The Loving Garland Green Urban Farming Method
Also known as the “Anyone Can Do It Urban Farming Method”
Note: We are almost finished with building an example of this garden at the Garland Community Garden. There will be some plots available to Garland residents within the next week. The only thing left for the new urban gardeners to do will be to spread their garden soil (about four bags of it), fill their feeding basket and plant their garden. If you come to the installation of our Keyhole Garden tomorrow (May 3, 1PM, 4022 Naaman School Road- Garland, Texas) you can see the garden section we are devoting to Ruth Stout, also known as “the mulch queen.”
So you want an urban garden, but you don’t have the skills, tools or the money to build a lovely wooden raised bed. What can you do? One thing is certain: you can’t just stick something in the North Texas soil and watch it grow. It took me 10 stubborn years of gardening failures to learn that, but I’m making up for lost time.
You will need to amend the soil, but again, that can get expensive with sphagnum moss, vermiculite, compost and garden soil combined with the wood for the frame, the hardware to put it together and the plants. Setting up a wooden 4’ x 8’ raised bed, enclosed by wooden sides will cost between $100 and $150. If you have someone from a nursery do the work, it will cost about $500.
Inspired by Ruth Stout and her mulch gardens and folks like Leon Smith and Deb Tolman and their keyhole gardens, I’ve come up with a low-cost solution for successful urban farming. I have named it: “The Anyone Can Do It Urban Farming Method. Be forewarned: This is an experiment. However it is based on sound principles already established by others as mentioned.
“The Anyone Can Do It Urban Farming Method.”
Imagine two 4’ by 4’ squares. The total space is 4’ x 8’—a total of 32 square feet per garden plot. In the center of each 4’ x 4’ square there is a chicken wire basket, about one foot in diameter that is reinforced with four small bamboo poles. The wire basket extends down to the bottom of the bed and extends about 12 to 14 inches above the top of the soil. Total height of the basket is 2 feet.
Tools and Materials:
- Five-gallon bucket
- Enough 2 foot wide chicken wire to make two, one-foot diameter cylinders
- Wire cutter or very strong scissors.
- Eight small dowels or bamboo stakes – about 2 feet 3 inches long
- Vegetable kitchen scraps.
- A mixture of leaves, cardboard, grass cuttings, natural fabric old clothes and rags, newspaper--Note: Since we are moving into the hot months, make your mixture at least two parts brown stuff and one part green because you don’t want your soil to get too hot. You will need enough of this mixture to build up to at least 8 inches high.
- About two inches of compost over the 4’ by 8’ area. (You can purchase 1 cubic yard of compost from the City of Mesquite for $10. This is more than enough to share with your entire neighborhood as it fills the bed of a ¾ ton truck to the brim.)
- About three inches of garden soil spread over the area. (This you can purchase from the garden store. There is some pretty good organic soil for about two bucks for 2 cubic feet. You don’t have to purchase the expensive $8 bags. The cheaper bags are usually the ones not in the front of the store with all the Miracle Grow soil. You’ll need about four or five bags. Another way to save money is to bring some garbage bags with you to the store and purchase soil bags that are broken. Home Depot sells them for 50% off. )
- Your plants. Use a mixture of transplants and seeds. Radishes and okra are almost always a sure bet.
STEP ONE: Measure off a four-foot by eight-foot rectangle in a sunny spot in your yard. You can either mentally eyeball the space, or you can measure it off. Either approach is fine.
STEP TWO: Build the soil
- Wet cardboard and cover the 4’ x 8’ space. Make sure to soak the cardboard well. The cardboard will attract good soil microbes. Cardboard is also essential to help with water retention and aeration. In addition, for some reason tiny soil creatures love to eat cardboard and turn it into soil.
- Cover the cardboard with a layer of leaves.
- Throw some old clothes (cotton or wool only) on top of the leaves.
- Wet thoroughly and walk around on top of the garden.
- Put another layer of wet cardboard.
- Throw some green on the pile (grass cuttings, or leaves from recent hedge trimming). But remember to limit the green to no more than 1/3 of your soil mix.
- More leaves.
- More cardboard
- Etc. Until you have built a 4’ by 8’ mound that is at least 8 inches high.
10. Spread a 3 to 4 inch layer of compost on top of your garden.
11. Spread a 4- inch layer of garden soil on top of the compost.
STEP THREE: Build the two feeding baskets
Cut two pieces, from the two-foot wide chicken wire. Each one is about 14 inches long. Bend the ends together to form a cylinder that is two feet tall and about one foot in diameter. You can connect the ends by bending the wire of each end together, or you can use pieces of wire or tie-wraps. Once the cylinders are made, insert four bamboo sticks, each about 18 inches long, through the chicken wire to stabilize the cylinder. (Weave the stick in and out of the holes in the chicken wire.) Put the four sticks equidistant around the chicken wire for balance.
STEP FOUR: Insert the feeding baskets into the center of each four by four foot square garden you have built. Dig out a hole in the center. Simply use your hands to push your soil back and then push the soil against the basket once you have it positioned.
STEP FIVE: Fill the feeding basket.
- Put a layer of about four inches of wet cardboard on the bottom
- Throw vegetable scraps, grass cuttings, etc. on top of the wet cardboard.
- Put more wet cardboard on top of that.
- Another layer of vegetable scraps.
- Top off with a layer of cardboard. (You can also put about a three-inch layer of compost or garden soil on the of that mixture.)
- Water the feeding basket.
Plant your garden. Choose vegetables that you and your family like. I try to choose the most expensive vegetables that I like. For example: artichokes. I have three artichokes planted in my garden.
CARING FOR YOUR GARDEN:
Water daily for the first week to 10 days until the plants are established or until seeds sprout. After that, you won’t need to water more than once a week if you keep your feeding basket filled with wet cardboard and vegetable scraps. The roots of your plants will grow toward the feeding basket.
However, check your soil daily by inserting your index finger into the soil at points in your garden farthest away from the feeding basket. At about an inch or so it should be damp. If it is not damp, wet cardboard, roll into cylinders and insert into the soil throughout the garden. You should do this anyway about once a week to aid in water retention and keep the soil aerated and damp.