- Author: Bud Veliquette
The March issue of Sunset Magazine has an article on growing productive gardens in a small back yard area, using 4x4’ pre-fabricated beds made of milled cedar boards. This inspired me to try it myself, and my partner and I designated a small sunny area on the north side of our lot next to a concrete patio. I ordered two of the 4x4’ beds, each with 6” height extensions, to make it easier to work. Minifarmbox.com is the source, and before long, a UPS truck stopped in front of the house, and brought the boxes containing the disassembled bed pieces to the front porch.
Just a few days ago, we put them together, and it was incredibly easy, taking only about 10 minutes per box. The corners of the boxes have small holes for metal rods, which hold everything in place. Disassembly should be likewise an easy task, in case we change our minds about the location of the beds.
Next, we filled the completed boxes with potting soil, which I got at discount at a local “big box” store. I prefer the one cubic foot bags because they are easier to handle, and I prefer to use potting soil because it is so easy to work. In fact, you can harvest potatoes by sticking your hand down into the soil around the plant without damaging it or to see if they are big enough. To this, I can add home grown worm compost, which will add to the richness. And, should the dreaded Bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon L.) appear, you can reach very far down with a trowel to get to its intrusion point.
Each box needed 18-20 bags, depending on how close to the surface you like to have the soil level. (I used 20 bags.) I also ordered customized irrigation systems for each bed (again, minifarmbox.com), which will go in after the veggie starts are in. During the winter the top extension boards, once removed, will expose the corner pins, which can serve as anchors for a PVC pipe frame for a plastic-covered hot house. But for now, we look forward to months of leafy greens and summer veggies from these beds.
See also, Mel Bartholomew’s book, The New Square Foot Garden Book, which lends itself to close planting in a small, intensely worked area, perfect for these small beds.
- Author: Betsy Buxton
I don’t know how your yard is surviving in this series of storms, but mine is doing rather well, thank you. Because the soil in Solano County is primarily clay – good for making adobe bricks and growing plants when you finally get them established- we have a tendency toward lots of run-off water.
To get the clay soil to hold water and not flood, we need to water slowly and in several “bumps” of water. Too much at a time and the water sheets off the soil surface, but too many “bumps” or prolong watering and you end with mucky, sticky mud which takes forever ( and sometimes a day) to dry out. How to get the right combination of water/soil/ air spaces is the trick.
Some folks put in French drains which is way of saying: 1) dig trenches where the water collects on their property; 2) put a bed of coarse gravel, road bed gravel which is large (1-2” pieces is preferred) several inches thick in the trench; 3) lay perforated pipe ( has holes evenly spaced along all sides) covered in weed-block fabric or buy the already bagged pipe in the trench;4) cover pipe with more gravel within 3 inches of the trench top and cover with soil. Remember to install a grate at the end of the pipe, preferably downhill so that the pipe drains out and to the street. In my case, I attached all the down spouts from the house gutters to my French drain which allows the water that would be standing on stop of my back and side yards to drain to the front street gutter. However, a caution: do NOT use chemicals during the wet season as the drains allow these products to leach into the storm drains where they do not belong!
I refuse to let my back fence which is falling section by section (repair one section and the next takes a dive in the (wind) to disturb my serene and unflappable self -- Today is my 1st day of retirement. I shall enjoy immensely! Actually, my serene mood changes each time I pass my neighbor’s house. A “trained” man with a chainsaw cut the green ash tree in front of it back to stubbed limbs and then cut out the lawn with a Bob Cat tractor. Serenity to the eyes it is not, but I shall learn to close my eyes when passing by.
- Author: Cheryl A Potts
Soil texture is an important factor in determining the success of your gardening venture. Texture is determined by the proportions of sand, silt, and clay minerals of your soil. Clay, predominate in this geographic area, is very fine-textured, and referred to as a 'heavy soil'. Clay has one thousand times more surface area per gram than silt, and almost a million times more surface than course sand.
Sandy or silt loam is said to be the best soil for home gardening, as this provides a mixture that retains water and is able to percolate and infiltrate. Clay can become hard as rock and does not drain well.
Several things can be done to deal with our clay. One is to add raised beds to your garden, bringing in good loamy soil from a reputable source, and placing it on top of existing soil, where you want to plant.
