Wednesday, December 13


OK, one of my other obsessions besides the lowcarb lifestyle is gardening. I wanted to show a new buddy on the forum some pics of mine last summer, even though to be honest it wasn't really ideal looking at that moment (is it ever?), so I thought I would put a bunch of stuff here so I'd have a page on it and could reference it later maybe.

About the Garden!

First, I'm not getting on my hands and knees to garden, or I'll never get up. So I decided to make a STANDING garden.

Second, I wanted a BIG garden but didn't have a fortune for it. I thought of making those 4'x4' wood-things on legs, but they'd eventually get rickety, and mowing under/around them would be a pain.

Third, I wanted to do a combination of "Square Foot Gardening" and "Lasagna Gardening" -- all organic -- for my style. SFG has a heavy emphasis on "vertical" and "container" gardening, while LG has an emphasis on "layering" deep-as-possible soil.

So, I made a plan to have it built with cinderblocks. Which I thought was novel, fairly affordable, and I didn't have it mortared so I could redo it differently later if I wanted. It turns out lots of people do this, I just didn't know. :-)

My aunt runs a tiny landscaping business, so her crew came out built it for me. I failed to account for the un-movable laundry pole on one side, which resulted in one side being slightly (about 1 foot in both directions) smaller than the other but it's no big deal.

Garden Layout, Main Beds

The various beds are different sizes. The two "big" beds are 32" high on the end parts, 24" high on the long parts and about 185+ square feet of soil.

The two "strawberry" beds are split in half depth-wise and are 16" and 24" high, about 48 square feet of soil.

I have a dozen 32 gallon rectangle "tub" planters (two for each arch and one at each side of the garden) that are about 24" high and 3 square feet of soil each. (36)

I have about ten 22 gallon round "tub" containers around the yard; they are each about 24" high and each about 2.5 square feet of soil. (22)

There's a wide variety of other tubs, pots and containers hanging around the garden area, sitting on the brick walls, and around the backyard, depending on the season. All told there is probably about 320-340 square foot of soil space in the garden. Which, since we do a lot of trellising, and a square foot approach, means we can have a LOT of volume. If we made the effort and did storage/canning/etc., we could probably grow enough food to feed 3 families nearly year round.

Garden Layout, Main Beds

I was a bit optimistic regarding size. In reality the garden has become a part time job my soon to be ex husband did the last year. I will be revising its structure a bit to allow me to maintain a decent portion of it without having to hire someone, which I certainly can't afford!

Garden Layout, Main Beds

I also have little flower beds in both back and front yard that are only 8" high and vary in size. All but the little flower beds are in 1/3 of my backyard, on a space laid out with wood-chip mulch, so it's a nice little environment to garden in, and you can reach everything.

Garden Layout, Main Beds

The "garden props" aside from the cinderblock beds are:

1. Five 'cattle panels' bent in arches along the 6' wooden fence at the side. These panels themselves are four foot wide, 14 foot long, and they have a four inch "square grid" pattern, which is perfect for 'reaching through'. I bend them into arches which are 6 foot high and about 4 foot wide and 4 foot deep. You can walk inside them and pick stuff from inside, or from the outside.

They use 32 gallon dollar-store tubs as planters at the bottom of each side. I was told the freezing would crack the rubber-plastic but you know... it's been a few years and it hasn't happened. Get the cheap huge tubs of varying size from the dollar store, take a drill and put some holes in the bottom for drainage, and you have a good sized planter. I'm pretty sure the 32s ar storage tubs (they had lids). I also have some 22 gallon size that I think are squat laundry baskets, as they are round with rope handles on each side. Some plastic bottles from the trash and a couple dollar store big tubs and you can have a cool little container garden -- and using the "square foot" approach you can plant a lot more in that than the old-fashioned row-gardening might make ya think!

It's important in the summer to water planters more than you can imagine is needed, they dry out fast. If you don't have automated irrigation (I hope to get some!), this is really the best idea: get 2 litre plastic bottles or something similar, slice off the bottom. Bury it in the soil open-spout down. Each time you water, 'fill up' the containers with your hose. The water will drain into the soil at the rate it can absorb. It's not a mosquito issue because the water won't sit long. And in the summer when it's insanely hot, the plants really need water, and unless you plan on watering them four times a day, they won't get enough.

Garden Layout, Main Beds

Garden Layout, Main Beds

2. A six foot diameter, ten foot tall, metal green arbor-thing in the center of the garden. In the middle of it are various pots. Next to each of the three supports are small tub planters that grow stuff that trellises up the arbor. This thing is so beautiful! I gotta get a better pic of it. This year I think, despite all the warnings from people about a billion weed seedlings in my veggie beds, I may vine morning glories or other viney-flowers up it.

3. Copper tubing (1.25" hollow plumber's tubing) frames the 'big' bed on the right side, only the 'long' portion of it. Army parachute cord (thick, slightly stretchy, never biodegrades, essentially indestructible except by knife) is what I use as the ties. I use the copper framing and ties, some anchored to stakes in the soil, for the tomato plants that grow in that section. We get very high straight-line winds in NE Oklahoma, and sometimes hail and major downpours, so every tomato plant has to have decent anchor or the first major storm would wipe out the crop. The pepper plants on the other hand are difficult to kill. Except occasionally by critters like rabbits and turtles (the high beds at least minimize those!).

See the pic above under the "beds" info for the copper framing and round arbor pic.

