So far, all of my pictures and most of my updates have featured the vegetable bed in the front yard. It’s pretty well established now, and I don’t have to do much with it right now besides water and weed. The tomatoes aren’t ripe yet, and the beans haven’t started beaning. I’ve been picking about a zucchini a day, but I think the zucchini plants might even be slowing down.
Let’s take a look at the back, then, shall we? The previous residents had a swing set in the back yard. They took the swing set and left a large sandy area. I built a four by four square raised bed a few years ago, and tried square foot gardening, but I never got around to putting anything else back there. The square foot garden and the sand eventually become overgrown with weeds.
Earlier this summer, I cleared out the weeds. A neighbor gave us some strawberry plants, which we put into the old square foot garden. I would have liked to get a truckload of soil and/or compost to fill in the rest of the sandy area for gardening, but that wasn’t in the budget.
Then, I heard about this book in a Mother Earth News newsletter: Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 No-Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens. I found it in the library catalog and placed a hold. It came in fairly quickly, and I immediately skimmed through it. The Easy-Care Bag Garden especially caught my eye. For this garden, you start by buying several bags of soil, cutting them open, and planting directly into the bags. No truckloads of soil, digging, tilling, etc. (here is an article by the same author which details a similar plan)
The garden plan in the book calls for eleven 40-pound bags (40 lbs=1 cu. ft.) of soil to start with. I decided to start smaller — I got two double-size bags instead. I also got several bags of medium bark to make paths. We already had weed cloth to go under the paths.
I started by laying weed cloth directly on top of the sand. The sand has gotten pretty well packed down over the years, so it doesn’t shift too much any more. I put rocks along the edge to hold the weed cloth down and to provide a barrier to keep the bark inside the paths. Then I filled in the path areas with bark mulch.
I put my two bags of soil just across the path from the strawberry bed, end to end. I poked several holes in the underside of each bag for drainage, and then cut the top side open for planting. If you try this, don’t cut too much! You have to leave enough bag there to hold in the soil.
I decided to plant peas, lettuce and kale, all of which are good fall crops. Yes, it’s still summer. You have to start fall crops in the summer, or they won’t mature before the first frost.
I put a makeshift trellis in one bag for the peas. It’s just some old bamboo sticks lashed together with some twine woven between them. The peas are bush peas, so they won’t climb too much, but they do need a little support.
Then I planted — a row of pea seeds along each side of the trellis, and then in the other bag, four short rows of lettuce and kale.
I do water these more often, as if they were container plants. The soil dries out faster because it’s aboveground. But they’re growing just fine; in fact, the peas are doing better than they did in the front yard.
I also started a compost area next to the bag beds. I’m following a method learned from my friend Dan — it’s almost-sheet-composting. We dig a shallow, one-foot-deep pit each day, put the day’s food scraps in it (just fruit and veg scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds), chop them up a bit, and bury them while simultaneously digging the next day’s hole. The scraps apparently decompose within a couple of weeks (I dug up the first hole, and all I found was a bit of onion skin with a sticker on it). In Dan’s yard, they also attract a large number of worms, but I’m sure that will take a while for us. We’re also mixing the sand with the soil underneath as we do this, and gradually building up the soil for next year.
There’s more open space to fill up next year, too — this is only about half the space I really wanted to use. The only problem is that planting more space means more time spent caring for the garden!