Sunday, March 30, 2014

The 2014 Garden: Urban Homestead Style

For the first time in years I’m living in an urban(ish) setting. So the garden plans for this year are actually going to incorporate space-saving techniques—something I’ve never had to concern myself with in previous incarnations of our food growing efforts. On the bright side, I’m excited to try out the urban design principles I learned when I did my permaculture design course.

Even though it’s a lot in town, we do have three apple trees and established grape vines. Plus, there’s a decent sized garden space in the backyard.

Last fall, this was all part of the lawn. Then dear old Dad came over to help till up the sod. Then I planted crimson clover as a cover crop. We also put in some garlic in one of the side beds. You can also see the bed devoted to kids play (as I mentioned in my Gardening with Kids post).

So far, I’ve tilled three of the beds, amended two and planted peas along the fence. So there’s a decent sized space, the sunlight exposure is minimal. So this whole space is pretty much going to be limited to greens, which is fine with me because we all know greens are delicious and nutritious.

But that means I have to get creative when it comes time to grow all the sun loving plants…which is actually MOST plants. Here’s what I have planned:

·         Potted pole beans along the deck railing. These will still be in the backyard, but being elevated on the deck, they’ll escape the shadow of the fence on the East side of the yard and get morning and afternoon sunlight. The deck railing provides a built-in trellis.

·         Carrots and beets in straw bales in the back yard next to the garden beds. Not only will planting into soil covered straw bales eliminate the need to break up the sod underneath, it’s much easier to grow carrots in straw bales in areas like ours where the soil is prone to rapid compacting on top due to our heavy spring rains and clay rich soil. (If you want your carrots to be perfectly straight, you might want to try straw bales too, since there’s a gauntee that there are no rocks to grow around.)

·         Potatoes grown vertically using wire cages. Last year I crafted some potato containers out of hardware cloth to grow vertical potatoes near the house. Our garden happened to have had some potato pests so I couldn’t grow them in the fenced off garden area. Incidentally, they’re perfect for urban gardening. I’ll post some pics when I get them going at the beginning of May.

·         Squash in containers. I’m contemplating using recycled, repainted tires for this, but I want to do some more research into the potential toxicity. I recall reading something a while back claiming that no significant levels of toxins were leached into soils from tire containers, but you never can be too careful.

·         Sunflowers on the south side of the house, up against the house. Placing them against the house will keep these tall plants from shading out any other growing space.

·         Medicinal herbs and edible flowers will go in along the south facing sidewalk in the side yard. The area has great southern exposure, but I’m a little nervous about pilfering passersby and even more so our canine neighbors taking a wiz on the spinach on their way by. So this space is going to be devoted to medicinal, edible flowers, and plants for the bees: borage, calendula, bee balm, lemon balm…

I’ve got most of the seeds already and now it’s just a matter of waiting for the last frost date to really get planting. The seedlings in my newspaper pots are growing fast, I’ve got kale and chard and one little catnip plant in them. I’ll do another round when it’s time to get the squash started.

There’s a few more things that I would like to do, but I’m not confident I’ll get to this year: raised beds of tomatoes and perineal medicinals on the strip between the sidewalk and the road. I feel more comfortable having these in raised beds since I’ll know that the soil in the beds has been brought in and not contaminated by years along the side of a street. Plus, the street we’re talking about isn't all that busy.

I saw some adorable mason bee houses when I was at the farmers market last weekend, so I’m inspired to make one of those for the yard too. I’m also dreaming of urban chickens and might endeavor to try to craft some kind of chicken tractor. These projects feel daunting considering I’m not so handy when it comes to woodworking. But a girl can dream right?

Well, if all goes according to plan we’ll have a lot of delicious homegrown produce this year. But just in case, I’m planning to sign up for a CSA (community supported agriculture) from one of our local farms, and frequent the farmers markets to pick up masses of produce to preserve.

What are your garden plans this year? Have any great space saving strategies that you use?

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