Garden 2011: Breaking Ground

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Garden as of June 06.12.2011 Now that I’ve got this blog up and running to a relative level of my liking it’s time to introduce my garden which will provide me with all the awesome produce throughout the year.  Earlier this year in the late winter I decided I was going to plant and tend a garden this year.  The last weekend of Winter I went to the equipment rental store and rented an awesome tiller, the Merry Tiller International. Living in California we aren’t always blessed with the biggest of yards in city limits, but I managed to squeeze a 265 sq. ft. garden on the west side of the yard.  The west side, up against the fence was chosen since there is no PVC  in the ground for irrigation.

In possession of the tiller, I spent the next two days making at least twenty passes over the 22′ x 12′ area,  that would become the garden to achieve a depth of 24 inches.  In my haste to have a garden I decided to mow the grass short instead of properly clear it, tilling the grass and all of it’s roots into the soil.  If you decide to till a garden into your yard, do yourself the favor of clearing the grass before tilling, or you’ll be pulling grass for months. During the final passes of tilling I added 24 cubic feet of composte and wood chip mulch to the existing soil to promote better drainage and provide nutrients to the soil without the initial use of fertilizer.  Once I felt the soil composition was correct I began shaping my planting beds.

Lettuce, Carrot, and Shallot Beds

Lettuce, Carrot, and Shallot Beds with Mint and Parsley at end.

Planting the Garden

Once you have your soil ready to plant you’ll be presented with numerous techniques for growing your crops.  Raised bed, rows, French Intensive, Hills and much more.  What technique you use will be influenced by your needs, desires as well as the area and soil you have to work with.

Contained Raised Beds
Building raised beds will allow you to easily maintain your garden with hand tools and allows you to have full control over your soil.  Live in rocks or sand?  Try a raised bed, you’ll have a higher initial cost if you choose to build your bed’s from lumber but you’ll have total control of your beds.  Perhaps the biggest advantage is you won’t have to directly till up your yard.

Row Gardening
Row Gardening is what most will consider “traditional” gardening.  Once you have your garden dug and tilled you’ll build single rows that average 8-12″ in width that will usually run at least 30′ or more.  If you have the space to  plant a proper row garden then you’ll experience one of the easiest to maintain gardens.  The space between rows provides ample room to move while working in the garden and is easy to keep clean from invasive plants.

French Intensive/Square Foot Gardening
Now we come to how I’ve planted my garden earlier this year.  The French Intensive method of gardening uses wide, raised bed rows to grow crops in.  I combine this with the theory that most plants that are properly pruned and cared for can grow in a square foot area.   The square foot theory doesn’t apply to all plants due to size, light needs and blocking of light.  Tomatoes, Maize and trellised plants are a good example of this.

Three week old garden

Looking back towards the peas, beans, carrots, zucchinis and onions.

Above you can see the wide, raised beds that are 9-12″ from the garden floor with a 12-18″ wide ditch between each.  The ditch allows me to walk between the beds as well as serving as a ditch for irrigation.  My beds will vary from 24″-36″ depending on plants being grown.  Zucchinis are grown on mounds while my shallot, carrot, and lettuce section the beds run north south to maximize light usage.  On the north edge of the garden is where I have a standard row planted with my Cherokee Purple and Brandywine tomato on the end followed by Kandy Korn down the rest.

By looking at the pictures you can see it’s going to be a crowded garden, which is very true.  However, with a bit of extra work maintaining and shaping your plants you will produce a  surprising amount of produce from a relatively small area.  This is where the Square Foot theory really comes into play.

As your plants grow encourage them to grow up instead of out.  Train vines up supports, bunch tomato branches together and form vines instead of having a huge bushy mess.  Optimizing the space you have is key, you are limited horizontally but vertically you’re limited only by how high you choose to work.  As the season continues I’ll be showing all the nifty techniques and tricks to getting the most out of your space.

Another view of the young garden.

Another important aspect of gardening to plan for is how will you keep your plants watered.  Ideally you’ll live in a climate that provides plenty of rain all year round, sadly I do not.  Next year I’ll invest in a drip irrigation system to use the least amount of water possible.  Proper planning is needed before investing a few hundred in supplies.  This year I was hand watering at the bases of the plants with an extended wand, but now am using a flood/ditch irrigation with spot watering.  Just by filling the ditches up and allowing it to absorb into the soil I am getting by watering twice a week.  The bed’s provide an excellent environment for root development and they suck all that water up like big sponges.    Just whatever you do please DO NOT WATER YOUR PLANTS ON THEIR FOILAGE.  Bacteria, Fungus oh my!

In the next part of introducing my garden I’ll show what was planted and with what intent!

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