Even though I currently live in sunny southern California, this time of year always makes me remember the Mid-West winters. Nothing cured cabin fever quite like pouring through a stack of seed catalogs and making plans for the spring planting of the vegetable and herb garden. I also studied the Farmer’s Almanac, and planted my root vegetables and above ground veggies according to the moon phases. Laugh if you want, but I had the best quality of organic and pest-free harvests in the neighborhood!
Gardens come in as many varieties as do people, depending on your needs and available space. My first garden as a wife and mother was a modest 30 foot x 30 foot garden in the suburbs. But to my friend in the city, that was a huge garden. When our family moved to the country, and on an acre of land, the garden grew as well. After all, the larger the garden, the less grass to mow!
As my garden expanded, so did the hours of work needed to plant and maintain it. Over the years I developed some tricks that worked well for me, and could be used for small or large gardens. I thought I’d share them today with you.
1) Preparation for the spring and summer garden always started the autumn before, once all the vegetables had been harvested and the hard frosts had killed off all the plants. After tilling under all the remaining debris, I began covering the garden with layers of compost and grass clippings (until the grass went dormant for the winter). Then I raked up dead leaves and added those as another layer. When the fireplace was cleaned out, the wood ashes were added. All winter, anything that could be recycled back into the soil was added to the layers. When spring arrived and it was time to till and plant, the soil was already rich and ready for the new season.
2) I’ve always preferred a raised bed approach to gardening. When my garden grew to large proportions, my TroyBilt Tiller even had an attachment for creating furrows (to plant potatoes), which worked perfectly for creating raised planting rows with a path between. My first step was to spread a thick layer of straw on the path between the raised beds. These became weed-free walking paths where I could check plants and harvest the veggies. Even after a heavy rain, the path was mud free.
3) Grass clippings were added around each of the plants as they grew. Eventually this created a thick mulch. Although it was a lot of work in the spring to lay down all this mulch, first the straw and then the grass clippings, the result was worth all the time. The mulch kept my garden virtually weed-free from day one. Believe me, I’d much rather spend a few hours mulching in the spring rather than weeding in the hot July sun! The other big benefit of the mulching was how well it retained the soil moisture. While others in the area were having to irrigate or water their gardens (We were on a well and I didn’t want to use my water this way), I could pull back that mulch on a hot, dry August day and find cool, damp soil. I never once had to water my garden.
4) Instead of planting sweet corn in long rows, I found I had a much higher yield by planting corn in short rows in a compact block. This is because corn is wind pollinated. Planting in a block gives ears of corn a better chance of receiving the pollen it needs to create a full ear of kernels. The side benefit I experienced with this style of planting came after a deluge of hard rain and strong gusts of wind. Normally the corn in long rows would have been blow over. But my compact grouping of plants were able to withstand the storm.
5) I grew all my herbs along side my vegetables using what’s called Companion Planting. I’ll do a blog about this topic in more detail in the future, but it basically means planting different varieties of plants next to each other in a way that encourages both plants to grow strong and healthy. I also included flowers that repelled certain insect pests or attracted pollinators such as bees. My plants always thrived in this scenario, it discouraged pests, and I utilized my space more efficiently. And how convenient can it be to go out to your garden to pick a tomato and also pick some basil leaves at the same time!
I hope you find these tips helpful and save you some time and work in your garden.