The following articles are excerpts from two of my books, Hydroponic Gardening The Very Easy Way and Creating Sustainable Victory Gardens: How to integrate hydroponics and soil for year-round-gardening the very easy way.
DESIGNING YOUR GARDEN
Preparing and winterizing your soil-based garden takes a lot of work, time, and effort. You can minimize what you do by planning and designing what you grow with some very practical options and methods.
There are three basic design options to consider. (1) Traditional in-ground rows, (2) Raised-Elevated beds, and (3) Container gardening.
Traditional in-ground gardens require the most preparation and winterization. You need to dig in or turn over the soil to provide aeration and to mix in any green crop or other non-weed vegetation to maintain the structure and viability of the soil. You can do this manually or with a roto-tiller or other mechanical devices. You can do this yourself or hire someone to do it for you. You need to re-create or renew your straight rows. You may need to haul in bags of compost or composted manure, fertilizer, and whatever else you use. Regardless, time and effort are involved.
Raised-Elevated beds do not require as much preparation and winterization. Depending on the size of your raised bed, you may not need to restore to roto-tillers. You still may need to haul in bags of soil amendments. Your raised bed should be at least 6” and beds that are at least 18” high should deter most bunny-rabbits and other critters from enjoying your harvest. An elevated bed is basically a raised bed on stilts or legs.
Container Gardening requires the least amount of preparation and winterization. They are flexible and provide you with options because you can set them on plain soil, your lawn, or on hard surfaces such as patios, decks, sidewalks, driveways, and areas that have contaminated soil or good-old rocks. Weeding is minimal. Controlling insects is easier. No heavy-duty devices are needed, such as a roto-tiller. Hand-tools only.
CREATIVE DESIGN OPTIONS. Another way to design your garden is to use your creative skills. Straight-rows are fine, whether you use the traditional in-ground or raised bed options. Traditional containers are practical and easy to maintain. There are other options to consider—spiral raised beds; curved rows; Mandala, vertical, and different containers are other ideas. And think about recycling some underused or never-again-used-containers.
You can maximize your effectiveness and reduce insect damage and soil diseases with three proven methods—Square Foot Gardening, Botanical Rotation, and Nutrient Demand Rotation.
Once you have selected what you want to grow and what design option to use and you have prepared your garden area, you are getting close to planting your varieties. Do you know how much space you need to allocated for plants within a row? Square Foot Spacing is an effective method for traditional in-row and raised or elevated-bed garden.
Square Foot Gardening (Spacing). Here are a few tips and suggestions to consider if you want or use a traditional in-ground garden or raised-elevated beds. You can use these suggestions at your own home or if you rent a plot at a community garden.
1. How large is your traditional-garden now (or will be)? What are the dimensions-length x width?
2. How large is your raised or elevated bed now (or will be)? What are the dimensions-length x width?
3. The width of your garden is more important than the length. Keep the width to a maximum of 48”. Can you walk all around? If so, you should not need a pathway. Most people can reach 24” into their garden. No need to create a path. No need to walk on the soil and harden it. Without a path, you have more room to grow what you want.
4. Create equal sections in within these two design options.
5. Next, consider how many plants you want to plant of each variety on your wish list. Not sure? Then consider Square Foot Spacing-Planting.
6. You know your garden dimensions. You have created equal sections. Now create 12”x12” squares within each section. This is where Square Foot Spacing comes in. You can plant a specific number of plants according to specific varieties in each 12”12” square. For example, you could plant one tomato or one pepper or one eggplant in a square. Or you could plant 9-12 radishes in a square. Higher yields in smaller spaces.
Do you want to minimize insect damage and reduce soil diseases? Consider rotating your varieties from one year to the next. The two primary methods to rotate are Botanical Rotation and Nutrient Demand Rotation. You can use these rotation methods with any of the design options.
Botanical Rotation is a proven method that involves moving a family of vegetables from one section to another over a three to four-year cycle. Insects are attracted to specific botanical families. When you move a family to different sections of your garden you disrupt and minimize the effects of those insects. When you section your garden into equal parcels, the two rotation methods make your life a lot easier. Basically, what you plant in parcel-section ONE in YEAR ONE moves to the next section, TWO, in YEAR TWO, and then again in YEAR THREE. In YEAR FOUR you can repeat the process.
Nutrient Demand Rotation is another proven method that shows you how to rotate varieties that require a lot of nutrients from the soil, the takers, (heavy feeders) to a section of your garden that supported varieties that required less nutrients (low feeders) or to a section that gave back nutrients to the soil (the givers).
Using either of these rotation methods can minimize insect problems and increase or maintain the fertility of the soil.
With Container Gardening there is no need to use Square Foot Spacing. A container that is at least 3-gallons in volume will support one tomato plant or one pepper or one eggplant and 2-3 cucumber plants. You never walk on the soil. When you rotate, you simply plant the variety you planted in Container One in Year One to Container Two in Year Two, and so on. Easy. Simple.
“Let’s plant it right here”.
The University of Minnesota created a guide for growing veggies and herbs in containers. Here is a very short sample from that guide that identifies how many plants to include in different container (gallon) sizes. Note the different sizes you could use and the number of plants based on those sizes.
Sources include the University of Minnesota Extension; Tammy Palmier, Missouri Botanical Garden; Kathryn Hopkins, Donna Coffin, Frank Wertheim, University of Maine Extension; and Casey Bowie, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.
You will need some hand tools and tools that require foot power and depending on the size of your garden, some power equipment, and a wheelbarrow to haul in bags of mulch, fertilizer, compost, and other amendments. Some basic tools include a hand-trowel, hand-cultivator, shovel/spade, rake, pitch or garden fork, bucket, gloves, pruning shears, hoe, wheelbarrow, garden hose, adjustable nozzle, and watering can.
A roto-tiller can make your job of preparing and winterizing a garden easy, they can be expensive and not very practical for a smaller garden, nor any use for a raised or elevated or container garden.
You can purchase over-the-counter soil-test kits. Don’t bother. You will get more complete results by sending a soil sample to a University at a reasonable price. Different universities may provide different information. A simple soil-test from the University of Minnesota includes directions for how to gather your sample and these results:
The test results display scales that represent the amount of P and K and the pH in your sample. It will also include recommendations for adding lime and the amount of nutrients, NPK, to apply each year. The results should indicate how much fertilizer (if any) you need to add and how much organic matter you should (if any).
Why spend the time and money for a soil-test? Know what the nutrient health is for your soil first, before you start dumping bags of fertilizer and compost and any other amendment.
There are many amendments you can use to build the texture and fertility of your soil, after you have your soil-test results. Some of these amendments include …
Compost, worm castings, shredded leaves, bark, small twigs, grass clippings, composted cow, poultry or rabbit manure and bedding material, perlite, peat, coconut coir, vermiculite, and sand (if your soil is heavy and lacks proper drainage).
Integrating sustainable yard and garden practices is easy and cost effective. Some practices to consider include the following …
o Lose it or reduce the grass area
o Mow with an electric or hand mower – do not bag your clippings
o Water less frequently
o Capture water with rain barrels, dehumidifier
o Fertilize less (fall application, maybe also in the spring)
o Mulch your plants
o Use fewer chemicals—pesticides, herbicides
o Build soil fertility with organic matter
o Use rotation methods
o Kitchen, yard and garden waste
o Grow food for others
o Donate your surplus