Thursday, February 12, 2009

Armchair Gardening

PlanBe has already started her peppers, man am I behind! I'm still drooling over the catalogues.

I have really been at gardening for 3 years now, though since I moved away from home I have always had house plants- I was the strange one on my floor in the dorm. We bought our house 3 summers ago, I don't think anybody had ever tried to grow anything other than weeds back there. When looking at houses I probably should have thought a littler harder about how big of a yard I would require for gardening, but we are here now, I love the house, and I am enjoying the challenges of having a 15'x25' yard. That first summer I was just ecstatic to have dirt to play with that wasn't in a pot.
When I started digging (with the help of my mom who has been gardening for 20+ years) we found construction debris-big rocks, chunks of concrete, etc.- even though our house was built over 100 years ago and we could immediately tell that the garden was not going to be immediately bountiful. Oh yeah, and the fence needed fixed...

For any of you with the problem of poor, previously unworked soil, the only way to deal with it is enrichment or 'amending the soil'. I was lucky to not get the clay soil that my mom has, but it was still very nutrient poor. So here's how my garden came about.
With such limited space, the compromise beween my husband and I was that I was allowed to have my garden if I left enough space to have friends over to enjoy our chimnea and space to enjoy eating alfresco. We settled on an approximately 2' deep bed around 3 sides with the small patio on the 4th.
I defined my beds, lining the edges with bricks that came from dismanteling the former outdoor privy- long ago abandoned, but the bricks were still in great shape- you have to love free on site building materials! Then I spent hours picking piles and piles of rocks and weeds out (which did have one benefit of concurrently loosening up the dirt), and saw just how bad our dirt was. The first summer we managed to get grass to grow. I planted tomatoes, lettuce, green beans and 3 kinds of flowers, I think we managed to get 3 tomatoes and 10 green beans. Oh yeah, and lots of zinnias. I killed a lot of plants and learned quite a bit.
The process-
A new garden needs:
Definition- In this case bricks to keep all the grass and weeds that I spent back breaking hours pulling out of the growing area, and so I only nurish the part where the plants are instead of overfeeding the grass. Raised beds are also an excellent choice as, among other benefits, they give you the freedom to build on top of poor soil rather than enrich it like I am, but in my case, that will come later.
Something to fluff it up- Coir is great for this, it loosens up the dirt so the plants can get their roots down in deep and improves drainage. I have found that coir also works well as mulch to keep moisture in the soil and weeds from growing around the plants.
Something to feed the plants- I choose to be organic, meaning I don't use manufactured chemicals as pesticides and fertilizers. In the long run it is MUCH better for the planet, your soil, and your body since you are not consuming the residue of those chemicals. I use long release granulars because face it, I'm lazy sometimes and if I can throw a handful of granuals in when I put the plant in the ground, and maybe twice more through the summer plus a few boosts with liquid kelp dissolved in my watering can, I'm going to go that route!
How to get Plants- For my first summers some of the plants came from my mom, some came from a local plant sale, some came from my early attempts at starting seeds. I am switching to starting most of my own seeds, and PlanBe is already quite good at this, so keep an eye on her comments. You will have to figure out what works best for you. I think for me I really want to start all my own but it is going to take awhile to get the hang of starting plants so I will supplement them with plants bought from the neighborhood sale. It is really rewarding to see something go from a tiny seed all the way to fruitful plant
What kind of Plants to Get- When I started I didn't know much about what would grow well in our area, or what I even wanted, other than flowers and tomatoes. Apparently I chose wrong, for 2 years I had lots of leaves on the tomatoe plants, but no tomatoes. Last year I had cherry tomato plants that nearly took over the neighborhood, and we got pints of tomatoes out of them. We didn't get much else though since everything else got lost in the vines. I will be commenting more on how I choose plants this year. For a beginner there will be a lot of trial and error. You can read the descriptions though and check for sun, soil, temperature and water requirements to give you an idea if it will work in your area. After that, keep track of what works and what doesn't, and look around the neighborhood for other gardeners to talk to, to see what works for them.
So there is my first post as a blogger. I know it is a little wordy, but there is so much to say about gardening. I am so excited to think that we may find kindered spirits who can share the challenges and joys of urban gardening. If you stumble across our little piece of cyber space, drop us a line and let us know what you think... and how your garden grows.

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