As my aquaponics system is not meant as a broad gardening replacement, the last week has been focused on the outdoor garden space. Let’s walk through how to pick the proper garden spot, map it out, and realize that once you start building all of your plans will be tossed out the window and require improvisation.
Ideal garden plots have an unobstructed view to the south. Astronomy 101, the sun rises in the east, sets in the west. Orient your garden appropriately. My home faces east, but the neighbors to my south have some well established evergreens on the edge of their yard. Therefore, I planned my garden plot on the north side of the yard.
Each plant grows to a different height. An onion creates a narrow stalk about 12 inches tall, while tomatoes and okra can grow 6 feet tall. When you start seeding, shorter plants go on the south side. With all this space, my plants will be going from onion bulbs in the front to corn in the back.
In my experience, partial sun plants can grow and thrive in a full sun environment as long as you keep them watered. While our climate makes cool weather crops like lettuce difficult to grow, we also get regular rain throughout the summer. My rule of thumb is to start watering from a hose 3 days after the last rain.
Once your plot is planned out, it’s time to start construction. This year, I was working with a fully seeded grass lawn. First step was to mow the grass down as low as possible to prevent grass from growing into the garden space. As long as you are putting enough dirt above the grass, it will not grow through and the leftover grass will decompose and fertilize your garden next year. Second step was to lay down and attach my raised beds. I used pressure treated 2×6’s attached to each other with smaller pieces of a pressure treated 2×4.
“But Eric, what about pressure treated lumber leaching into the soil?!?!”
You’re thinking railroad ties. The pressure treated lumber that I used uses micronized copper, not creosote, and is readily available at most home improvement stores. If you do not believe me, then believe Iowa State University. The primary restriction on pressure treated lumber is to not use it for silos or direct contact with food products.
I had originally planned on building 6 raised beds, each measuring 8 feet by 32 feet. However, once I finished off 4 I pulled out my calculator and realized that four beds was more square footage than my last house. We’re stopping at 4, saving space for some perennials in their own dedicated beds like asparagus, jerusalem artichokes, and a full-service berry patch.
While assembling the beds, I only used a single screw for each joint. The entire frame has some wiggle room, by design. Once everything is filled, all I need to do is drop 2 more screws in each joint and drop some rebar in the ground for stability.
Then comes the hard work. Filling with soil. There are landscape companies that will deliver dirt to your house, but I also know the importance of having solid back muscles. The Frederick County Landfill has compost for sale at $15 per ton. As long as my tax dollars are paying for a bloated county government, I’ll be using their services until the day we return to fiscal responsibility at Winchester Hall.
There’s some debate amongst my farmer friends about when to actually put plants into the ground. In Maryland, the last frost is around the 3rd week of April. As we’ve had a mild winter, some of us (like me) are getting eager to put our seeds in the ground. A good measure of when to plant something, whatever seedlings are available at the nursery is what can be put in the ground today.
Next week, we’ll be turning our attention to the long game. Aside from the 1,024 square feet of garden space, I am also adding in fruit trees throughout the front yard. Fruit trees are easy to care for, but they do take years before they will produce fruit.