Categories
Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To

Backyard Gardening: Putting the Garden to Bed

This post is a bit overdue, we put the garden to bed the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  Given this year’s temperatures, we could have done it on New Years Day!

Putting a vegetable garden to bed in the fall isn’t truly necessary, but it makes things much easier in the spring.  It will allow you to plant earlier, when soil is still quite wet from melting snow.  Your garden will also look cleaner and more attractive to neighbors and housemates in urban settings.

Choosing the right time can be tricky, especially when first frosts are coming later and later in the season.  This year we had our first frost on November 2 in the city, leaving everything but chard and kale limp and dead.  These hardy greens, however, often get thicker sweeter leaves in the late cool fall, so I like to leave my garden intact until I’ve finished eating them all.  However, I also try to get my garden tucked away for the winter before it gets so cold that outdoor work becomes a painful chore.

Once you’re ready to unearth your veggie plant stumps and skeletons, gather a shovel, pruners, soil rake, a place to put your compost-ready plants, and some sort of mulch.  Leaves offer a free option, but these often blow away.  Salt march hay or straw (make sure it doesn’t have seeds) stay in place better and can be bought from a garden store.  First, pull out all your old plants, chop them up into 4″ pieces and put them into the compost.  Keeping compost additions small will ease in turning your heap.  Next, turn over your soil to kill any small weed plants and aerate your soil.  This is a good time to add completed compost or soil amendments so that everything will be ready in the spring.  Once you have raked your soil flat, add a layer of mulch over the top.  It can help to water the entire garden after mulching it to weigh down the mulch and keep it from blowing away.  Mulch will prevent weed seeds from sprouting early in the spring and will keep soil from blowing away or eroding during the winter.

We sifted completed compost out of the bin, re-layered its contents with our new dead plants, tilled the new compost into our garden soil, and mulched the garden with leaves in about 45 minutes!  Plenty of time was left for some pick-up basketball during the unseasonably warm late November weekend.

Categories
Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To

Backyard Gardening: Construction Day

Subject: [BBQ] Get Dirty in My Backyard April 16th @ 11am

Message: Hey Guys, Come join me for some fun-in-the-early-spring-sun … If you just want to come get your hands dirty, you can do that – I’ll be setting up some raised gardening beds which means: sawing, nailing, measuring, moving dirt – and some other stuff we’ll find out about that day. If you just want to come for a burger, hot dog or veggie burger, that’s great, because there’ll be lots of those on hand…

The day was cooler than the weekend before, but it was April so we felt lucky it wasn’t raining.  Having a BBQ at the same time kept friends and family from constantly requesting jobs to help the garden construction process.  Tools were our limiting factor – with only one drill, assembling the frames took a little while and only used the energy of two folks.

Minor shoveling helped flatten the grade of the yard and grassy areas were turned under to keep weeds from growing up through our raised beds.  Stakes were set inside the corners of each frame so we could drill into them from the end of each board.

The yard’s soil was soft from rain earlier in the week, so standing on the completed corners caused the stakes to sink into the ground, anchoring each frame in place. We then solicited the energy of the crowd to move soil from the driveway into the raised beds.

After the fluffy soil was tamped down with a rake, we planted cool season crops including lettuce, spinach, chard, kale, peas, arugula and carrots.  In just a few hours, we built 64 square feet of beautiful growing space!

After gathering up our tools we went in to warm up with tea harvested and dried from a friend’s herb garden last year.  Later that night rain fell as we made our way to a birthday party – instead of getting upset, we thanked Mother Nature for taking one task off of our “to do” list.

Categories
Home Gardens

Backyard Gardening: The Shopping List

Here’s what we bought to construct a 5’x8′ bed and a 3’x8′ bed, both raised 6 inches:

  • six 1″x6″x8′ cedar boards (cut into 3′, 5′, and 8′ lengths)
  • one 2″x2″x8′ stake, cut into eight 1′ stakes
  • 48 2″ galvanized screws
  • 1 cubic yard compost/loam mix
  • seeds (according to varieties desired and square foot gardening spacing, for small gardens, attending a seed swap is highly recommended!)
Here’s what we made sure we had at the house to help make the bed construction process a success:
  • electric drill (wasn’t cordless, so extension cord too)
  • shovels, rake
  • wheel barrow/buckets (for soil transport)
  • tarp (for dumping soil onto)
  • something to mark planted areas with (popsicle sticks)
  • cleared yard area free of brambles
  • way to play music outside
  • sent invitation to a backyard bbq and garden raising!
Categories
Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To

Backyard Gardening: Planning

Last fall, my friend did a few first steps so we’d be ahead of the game in the spring.  These included taking a soil sample and sending it off to the labs at UMass Amherst for testing, and purchasing a subsidized compost bin from the city.  He also collected nearly 20 yard waste bags of leaves that neighbors had left out for collection.  We wanted to make sure there were no dangerous heavy metals in the soil and would use the leaves later for compost and mulch.

In the depths of winter, everyone benefits from dreaming of the summer!  The arrival of several seed catalogs in my mailbox get me thinking about planning the garden.  I gather up my catalogs and we spend a cozy afternoon making the initial plans for the garden space.

The first step is to check out the yard. As flurries decorate my hat, I trudge through the deep snow and take some measurements with a big tape measure.  I try to remember that the bare branches of the tree will leaf out and shade the back corner of the yard, and that snow is covering thorny shrubs in some areas but grassy lawn in others.  The best garden beds are placed in locations that get sun for most of the day and don’t interfere with other uses of the space.

After selecting the best locations, my friend browses through the seed catalog and marks off the plants he likes.  We make a list of these selections, and add columns for seeds per square foot, yield per square foot, and desired yield.  That will allow us to decide how to divide up the beds.

Garden Planning Check List:

As you can see, we didn’t worry about making our brainstorm pretty or understandable for others!  On the sheet below, you can see a rough map of the back yard along with a table listing low and high range of square feet wanted for each veggie based on sun needs, plants per square foot, and estimated yield per plant.

Categories
Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To

Backyard Gardening: The Idea

Last fall, as the days grew short, CSA shares made their final distributions, and temperatures dropped, my friend came to me with a question.  He enjoyed his CSA share and was wondering if he should sign up again for the next season.  I mentioned that I thought he could grow most of the veggies he enjoyed in this year’s share in his small back yard and supplement his harvest with purchases at the farmer’s market.  I estimated that the cost of starting a garden and making a few purchases from the market would be less than that of a CSA share.  He was intrigued and open to trying it out for a season.

I realized I had never actually done personal back yard gardening in a city.  I grew up with a large garden in a rural community.  I maintain the school gardens in Somerville.  I’ve never had access to yard space while in the city, so I’ve grown choice vegetables along the edge of my of roof-covered porch.  Last year I even snuck chard and cherry tomatoes into my landlord’s flower beds.  I’d never, however, built and maintained raised beds for myself just outside my own back door. I was excited about the prospect of participating in my friend’s growing experiment!

After getting permission from the other users of his back yard space, we began to plan.  I would act as an adviser; he would be the garden manager and primary consumer.  I’d document the process so others could learn from our successes and challenges.  By the fall, we’d know how much work it really takes and how much we could realistically grow in 70 square feet of the  back yard. We welcome you to check in with our progress, offer tips or lessons you’ve learned from back yard gardening, and ask questions as we enjoy a season of urban gardening.  Maybe you can even start one for yourself!

Sungold tomatoes I was allowed to grow in my landlord’s flower bed last summer