Monday, April 29, 2013

It doesn't have to be expensive

Miss T watering one of the raised beds
 Sometimes, the idea of getting started in gardening can be quite overwhelming. It's a lot more than just getting some seeds and tossing them into dirt, after all, and there's so much information available on the internet and in books that it's hard to know which way to turn for help. If you look to popular sites like Martha Stewart or Home Depot, you find a lot of great ideas with huge price tags.

It doesn't have to be expensive, though. If you look at the header picture there, you can see Miss T watering a raised bed. That bed is made by screwing together four pieces of plank wood that I found on the side of the road for free. The decking screws we used were "borrowed" from Gray's stash, but honestly they're not all that expensive to buy new, and you only need a handful per bed (optimally 9-12 screws per raised bed).

The bed to the left of the "nice" one is made from fallen birch logs that I dragged out of the forest behind our house. There are no screws at all involved in that one. I pulled the logs into place, and then I used broken bricks and various small stones to hold the logs in place. I used a big squarish log that Gray couldn't get to split as an end piece, both to make up the distance of one log that was kind of short, and to make a spot to sit on while working on the garden.

German thyme
To the right of the nice bed are tires. The large tires are (very dead) tractor tires that a friend brought over for us in his truck. These, too, were freebies. Because they are so deep, I use them for root vegetables that might not do so well in our rocky New Hampshire soil. Last year I planted my beets in one of the big tires, and it was the first year I've ever gotten a real crop of beets (and I've been doing it for 20 years now!).

Currently, the second large tire hosts my herbs, however I'll be moving them to car sized tires next week. There will be two rows of tires pushed together, five on one side and four on the other. This gives me nine tires to plant in, PLUS seven little triangular spots for larger herbs. The tires themselves will be hosting my more "invasive" herbs: chives, thyme, rosemary, oregano, mint (probably two types), marjoram, sage, and cilantro. The triangles will be planted with dill, basil, and more cilantro and sage most likely. The taller plants will be easier to harvest from those middle spots.

Happy kale
You can often get tires for free. I pick mine up at the local dump, taking as many as will fit in the van each week. Check out any car repair places local to you, as well. It actually costs money to dispose of tires, and most places will be happy to give you as many as you like, in a variety of sizes. For those who question whether it's safe to use old tires in your gardens, you will have to decide for yourself. This FAQ gives a lot of really good information, but the final choice has to be your own. As you can see, I certainly don't have any concerns about using tires in my gardens! The major concern that I have is that I need to keep cold loving plants out of the tire planters during the heat of summer, because the soil becomes quite warm (black rubber heats up a LOT). They're great for over-wintering herbs and things like garlic and lettuce, though! You can also paint your tires white to help keep the heat down.

My potatoes are planted in tires this year
I use tires for my potatoes almost every year. Last year I tried a potato tower, but was underwhelmed by the results. I didn't get enough water into the tower, and so there were few potatoes. I've tried hilling potatoes as well, but it requires a lot of space and a lot of effort (digging up potatoes is hard work). With the tires, you just plant and go, and at the end of the growing season you tip the tire over and your potatoes are right there ready for you.

The newest raised bed
This newest raised bed was built last weekend and was wood that we had picked up at the dump. Quite often, people bring pieces of board that are no longer useful to them (this one had cracks and knots in it, for instance) but that do fine for a raised bed. We screwed it together, put it in place, and filled it. Now there are plants in it (kale and broccoli that got started weeks ago indoors) and seeds as well (lettuces, spinach, and collards).

You might be asking yourself, what about all that dirt? Soil is expensive! You're right of course. It is expensive to purchase soil. However, there are alternatives. The dump here in Jaffrey has a massive compost pile that people put grass clippings, animal manure, used soil, bits of punky logs, and a bunch of other stuff into. We hop  over in the backhoe (or the van, with buckets, or a truck) and fill up the scoop, and take it home. We do have to pick through the compost, because people do sometimes dump in things that don't compost well (rocks, the occasional beer can, bits of plastic), but it doesn't take long. Sticks and punky wood can go into the bottom of your raised bed, as can leaves, newsprint, and cardboard. The compost goes on top.

The new bed, long view
You can plant in plastic milk bins, Rubbermaid tubs, old wooden or waxed cardboard boxes (though cardboard will only be good for a year and then break down), and dozens of other things. Heck, you can even use old plastic containers from take-out food or margarine and such. People have even used old kiddie pools (the hard plastic type) and food grade plastic buckets they picked up at the grocery store. Your imagination and willingness to look and ask is all that holds you back.

Those who may be on Food Stamps or SNAP can also join in. You can use your SNAP benefits to purchase seeds! Check out your local grocery store or Agway for discount or bargain seeds. Some stores will even give away last year's seeds for free, because they don't have as high a germination rate. Ask neighbors who have gardens if they have extra seeds you could have or could trade for.

Putting the time in to grow at least some of your own food will yield so many benefits. There's the joy of seeing something grow that you're intimately involved with. Playing in the dirt is a type of anti-depression therapy, plus the extra sun helps your body manufacture seratonin, the natural chemical that helps you be happy. You will know exactly where your vegetables come from, how they were grown, and what chemicals were used on and around them. There will be no question as to whether your food is genetically modified. You'll be providing fresh and healthy food for yourself and your family. That food will lower your grocery bill during the summer, and with a bit of effort, you can put some of it away for use during the winter as well. You'll add beauty and value to your yard. You'll even have less grass to mow and water!

If you could only grow one vegetable, what would it be? 

Linked to the Homestead Barn Hop #109, Common Sense Preparedness, the HomeAcre Hop, and Tuesday With a Twist #4!

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