Have you ever stuck vegetable seeds in the ground, watered them and then been disappointed at the poor result? Unless you have super soil you will need to adopt one of the following methods to obtain the results you desire. If this is a Survival Garden you had better figure out which method works best for you and get it right. Gardening is one of those skills we should all cultivate, pun intended!
- LASAGNA GARDENING is based on the book of the same name. This method does not require tilling and really produces results. Based on layering, the bottom layer is 12 newspapers thick, laid right on the ground or, in our case, on top of gravel rock behind a keystone wall. From there goes a layer of peat moss, compost, peat moss, grass clippings, peat moss, barn litter, peat moss, dirt, peat moss and so on until 24″ thick. It settles quickly to 12″. I think you can see why it works so well; there are a lot of rich ingredients to stimulate growth and to permeate your produce with life-giving nutrients. There is a lot more to this method but this is not meant to be a complete treatise on any one particular type of gardening..more like a once-over-lightly to introduce the various growing options available.
LASAGNA TERRACE GARDEN AND WINTER GREENHOUSE
- RAISED BED GARDENING is, as the name implies, building containers on top of the ground in which to grow your garden. These can be 2″ x 6″\or 2″ x 8″ and should be a wood that does not easily rot, like cedar or redwood. Do not use pressure-treated wood for this purpose as the chemicals will leach into your growing soil. You can dig down as in the Intensive methods or build up from the ground as in the Lasagna method. Into these beds is put soil and various amendments to enrich and nourish your plants.
- BIODYNAMIC/ FRENCH-INTENSIVE GARDENINGis a blending of French Intensive, which originally planted seeds close together into a 18″ deep bed of horse manure, with the Biodynamic method of building up the soil with nutrients and using natural fertilizers and additives to encourage beneficial microbiotic life, essential to a healthy garden. Vegetables are planted in built-up rows 3 to 6 ft. wide and as long as necessary. One must initially dig down 24″ with a spading fork, turning the compacted soil to loosen it up. To this is added sand (if the soil is clay), compost, aged manure, organic nitrogen, phosphorus, potash, calcium, blood meal, and ph modifiers as indicated by a soil test. To replant, one must turn the soil with a spading fork and add a minimum of amendments. Rotation is necessary, meaning each item must be planted in a different location from the previous year.
- CHINESE INTENSIVE GARDENING, similar to French Intensive, differs in that the soil is dug down only 12″ and turned, to which is added human manure (in China) and other natural amendments, building the soil up naturally and planting in close proximity to keep weeds to a minimum and to gain the maximum yield. Keep in mind the Chinese have had thousands of years to develop this method, are poor, and have small plots in which to plant. In China these small gardens will feed a whole family, often out of necessity.
- CONTAINER GARDENING starts with a container such as a clay pot or basket, to which is added dirt, mulch, compost, and amendments to build up the soil at least 12″ before it settles to about 6″. Depending on the size of your container, you can grow vegetables, herbs, tomatoes, flowers, or even small trees. This method is handy for people with little gardening space. A variation of this method is vertical gardening which is essentially growing up from a container.
- GREENHOUSE GARDENING is a wonderful way to extend the growing season before and after normal growing time, sometimes by as much as 2 months each way. Some greenhouses are built over dirt and use the ground to grow in while others (like ours) are fully enclosed and items are grown in containers, often to be transplanted into a outdoor garden bed at the normal growing time. Even a small greenhouse can be very helpful at getting things started early in spring. If you grow your own produce, you can extend the growing period by months and even grow some items all winter long. Things grow much slower in the winter due to the shorter days but a greenhouse should offer the option of using growlights to supplement the sun. In some areas, growlights may be absolutely necessary if you want fresh greens year-round.
This is a picture of our 12′ x 24′ cold-weather greenhouse. It was designed for New Hampshire but adapted to Oregon. The door and windows were found on Craigslist for $200. It is insulated bottom and sides with 2″ of foam so is completely isolated from the atmosphere. The purpose for this is to use the mass of concrete as thermal storage. On a unusual 7 degree day last winter it never got below freezing and that was with no insulation between the interior studs! I hired out the concrete and framing and finished the rest myself for a total cost of around $5000. You could save $2500 by doing your own concrete and carpentry work.
Places with extreme winters would benefit the most from a greenhouse of this type. The interior concrete will grab and hold onto incoming solar radiation as will the (8) 55 gallon drums against the south wall. In a cold climate these would be filled with water for heat-storage but ours are filled with various soil amendments. Also, this would be an ideal place in which to use the hydroponic or aquaponic gardening methods.
- HYDROPONIC GARDENING uses a liquid fertilizer to nourish plants, usually in a greenhouse or hothouse for year-round gardening. They grow rapidly and are normally not exposed to the negative effects of bad organisms or pests. This is usually a active system, meaning it relies on electricity to pump the nourishment and keep the environment at ideal temperature. The pumps use a minimum of electricity but would necessitate a small power source for off-grid use.
- AQUAPONIC GARDENING is catching on quickly as the new, improved version of Hydroponic Gardening. It entails growing fish in a large vat, circulating the fish-water to a hydroponic garden in which is grown greens and other vegetables, some of which is fed to the fish and recycled again and again. Some folks have added chickens to the mix, with the chicken pen suspended over the fish vat. The chickens are fed some of the greens, the fish apparantly eat the chicken poop, and the whole circle of life plays itself out in your own back yard. As a bonus, you also get to eat the chickens and the fish. What could be better?
- COMPANION PLANTING is simply growing certain plants in close proximity to each other that have mutually beneficial properties. Some plants make good neighbors for other crops, either repelling pests, drawing pests towards themselves and away from the crop, or by fixing the soil with nitrogen and other life-giving properties. Although this is a relatively recent field, the internet proves a great resource for what companion crops grow best together. Companion Planting can be incorporated into other gardening methods to achieve the best results. Consult your local County Extension Service for what grows best in your area.
- The Ruth Stout “NO WORK- JUST MULCH” method claims that weeding and tilling are unnecessary, just add more mulch! It works best in climates that are hot and dry in the summer and quite cold in the winter. It did not work well for us here in western Oregon where the winters are usually mild. Her book is out of print but can be had on Amazon for a hefty sum.
One principle to keep in mind is that soil is a living organism and the more worms, friendly bacteria, and life-giving amendments you add, the healthier and more productive your garden will be. The principle is that healthy soil will grow healthy plants which are not bothered by insects or disease.
The French and Chinese Intensive methods are best at growing the most produce in a limited space with a minimum of water. Both are similar in that they are permaculture. In other words, they don’t need to be redone anew each year. One simply must turn the soil with a spading fork and rotate the locations of produce so the same item is not growing in the same spot.
Gardens need continual replacement of organic matter. One way of doing this is by planting a cover crop, also known as green manure. These are divided into two categories, non-legumes and legumes. Planting these should take place when the rains begin, usually in the fall. In the spring, as growth comes on rapidly, they are turned back into the soil. Allow time for them to decompose before planting or seeding food crops.
Also of primary importance is the need to perform a soil test to find what amendments are needed to bring your soil up to snuff. You can perform your own soil test by buying a kit and set of Gardening Gloves available at most gardening centers. If you have clay soil like us you may either loosen it up with sand and amendments or use the Lasagna Method, starting at ground level and going up.