Secondly, you can amend your existing clay soil with organic materials. Two common methods for doing this are: one, to add compost to soil and work it in. This is best done with hoes and or shovels, as tilling can destroy living organisms, such as worms, which are most beneficial to the garden. Severely compacted soil may require tilling. Of so, till down 10-12" deep. Allow soil to dry out--two to three days prior to adding amendments. Remove rocks, roots and debris. Break up any large clods with a hoe. Place two to three inches of compost on the area and work in. Do not do this when the soil is too wet or to dry. Peat moss would work as an amendment, but is expensive. Compost and well rotted manure both are organic and ideal for garden plots. A second method is to cover the area with 4-6" of rotten hay or straw and let it sit for up to a year, as this will slowly break down the soil. Easier on the back but takes much more time.
A third approach is to accept the clay and plant items that do well in that texture of soil. Here is a partial list of some flowers that actually will do fine: Black-eyed Susan, bluestar, aster, baptisia, coreopsis, purple cone flower, sea holly, perennial geranium, false sunflower, daylily, coral bells, blazing star (great for a butterfly garden), bee balm, Russian sage, yarrow, and switch grass, said to actually thrive in moist or dry clay.
So clay does not have to be a gardener's four letter word like mole, weed, or mold. Work with it, amend it, accept it.
- Author: Kathy Thomas-Rico
I know, and you know, this Master Gardener blog space is not intended as a garden brag book. However, I am ignoring that caveat today with a bit of boasting about my middle-of-the-yard tomato patch. Don’t know if any of you remember, but back in April I took a leap of faith and sacrificed a smallish, rock-lined area of my yard — normally planted with ornamentals — to the tomato gods. Mind you, this little spot is pretty much in the center of our back yard. I put in just four tomato seedlings, two determinate, two indeterminate. Then I hoped and prayed and the sun shone, and the wind didn’t blow too hard.
Update: The tomatoes are thriving, and, despite the goofy cages I’ve placed around them, the plants are lovely. I’ve started harvesting the cherry tomatoes, and a few ‘Beefmasters’. The fruit on the ‘Ace’ and ‘Celebrity’ are starting to blush.
This is beyond exciting for me, as I had pretty much given up on getting decent tomatoes from my back yard. I normally plant tomatoes in our two 10-foot by 4-foot raised beds, which are set away from the house on the southwest side of our property. But the last few years, the tomatoes have not done well. I have over-analyzed why this happened — too hot, too cool, too much water, too little water, planting the wrong varieties for our climate (I am SO over heirlooms!) — and I suspect I’ve hit upon the answer: The soil. This year’s relative and so-far success with tomatoes is probably because I have never before grown tomatoes in this spot.
I thought I had been taking good care of the soil in my raised beds. I never planted tomatoes in the same box in consecutive years. I always added plenty of compost and some organic fertilizer prior to planting. I’ve even grown cover crops (fava beans) over several winters. I’m hoping that by leaving the raised beds fallow for a summer, the soil may recover, at least a little.
I’d love some feedback from my fellow Solano gardeners. How do you keep your soil healthy?
- Author: Trisha Rose
Greetings, I spent this past Sunday as a docent for the annual Vallejo Garden Tour. I spent the day at an historic bungalow on Napa Street. The owner has converted her wrap around front and side yards into a successful edible garden. She and her "rent a husband" removed about a foot and a half of the existing clay soil and brought in garden soil. They built up mounds for raised beds and brought in many half barrels to house a variety of greens, herbs and vegetables of all sorts. Two existing trees, an ancient willow and a palm, were removed after failing simultaneously. Now citrus and fruit trees have found a place in this bountiful garden. The owner adds her compost to the soil twice a year and has established an elegant drip system that takes care to supply just enough water directly to each plant. This organic garden is maintained by feeding the soil rather than the plants. What a refreshingly beautiful result. It doesn't hurt that original art appears in the inner courtyard among the tall (yes already in May) stalks of corn and exuberant Yellow Fin Potatoes.
This home is located in a neighborhood of graceful homes mostly built in the 1800's. The overall garden isn't that large, but what this urban gardener has accomplished is truly inspiring with her wrap around space.
What I have found over the past three years viewing the many gardens on the Vallejo Garden Tour is a real sense of artistic endeavor coupled with ingenuity and effort to make a place of accomplishment. These results have expressed a desire to grow a healthy community and share a spirit of joy to all that care to take a look.
Next time you have a chance, spend some time in your local community gardens, you won't be disappointed.