Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Home Garden Plot Part I: Use what you got


You don't know what you got til it's gone.  The truth of that overused cliche could never have felt more real than during my current withdrawal from not living and working directly on a farm.  Although the world of research agriculture is fascinating and important, there is nothing like a stash of delicious homegrown veggies growing just steps away from your door.  No trips to the market, questions to ask, determining if prices are fair, deciding which company or farmer seems most trustworthy or who has the best reputation.  Trying to determine the differences between the supermarket organic brands and market brands can be time consuming.  Although I believe in buying local, which generally means closer to harvest when purchased, it still leaves a lot of unanswered questions.  In this "wild west" time for food production there's no easy "best" option for you and your family.  Observing my own transition, I've gone from a person who almost never bought produce, to growing my own food (basically living in the produce section) and now purchasing food as a more conscious, yet fairly confused consumer.  It's a weird in-between, last year I bought food to supplement what I grew and now I find myself growing food to supplement what I purchase.  Not bad, just different.  Compromises and opportunities offered with each choice, and choices, although at times frustrating, are a beautiful freedom I am thankful for.  Today we are touching on a simple and...

easy backyard raised bed design for those with limited space.

Eric and his family's incredible home garden (early spring)

It does not have to be this intricate or this well thought out, the key is to use the resources you have and the resources you can afford to bring in, to maximize your space.

Lucky for me, my colleague at Cornell Eric and his family had an open space in their home garden.  They decided to move on from raspberries about a year or two ago and placed a large black plastic tarp over the area to ensure all the weeds and leftover raspberry canes would die back.

Black plastic is a good mulch because it absorbs heat and prevents light from making contact with the soil helping to breakdown weed cycles.  It's also good for inhibiting the resilient raspberry canes from resurfacing.  Once we lifted the tarp, all that we found was beautiful rich black soil, lots of rocks and some leftover stems.

Once the rocks and debris were out, we measured and staked out the desired growing space using sticks and rope.

Although it can really be any size or shape, we chose to stick with the Eliot inspired 30'' bed for easy access during harvest, weeding and cultivation.  The theory is the average person can reach and work in around 15'' without intensely stressing the body.  With a pathway on either side, 30'' is ideal for a hand cultivated project.

With the beds spaced out, we began to dig our pathways piling soil high to create a raised bed.

Using spare wood paneling and fallen branches as in-ground posts, we created a box around the perimeter of each soil bed.  This adds to the aesthetic, but also helps contain the fertility by distinguishing where to walk and where to plant, it helps with drainage, maintains structure and inhibits weeds from moving in too quickly.  It's also easier to manage pests by having a barrier.

Finally, we took some decomposed cow manure (compost is also a good choice and can be purchased from the local garden supply store) and topped off our soil.  If you know of a dairy or horse ranch anywhere within reasonable driving distance from your home, this is a great (usually free) option.

Using a hoe and a shovel, we blended the rotted cow manure and top soil creating a nice, fertile plot.

A beautiful team effort on a beautiful piece of land.  This all took just a few hours to put together and once the infrastructure is in place, this can amended, replanted, and reorganized over and over.

So how did we go from here,

to here

Click here to follow the seedlings from germination to harvest...


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