UnorthadoxMomma

A mom who likes to live outside the norm

My garden (and a few tips I learned)

This is the second year I’ve had a real garden at my house (which is totally sad because we’ve lived here 8 years).  Most of this is because we have a ton of trees.  We spent the first 2-3 years we lived here cutting some of them down and cleaning up the brush.  We still have over 10 trees in our backyard (we only have 0.14 acres), but at least we’ve cut down the 12+ that were small enough to do on our own.

For years I’d tried those topsy turvy planters, but between squirrels climbing them and pulling the plants out by the roots and poor watering on my part, I never yielded anything.

Last year my husband and I finally cleaned up all the brush that was building up in the back corner of our yard and built 2 8×8 foot beds.  This year, we added another small bed to one of them to plant more strawberries.  This week, my kids and I added a scarecrow, just for pure awesomeness!  This guy is made out of my son’s old clothes so that he’s size appropriate for our garden.

In the far bed I have strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes and peppers.  In the near one I have potatoes, broccoli and onions.  In the pots (and in one of the corners of the bed) I have cucumbers, lettuce and spinach.

Space saving tips

Cucumber does really well on the edge of a raised bed trellised.  See the plants in the red pot?  I have a plant 5 times that size trellised to the fence edging the bed that’s already produced.  I’ve recently added stakes to the pot, and these guys are finally growing.

You can plant quick growing spring plants right next to your slower growing summer/fall producers.  Last year I planted my lettuce around my tomato plants.  By the time the tomatoes were big and shaded the ground, I’d already harvested most of the lettuce.

Don’t be afraid to plant right around the edge of the raised beds.  Like I mentioned before, the cucumbers do great there.  As do onions, carrots, radishes and lettuce.  I didn’t even bother with marigolds this year  which gave me more space.

Pest deterrent tips

Put chicken wire, or some kind of fencing around your garden!  Mine is low enough I can step over it, but I also have it set up where I can easily detach the end so that I can work with it down.  It won’t keep out squirrels and birds, but it keeps out the bunnies which will eat your young plants before they have a chance to produce anything!

Put shiny moving things in your garden.  I have a metallic pinwheel in with my strawberries.  I really need to hang up the pie tins I’ve had sitting in my kitchen for weeks!  Old CDs work great too.  The moving and the reflecting will deter birds and squirrels.

Use containers right next to your house.  Most animals won’t go right up next to your house, and it helps for ease of care too.  Large containers are great for 1-2 large plants like tomatoes and peppers.  I plant my lettuce, spinach and other greens in large pots, and they’re tall enough that the bunnies can’t reach.  In small pots I keep my herbs.  I plan on moving these indoors this winter so I can keep them growing all year.  Another benefit to containers is that you can move them around in your yard to maximize sunlight.  If your yard is like mine, sunlight is at a premium!

Get creative.  Everyone’s tried marigolds, but this year I’m trying red clover next to my garden.  My hope is that the bunnies will stop there and stay out of the garden.  Plus, it’s edible.  The flowers can be used in salads and as a light sweetener in tea (plus there’s health benefits, look them up!).  I got my seeds really cheap on amazon.com.

Watering tips

Not sure how it is where you live, but where I am we’re experiencing a pretty bad drought.  Last year we had a bit of one and I didn’t water well and my garden suffered.   Here’s a lovely photo of me “suffering” while watering…thanks for snapping the photo dear, ugh!

Don’t let your garden go more than a week without a good watering, less if it hasn’t received a good soaking and it gets above 90 degrees during the heat of the day.  One thing I learned last year which has really helped my garden (and yard) is DO NOT water everyday.  If you water daily, your plants can get fungus and mildew.  Also, their roots may stay near the surface, and if you miss watering for a few days they will dry out and suffer.

To help your plants and reduce water use overall, give your plants a good soaking twice a week, every other day if it’s really hot and dry.  It will get the water soaking deep into the ground, causing your plants to root deep.  They will be sturdier plants and will withstand drought better because they are getting water that is below the hot topsoil.  Plus, you’ll use less water because you won’t be daily giving them almost the same amount of water.  It works great for your grass too.

Things in pots, especially in full sun may need to be watered more frequently.  Hanging baskets and those topsy turvy planters that are in full sun need to be watered well daily or they will dry out.

Using “gray” water

If you’re like me, you don’t want your water bill to skyrocket.  You also don’t want to waste good water on your grass and plants.  There are several things you can do to use water already flowing in your house for your plants.

Keep a large bucket in your bathroom and catch the water you run to heat up before you get in.  Basically, any time you’re running water to heat it up, catch it in a bucket and use that to water your edible plants.  You can use your old dishwasher for watering things that won’t be used for food (bushes, flowers).  You could also use bathwater.

They make fancy water collection systems to catch water that goes out of your dishwasher, washing machine and bathtub drain, but I don’t think it’s cost effective.  If you’re looking to do it do reduce your overall water impact though, it may be worth looking into.

Weeding

If you’re like me, you hate it.  But DON’T USE CHEMICALS!   I go out once a week and get rid of the big stuff and anything around my plants that could choke them out.   If I have extra time I’ll get more detailed and get the tiny stuff.  Prioritize weeding around the stuff that will really get affected: berries, root plants, lettuces.  Your tomatoes and other big plants will be okay if you don’t get everything.  Focus on getting the stuff that will go to seed.

Weed when the ground is moist so that you can pull the weeds out and get the roots too.  If it’s too dry it’s easier for the weeds to break, and you can also do more damage to your plants.

One thing I haven’t tried that my sister does, is to cut the weeds and any extra plants grown from seed right at the ground level.  It will keep them from growing and won’t disturb the root systems of the plants you want.  I think this would be more effective with extra plants, but I don’t want the weeds growing underground!

At the end of the year, take all the leaves that fall and pile them up high in your garden area.  They will choke out any weeds and plants (don’t do this over perennials like strawberries), and as they decompose will enrich your soil.  In the spring you can mix it all up and have fresh soil to work with that’s already composted and mostly weed free.

Sadly, weeds will always be there.

Start small

Start with something easy, like a pot of lettuce in the spring or fall.  Plant a raspberry bush or two (though it will take a year or more to produce) or mint, they’re easy to care for but also spread easy so watch out.

Basically, pick 1 or 2 things to start out with and do well, and add a little more each year.  If you do too much it can fail, leaving your discouraged.  Plus, it may be too big of a project so you don’t even start it.

Other resources

If you’re interested in container gardening, a great website is: Urban Organic Gardener.  He’s got something called the “veggie virgin formula”.  If you go here you can enter where you live and it will tell you what to plant when.

If you live in MO or IL, there’s also this put together by Missouri University’s horticultural division that tells you when to plant each type of plant.  It’s really detailed and it’s great.  If you live in another area, I’m sure a google search could find you something very similar.

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