There is nothing like a bright red, homegrown tomato right out of the garden, or the addition of aromatic herbs to add dimension to the next meal. Backyard eating is an amazing way to experience the miracle of growth, the intensity of fresh, in season, organic produce, and participate in sustainable living practices. It can be as simple as splicing a couple of holes directly in a bag of organic potting soil and adding a few seedlings(for a self-contained “mini” garden), to container gardening on the porch, to a full-blown raised bed garden system. I am passionate about getting my hands in at the ground level, and watching it all unfold into an abundant harvest of life.
Here’s what worked for me:
Planning out a site that was prime for full sun(an annuals favorite, 6-8 hours per day, is ideal), and conveniently close to a water source.
Deciding the quantity of veggies desired to harvest. That will determine, of course, on how large of a garden layout you will need.
I chose raised beds because my soil is hard and high in clay. Raised beds are a great choice for several reasons: you can easily manage the loose soil(it does not get walked on or compacted), the beds warm faster than direct ground sow, allowing you to start the planting season a bit earlier, and the side walls can be used as support for a variety of cold frames and trellis’s. I used graph paper to layout the raised bed design that I wanted, making sure to space enough room between the beds to fit in a wheel barrel(a good measure for weeding, and harvesting.)
Double walled cardboard that had been re-cycled was laid out on the marked area. I chose a 27 foot octagon. The cardboard provided a nice base to begin on and great for weed prevention.
If you are handy at building, certainly it is less expensive to build your own raised bed boxes(highly suggested that you choose wood that is NOT pressure treated due to the chemicals used in that preservation process). However, if you are a lover of convenient, Natural Yards is an excellent alternative. They are a company that provides natural, easy to assemble, cedar raised bed kits(and have free shipping).
I chose 4- 4” x 6” x 16.5” and 4- 2” x 2” x 16.5”. The depth gives me flexibility for deep root plants, like tomatoes. The smaller 2″ x 2″ are perfect for herbs, zucchini and seeds.
One of the most fun parts of the process is deciding what to plant.
Seed Savers is an excellent company dedicated to organic seeds, specifically heirloom varieties. I have had great pleasure experiencing their Caribbean blue potatoes, purple basil, green and black zebra tomatoes and yellow pear tomatoes. You can really go crazy with all the varieties-they have 13 kinds of just garlic alone!
Tried & True Resources:
Once the plants are in place, buckwheat hulls are my favorite choice for mulch, keeping moisture in and weeds out. My compost of choice to add directly into the raised beds at the time of planting is vermicompost. (See my recent blog post on worm compost). My natural, organic insecticide, fungicide, and miticide of choice is Neem. Neem is a wonder-worker and a great preventative mist for all your flowers and vegetables.
There are oodles of resources on gardening and how to plant. The ones I love and use regularly are:
- Jeff Ball’s 60-Minute Vegetable Garden: Just One Hour a Week for the Most Productive Vegetable Garden Possible
- Garden Girl Home and Garden
- Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening
- Gardening with the Moon
Lastly, because I live in a county, wooded area, a deer fence was a must. I installed an 8 foot high deer barrier from Deer Busters. At any given moment, I can have a backyard full of deer. The fence has been installed for over 3 years and they happily peruse around it.
The final step would be an automatic, self-watering system. That is on my “things to do” list. I’ll keep you posted. For now, daily hand watering works just fine, and gives me a chance to keep good tabs on the growing process.
Organic Gardening is one of the most rewarding projects. It keeps me connected to my land, my food source, and the plant world.
Until next post,