Thursday, May 8, 2008

Fun in the garden

This past weekend, I took another step closer to food independence in my suburban lot of ~1,700 square feet--I installed a small terraced pyramid and planted 50 everbearing strawberries in the new raised garden bed. This may not seem like much but for me, it is quite a bit. In fact, as I write this a day after this adventure, I am still sore from pulling up sod by hand (over two hours of work), putting in soil, mixing in composted manure and peat moss (another hour with two people's help), and planting 50 plants (nearly an hour by myself).

Most of my out-of-pocket expenses came from buying the strawberry plants and the metal that made up the walls of the pyramidal raised bed. I took the advice of my earlier post and found a horse farm giving away composted manure. Since my father is a farmer, he has access to some topsoil, some of which is just sitting in a pile waiting for his daughter to ask "Dad, can you bring me some soil?" In this case, it pays to know someone, and my father was not too busy on the farm so he could take time to bring the soil to me.

On top of the soil was fermented, chopped hay (haylage). It is a bit stinky, usually used for cattle feed but works well as mulch. This also comes from being a farmer's daughter, and I appreciate this using this as the mulch since the free bark mulch would be too heavy for small tender plants. My rain water, collected in the conveniently placed rain barrels, supplied the water for the new plantings.

The rest of the cost of establishing a new garden bed (and adding a bit more soil and organic matter to the current one) was the cost of some gas to get the composted horse manure and treating my parents to dinner for all their hard work in helping me set up my garden bed. Plus my dad was a great sport and helped with a few household chores that I am unequipped to do (e.g., no ladder to remove leaves from the gutters).

Although I have removed the juniper bushes and a cotoneaster from the front of my yard in autumn 2006, I only have a few plants to replace them: two blueberry bushes and two Rosa blanda bushes. These do not take up nearly the space the juniper bushes did so I am still looking to add plants to the space. Until I do, it is open soil that weeds like to take over. To prevent the constant weed pulling, I finally decided to visit the piles of free bark mulch and use that to cover the space until I am ready to plant whatever it is I choose. My inclination is to put in native plants, but I may change my mind.

As a bonus, my boss just gave me a gift certificate to a local greenhouse. I intend on visiting the greenhouse to see what sort of plants are available (including any native plants), figuring out how many I need and starting on the nearly empty bed in front of my house. I do not want more lawn so that is not an option. My supervisor's generosity means if I find items I like, I do not have to pay out of my pocket.

My growing-my-own-food plans also include a small cucumber bush, three tomato plants (if I do not kill them moving them to larger pots since I started them from seed), some lettuce and hopefully, some onions. The raised vegetable garden bed is 9 feet by 9 feet, not a lot of space, and the soil needs some heavy amendments since it is nitrogen deficient and low in phosphorus. I paid some money for the vegetable seeds, but it does not add a lot to the cost of gardening. Typically composted manure, topsoil and mulch take a larger bite out of my gardening budget.

Finally, I am glad to say that my strawberry plants, even in the two days since being installed in the garden pyramid, are already showing signs of life. It is supposed to rain overnight so hopefully, all will progress well and I will be eating some of the fruits of my labor come August!

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