Sunday, March 22, 2009

How to have a Vegetable Garden - or, living harmoniously with restrictive land use laws

During tough economic times, vegetable gardens can add badly needed $dollars to strained family budgets.

With the adoption of strict land disturbance ordinances for Silver Beach, ordinary activities, like planting a vegetable garden, are becoming increasingly difficult.

So, what's a cash-strapped family that lives within Bellingham's city limits of the watershed to do?

Consider building an organic "no dig" garden.

"No dig gardens" are built on top of the ground, so you can build a vegetable garden almost anywhere. This is organic gardening at its best. To maximize your success, consider building a compost pile for lawn clippings, leaves, weeds and other organic waste.

In order to avoid violating land disturbance ordinances, I suggest that you build your raised garden plots in sections. Build paths out of gravel or flat rocks for access and increased drainage.

First, choose your site for building a garden. For the best results, make sure the site is level and that it receives at least five hours of sun per day.

If the ground is not level, smooth out lumps and bumps as much as possible and fill the gaps with soil, sand, bark, leaves, twigs, washed seaweed, shredded paper, etc. As the compost rots, you will need to add more material to these low areas to gradually build them up.

If the ground is on a slope, build a terraced garden. You can design terraces to be a work of art, or just shore up the levels with cut sections of logs, bricks, stones, or other natural material.

If you choose a site that is currently lawn; mow the area to ground level and build the garden on top, or you can leave the vegetation to decay underneath over time - as long as you make sure no light is getting to the grass.

If you are building your garden on a hard surface, such as a patio or driveway, put down a layer of organic material first, such as bark, leaves, etc.

Raised beds work well in wet climates like ours. Our growing season (zone 8) can be limited, so if you want to grow more food, or varieties of squash or melons that typically require longer growing periods, try using layers of organic material to generate "heat" below your fruit or vegetables.

Start with a layer of alfalfa (4 to 6 inches) , layer some organic fertilizer, like washed seaweed or rotted manure on top (roughly one inch).

Add a layer of loose straw to the garden (about 8 inches) and another layer of organic material then top it off with 4 inches of compost and/or top soil.

Water the garden until it's wet (not soaked) and begin planting your seedlings for an instant garden.

Pressed for space but want potatoes?

Buy a 30 gallon plastic garbage can. Drill holes in the bottom of the garbage can for drainage. Buy your favorite seed potatoes.

Add 3 feet of good quality, well draining potting soil. (At least one large bag). Add organic fertilizer or a low nitrogen fertilizer (too much nitrogen causes leaves to grow but stunts the growth of potatoes).

1. Turn garbage can upside down and drill several holes in the bottom
2. Add 2/3rds of large bag of potting soil in can. Mix in one cup of fertilizer or add organic material to can.
3. Plant seed potatoes. Small ones can be planted whole, large ones need to be cut up into pieces with no less than three eyes per piece. Dry your seed potato pieces on the cut side before you plant them.
4. Water until the soil is moist, but not soggy. If the can gets too dry, you will have misshapen potatoes. If the can is too wet, they will rot.
5. As the plants begin to grow in the can, add compost around the plants, but do not cover the leaves of the plant. Repeat as plants continue to grow.
6. Harvest new potatoes on top for tasty meals, but allow deeper potatoes to grow large for winter storage.

Similar results can be obtained with home made wire cages. (Line cage with newspaper then fill with dirt).

Potatoes absorb everything around them so start with clean, organic compost, dirt and fertilizers.

Vine crops:

Cucumbers, squash, melons and pumpkins, are members of the squash family. And although each of these different vegetables come in many different varieties in and of themselves, most members of this family have the same growing requirements.

Build rounded mounds for vine crops. Start with a layer of grass clippings, or compost. Add a layer of dirt, then another layer of compost. (The compost generates heat and provides nutrients for the vine crops). Water as needed.

Maximize production with inter-cropping:

Some crops take up a large amount of space, but don't actually use this space until they have reached full size. Take advantage of this by planting fast growing lettuce, carrots, radishes or beets in the soil. For instance, you can train late pole beans to grow around corn stalks. Zucchini does well in tomato cages.

Consider using trellis for Lima Pole Beans, Pole Cucumbers, Melons, Peas, winter varieties of squash, such as acorn, and butternut and, finally, Tomatoes,

For additional ideas on how to prepare a site, check out the start a vegetable garden blog:

Many vegetables will keep over the winter. Many fruits and vegetables can be frozen or can be canned. (Take a class - if you plan to start canning).

Gardening can help you save hundreds of dollars on your food bill, while providing a long term source of healthy food.

Remember to donate some of your garden produce to neighbors or local food banks.

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