Thursday, October 29, 2015

Starting and Situating Your Garden

On the gardening portion of this blog, we fill focus mostly on raised bed gardening.  This technique has become very popular recently for good reason - it is dramatically less work and more suited to smaller garden plots.  An excellent book on this subject is Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew.

You really don't need many tools in raised bed gardening.  We would recommend a hand spade or just a good quality soil knife (which you will find to be the most useful tool in the garden).  You will need a drill if you plan to build the raised bed yourself.

As suburbs where many live usually do come from converted farmland, they usually lack trees initally.  This can be an eyesore, but also a blessing in disguise.  Trees can raise property value a great deal, so we do recommend planting trees in your front yard.  However, if you plan to garden in you back yard (as most do), we strongly recommend keeping an area without tree or shade cover.  This will be the setting for our garden.

If not using raised beds (meaning if you dig into the soil already there), we strongly encourage you to not place your new garden near any older, treated wood fences.  Before 2004, most treated wood was pressure treated with arsenic, which leaked into the surrounding soil.  Also, if on an older industrial site, you may want to have your soil tested for lead by the local authorities.  Frequently this will be done for free if you contact the county health department.

It is for these reasons that we recommend a raised bed.  A raised bed for most plants only needs about 6 inches of soil.  We recommend 4x4' raised beds.  These can be bought in stores (for around ~$40) or assembled out of (non-treated) 2x6' lumber.  You can usually have the lumber cut in store to 4 feet long each (and have one end overlap in each corner when screwing them together).  You will probably want to put weed cloth (black fabric availble at the home improvement store) over the base of the raised bed.

Locate your raised bed in an area with good exposure (no shade) to the east, west and south.  As on sunlight will come from the north here in the U.S., you can have trees or fences to the north.  If the ground is level (you can eyeball it or use a bubble leveling tool), you can just set the raised bed directly on the ground.  If not, dig out the higher elevation and set this dirt on the lower part to make a flat bed.

You will also want to shield your garden from pests.  These can include rabbits and deer.  If you have a full height (6 foot) fence, I would encourage you to place your garden within it.  This will almost always keep away the deer.  Rabbits are more difficult, and the author only got rid of them after getting a dog.  If you go this route, we strongly encourage you to get a rescue dog after a careful search online.
The raised bed up against the south side of a fence (the fence is to the north) with the soil mixture listed below

For soil, Square Foot Gardening recommends 1/3 compost, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 peat moss.  This is likely the best combination for optimal water retention, but all potting soil should work nearly as well.  Vermiculite especially is quite expensive.  We recommend you go to the warehouse clubs (Sam's Club, Costco) to get potting soil as it is usually 50% cheaper there than anywhere else.

A completed Square Foot (raised bed) garden with a grid pattern on top, ready for planting
Some plants do grow better on trellises.  If you do plan to grow plants on a trellis, you have a few options.  The more aesthetically pleasing is to build a wood trellis (again - non treated wood).  The more efficient way is to follow Mel Bartholomew's advice and suspend a string trellis from bend 1/2 aluminum electrical conduit.  This conduit is held up by rebar (reinforcing steel bars) hammered into the ground.  Trellises should always go to the north of your garden here in the U.S. to prevent blocking needed sunlight.

True Square Foot Gardening has a grid pattern, but this is entirely optional.  For our purposes, I would suggest not using it as it will interfere with placement of the Groasis Waterboxx, which itself decreases garden work and watering.

You now will have a fully functional garden bed ready to use.  In our next post, we will discuss planting. We would love to hear your comments below - to leave one, please click on "Comments".

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