grow some lettuce and spinach under the table as well.) If I were willing to spend the extra money, and drive nails into the siding of my home, I might do something that looks similar to this.
Seedlings can be started in any sunny window of your home, and in just about any container. I usually start mine in flats (small shallow containers) and then later transplant seedlings into individual pots.
Some items that make great "flats" are the styrofoam or plastic containers you buy meat or produce in at your local store. The container should have drainage holes cut into the bottom to keep your soil from becoming soggy and rotting your seed. I'll use an old cookie sheet or used aluminum pans to place my flats in to keep the draining water from running all over the place when I water.
For leaf lettuce I will take the seedlings straight from the flat into the soil when ready. I won't bother to spread it out much as it can grow well in clumps or rows. When I harvest lettuce I don't pull the plant but rather cut it with scissors or just pull the tops of the leaves from the plant. This encourages the plant to grow more and allows you to get three or four cuttings from a single row or clump before the plant has lived out it's life cycle.
Here's a neat illustration I found on Facebook at Grow Food not Lawns. Using cardboard egg containers for individual seedlings makes it easy.
You could purchase peat pots to plant your seedlings in but why pay for something you may have laying around the house that will only go in the trash can anyway?
After you have transplanted your seedlings from flat into the egg carton, and it's time to plant the seedlings into beds, just cut apart the sections and plant container and all into the ground.
By doing so, you are not over handling the tender new roots of the seedlings and you are putting a little something back into the soil as the cardboard egg tray breaks down.
Since the soil on my property is so bad, and I don't want to spend a ton of money making raised beds, I have been looking for alternate container planting ideas and have come across a few that peak my interest.
Pallets are in abundance around my area. There is a guy right down the road about 2 miles who has a yard full of pallets. I am not sure what he does with them exactly but I am sure I could talk him out of a handful of them in the spring. Small vegetables would be simple to grow in an upright position and pallets are the perfect container for that. Lettuce, spinach, and dill are the first that come to mind.
Illustrations in the link for pallets shows planting Perennial plants in pallets but I think I would rather have those everlasting varieties taking root in the yard somewhere and not in a boxed in container that is likely to freeze over if placed upright through the winter.
Laying flat, a pallet garden might be attractive on my summer deck. In fact, stacking them 18 inches apart about 3 or 4 high might actually be slightly more creative and eye catching. Or simply placed on legs make a cute little table top type garden that will save my back a bit.
Since water, or lack there of last season, was a serious issue, I think it's best if I get some sort of rain catching equipment in the works. I kept a small swimming pool (baby sized) and a few buckets on the deck last year to catch rainwater. And although it worked sufficiently most of the season, just to water a few houseplants and trees, that method probably won't touch what I am going to need to grow a variety of vegetables and herbs.
I found these water catchers online and have actually seen a couple placed along the sides of a couple of homes I am familiar with. I have one downspout on my house that continuously clogs at the bottom and is a nightmare to keep up with in the spring rainy season. Several times a year it clogs and causes my basement to flood and that can be a real mess.
I am thinking that one of these barrels shown here might just be the answer to not only my water collecting needs, but to keeping my basement dry as well.
The one made of the trash can would suffice, but I think the one on the left is more eye appealing and would make a neat little project for Garrett and I to do on a warm spring day.
I think flowers and peace signs all over a water catcher sitting beside my basement door would look pretty nifty and I am sure Gare would be game to help with anything that concerns painting.
Either of these options would be a step up in comparison to my previous efforts.
This will be an ongoing blog, so check back in a few weeks to see what's happening with my spring garden :-)