Sunday, May 22, 2011

Garden Location & Design

This year I moved the location of my garden and changed the layout, for a couple of reasons.  The primary reason to move it was lack of sunlight.  I live in a residential area and though I don't have any large trees in my back yard, my neighbors do.  Where my garden was located last year it mostly received direct sun in the afternoon, exposing them to high heat as soon as the morning shade moved.  I located the garden right next to the house to take advantage of longer sunshine hours especially in the morning hours.  In late afternoon the garden gets some shade from nearby trees.  This has had an added benefit, now every time I let the dogs out the back door, I take a look at the garden.  It does not seem like much to walk across my small backyard, but I notice that I take more time to keep an eye on things where they are located now.  I also located the herbs closest to the back door, which makes it quicker to run to the garden for fresh herbs while cooking.  Only after I made this move did I start reading about Permaculture, which emphasizes locating your most intensive crops, annuals, closest to the home and perennial plants and trees that require less care further from the home.  It makes sense, I need to go to the garden daily or every other day to pick squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, and others.  The further I have to go, the less likely I am to go daily.  Then I risk not noticing insect damage and letting fruit become overripe.  If I had a large yard, like in my childhood, and I put the gardens away from the house, even a hundred or two feet, it becomes more of a chore to pick from the garden.  In the future I will always try to place my garden as close to the house as sunlight will allow.

I also changed the layout and method of my garden this year too.  Last year I tilled the soil and hoed weeds.  This year I did not till.  Instead I am using a deep mulch method based on lasagna gardening.  You build up layers of organic matter, a very deep sheet mulch, and plant in it.  This creates a very soft soil that you don't want to compact, so instead of planting in traditional rows I planted 4 foot wide beds separated by 2 foot wide walkways.  I could probably get by with narrower walkways, you live and learn, but it works.  This also divides my garden into 5 beds, which make rotating crops easy.  Four of the beds are close to the house and one that is separated. The bed that is separated is planted with melons, gourds, pumpkins, potatoes, seed amaranth, and sorghum.  None of these crops need daily observation, so they are perfect for a bed that is further from the house.

These changes have made my garden much more vigorous, enjoyable, and less work.  The combination of better sun and lots of organic mater to feed the soil has produced a healthier, more vigorous garden.  I have yet to harvest a tomato, we're getting close, but my tomato vines are taller and look better than what I grew last year.  This week was fairly cool, but my tomato vines still grew 8".  If all the fruit hanging right now ripens I will have a better harvest than all of last year, from fewer plants.  That does not include the fact that last year I had problems with blossom end rot (BER), usually attributed to a calcium deficiency.  I did not add any calcium, other than egg shells in to my compost. Yet there have not been any signs of BER.  As I have said in a previous post I spend my time planting, training vines, and harvesting.  There is a little weeding, but any of the other activities takes way more time even though most of my plants have yet to produce fruit, or ripe fruit.  Making the beds 4' wide has worked well, but a shorter person might making their beds 3'-6" or even 3'.  It is easy for me to pick 3/4 of the way across my beds from either side and I am able to plant more plants due to less square footage wasted to rows that you can walk/till in between.  I think that relocating the garden closer to the house and deep mulch gardening are both great ideas and I would advise other gardeners to consider trying them.

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