This month, I consulted with the resident horticulturist, Scott, to get some gardening tips, particularly for those who have limited space available. A few years ago, Scott had converted a substantial portion of our one-acre property into an abundant vegetable garden but maintaining a garden of that size is a great deal of work that he eventually had neither the time nor the energy to invest.
Since then, the garden has shrunk to a small patch in the backyard; however, with careful tending, it turns out it is no less abundant. If you like the idea of growing your own fresh veggies but don't think you have the space for it, then this post is for you!
The focus of this post is on square-foot gardening, which usually refers to multiple plots, each sized to a square foot. However, I'll be talking about a single, square-foot plot, as this is all that many people have available, and it is a manageable size even for beginners.
Tip #1 - Soil is a living thing.
A vital concept to embrace and remember is that soil is filled with living organisms that contribute to the soil's nutrients and fertility—from bacteria to earthworms, garden soil is teeming with life! The more fertile and alive the soil, the better the results. Later on, I'll be offering some more tips on how to care for and feed your soil, but to start, it is worth taking some time to research what kind of soil is most common in your geographic region. A simple Google search of "soil type in my area" yields a host of results, including the USDA.gov soil surveys, which feature some excellent historical information along with a detailed soil description.
Even if you choose to skip the research, the basics are pretty much the same for all types.—moist (not saturated) soil that breaks up easily, receives several hours of sunlight each day, and has good drainage is an excellent start.
Tip #2 - Use organic compost.
As previous blog posts have mentioned, what goes into an animal is ultimately what you will be eating. The same is true of gardening. What goes into the ground is what will be absorbed by your plants and ultimately, part of what you will be eating.
If you're just starting out, many local nurseries and gardening centers carry commercially prepared organic compost. It is worth the expense. Although you may not be in a setting where starting a compost heap is reasonable, there are organic materials you can add to your garden soil. Some examples:
Discarded lettuce or cabbage leaves
Discarded carrot tops and peels
Egg shells in limited quantities
Used coffee grounds add nitrogen,which helps break down these organic materials