4. We have a 16 foot long, 8 foot high, 4 foot wide "grapevine arbor" made of 2x4s (some treated, some not) and chicken coop fencing. Ugly, but workable. We just planted this a year ago, 1 year vines, so we will not see a crop for another year or two. We have about 8 different varieties, seedless and regular, a variety of colors.

Garden Layout, Main Beds

Outside of the garden beds and props we also have a few "thornless blackberry" bushes we just put in a year ago.

What I hope to do this spring

  • Get drip irrigation set up so I don't have to water it myself much. I don't have time to keep the garden, as big as it is. I can get help with seedlings and harvesting, and mess with it along the way, but the overall landscaping of my house literally takes about 6 hours a day of twice watering in summer... something's gotta give!

  • Add a long cinderblock bed the width of my front porch, just along in front of it, that I can fill with herb perennials (sage, rosemary, thyme, lavender, etc. etc.). I think going out to the porch chair with the smell of those would be awesome.

  • Add a small veggie perennial square in the back yard for asparagus.

  • Add a root perennial square in the backyard and let ginger and horseradish and whatever else battle it out. I won't put anything "perennial and spreading" in my primary beds.

  • Possibly, plant a 5-fruit tree in the back corner of my yard right next to the giant pecan tree which I do believe is on its final days on this earth. If it wasn't the primary sunblock of summer I'd have it taken out before it is fully dead and falls, but... for now I'd just like to start something else in preparation.

What I hope to do this winter

Get a copy of SEED SAVERS catalog or another similar organization. This stuff is worth supporting. Did you know there's like a bazillion varieties of PEAS? I mean, who knew?! It'll amaze you.

Last winter I had massive seeds, for the best versions of tomatoes (red, pink, orange, yellow, white, black, purple, and several cherries...) and peppers (too many varieties to count!) and tons of flower seeds. I think it's possible my husband overused them or didn't care for them well so I might have to re-buy and trade this year.

Don't buy most of the junky seeds in stores. Most of them are deliberately engineered to not reproduce true. Unless they are quick salad stuff or marked "heirloom" seeds... why pay monster corps. Sometimes there's something special that is ultra-hybrid and you want it just for that but otherwise, support heirloom seeds!

SEED SAVERS is a non-profit org that has done more to save seed varieties from literally vanishing from availability than anybody. (Don't think the government is really doing this. They pretend. Vested interests in favor of making all humans dependent on major corps for food, and one-use-only seeds, prevent the government being all that good for our people at all in this area.) (I am not really paranoid, this is just something you learn when you study it enough!) The current Seed Savers catalog has 667 varieties and this is mostly just food seeds. Now mind you, it's not the cheapest to buy from that kind of source; there are many far more economical ways to get seeds, not only for you, but for the die-hards keeping them pure, saving them and selling them each year. But I try to buy some every year just as a form of support. You have to be a member to get the catalog which is an annual donation. To find other similar groups, google "seed save". To find other sources of great seeds, google "heirloom seeds".

When January comes and I get into my Winter Sowing obsession, I will see if I can post a list of awesome links for getting seeds online including unusual cool stuff.

GARDENWEB is the greatest contribution to gardening online. Even if you don't pay for their membership (which is not much and you can buy real short periods) you can read their forums for free. "Soil" is one of my fave forums ("You know you're a compost whacko when..."), but they have EVERYTHING. I mean... search by seed or plant type, by gardening style, even by hobby (garden art? winter sowing?), you name it. It's amazing and the people are often very nice (if you don't get them arguing about obscure trivia on plant species or composting that you can't just imagine anybody worrying enough about to argue -- but then, lowcarbers argue just for the fun of it too sometimes it seems!). They even have a "trade" area where you can offer extra seeds to folks who might want them, or ask for others' extras, or trade something you have more of for something you want, etc.

Now that I'm lowcarb, growing a zillion scallions (they are getting EXPENSIVE in the stores!!) and colored bell peppers and tons of peppers of ALL kinds, and some green veggies and strawberries and squash and salad veggies has taken on even more value for me.

If you don't know much about gardening and want to start out with something small but a variety and fun, check out the SQUARE FOOT GARDENING website. Get the book -- it's probably ultracheap used -- it's a nice, easy but interesting read. Scroll down the page on that link and look at all the pictures, cool eh. Mel Bartholomew, and 'square foot' guy, works with schools, with poor areas in foreign countries and more, showing them how to grow food in a minimum of soil and a minimum of space with a maximum of yield. Square foot is a really great gardening approach for kids, too. Don't miss actually marking your squares. I don't know why but psychologically and visually it just seems so much neater and easier when you do, silly eh!

OK, my connection on gardening to lowcarb is, obviously, FOOOOOOOOOOOOOD, and did I mention that the Zucchini Pie (one of the recipes on this blog) is SO INCREDIBLY GOOD that I intend to grow bunches of zucchini this year? I was never into it before. I was never into cauliflower either but ... well, you know!

January is when I get into "winter sowing" -- that means, planting seeds in a way to let them "grow if they will" in the real environment, so instead of laboriously babying seeds and seedlings in spring, you have a whole bunch of plants that are ALREADY "hardy" and growing outdoors. I usually get my seeds then, and plan garden stuff, and become a total freak in excitement about it. :-)


Anonymous said...

Hello PJ, your garden is beautiful! Great blog.

Avany said...

Wonderful blog. it is sad that you are not posting regularly now. you have such a nice garden. I like the way you put cattle panel for two planters. I want to do that for my gourds. Can you pls tell me where i can shop for cattle panel?
Also I won't be sorry for your divorce(as you said). I would like to see you keep your spirits up and acheive your goals. Thanks for the pictures and blog.