By Mark Fike
Given the troubling times and the possibility of your local grocer being out of items, many people are now considering growing their own foods. A recent call to a seed company left me a bit surprised as many seeds are out of stock. It seems that panic-buying has also hit the gardening market.
Some people that want to grow their own vegetables or fruits have not tried because they feel they don’t have a big enough yard. The trouble with that line of thinking is that you really don’t need a yard to supplement what ends up on your plate in the form of vegetables. “Say again,” you say?
Yes, you really don’t need a yard or at least not a big yard to grow some vegetables to help out with your meals. While you won’t have enough vegetables to can or freeze for a month’s supply, you can easily have enough to eat and enjoy a few times a week depending on how serious you take the effort.
Container gardens have been around for a long time. They can vary in size from a single pot to a series of raised gardens. We enjoy fresh, local food and vegetables and herbs. I ran into a problem when I planted things in a large garden that is located away from the house where my family did not realize certain things that we could cook with or have with our meals such as onions, cilantro, parsley, tomatoes, sweet peppers, etc. were ready and ripe unless they made a point to go take a walk.
For that reason, I decided to build a garden box or container garden just off our back patio. It was in plain view of the kitchen window and dining room door. We could easily see if a tomato was ripe or if some peppers were ready. We now have herbs right at the door for cooking or canning. This led me to build a second one and then add some containers too.
The idea came from a time when I lived in a small apartment with a tiny back porch. I love fresh food. I started with a tomato plant back then. Next, I added a squash plant that filled the entire corner of my postage-stamp-sized yard. Then I made a wire trellis and planted cucumbers so they would climb and save space. I followed that up with a few pole bean plants too. Next thing I knew, I had a jungle growing in a spot that was less than 10×10 feet. I ate well though!
So, the best thing for readers with small backyards or porches to do is figure out what types of vegetables you are interested in growing. If you are a salad type of person, radishes, onions, lettuce, and carrots are easy to grow and have in a few pots. They grow in small spaces, cooler weather as well as hot weather, so they are available for a longer period of time. If you can grow them in pots you can extend the season by pulling them in during the coldest nights or by putting plastic over them.
If you want to grow larger plants such as peppers or tomatoes, you will need a larger pot and you will need to look for plant types that are smaller or suitable for container gardening. Agronomists have come up with all kinds of varieties of plants that grow in small spaces and produce a lot of fruit and vegetables.
If you do have a little bit of a yard, building a raised bed garden does not have to be too expensive. For my first project I used rough cut lumber I salvaged from a building project and then filled it with fill dirt for 18 inches and then good soil that I got from the woods for the remainder, but topped it off with a bag of garden soil to make it look nice. This resulted in a raised bed that did not put a kink in my back to weed and get what I wanted out of it.
A raised garden does not have to be tall though. You can make it as tall or short as you want. If you make it tall, you will need more dirt and it is not as movable later, but it is easier to maintain. Shorter is harder to bend down and work in, but easier to maintain, uses less materials and can be removed or moved easily.
After using rough cut lumber to make the first raised bed, I decided to use concrete blocks for a more stable and permanent design. The blocks were inexpensive at a building supply store and I don’t have to worry about them rotting. They are easy to work with minus their weight, but they make a very solid design at any size you want. The key is to get the blocks level as you build and make sure they are on solid dirt so they don’t sag and require you digging them up again to fix them.
If you decide to use wood, avoid treated wood. While it will last much longer, the chemicals used to treat the wood will leech into your soil where your vegetables are growing. No point in eating vegetables that were absorbing those chemicals! Use untreated wood and plan on replacing the box every few years as it begins to break down.
Now is a great time to grow a little bit of your own food. A pot, container, bucket, some wood or blocks and a bit of sunshine will be a great start. Put in a few seeds and a few months from now, you will be enjoying the fruits of your labor…literally!