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So you want an urban garden: Where do you begin?

 

Crystal Carel, a Garland resident, plants her urban garden as Liz Berry watches.  Crystal's urban garden is contained in a 4' x 7' x 8 in high wooden bed. Her soil is a 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 sphagnum moss and 1/3 mixture of compost and garden soil.  However, the structure, soil content and plants can be as varied as the urban gardeners themselves.

Whether you rent or own and whether you live in an apartment or in a home, you can have a urban garden.

If you've never gardened before, it's usually wise to start small (with one 4' x 8' raised bed or a few containers) and then grow from there the next season.  

First learn about the rules governing the use of the property where you hope to establish the garden.

1.  Do you own or rent?  If you rent, you must consult with the owner of the property unless you plan to have a container garden on the patio.

2.  If you own, is there an HOA involved?  If so consult with their rules before putting in an urban garden.

Second, determine the budget for your garden.

Like any other hobby, gardening can get expensive, but it doesn't have to.  One of the best ways to keep spending in check is to start out with a predetermined amount of money that you are comfortable with spending.  While we are on the topic of money, don't expect to get a monetary return on your investment in the first year.  Almost without exception, establishing your garden will cost more than you will realize in monetary profit from your harvest.  If this bothers you, ask yourself:  How much R.O.I. do you get from golf, or tennis, or fishing, or just about any hobby you might undertake?

Third, determine your own needs as well as your long-term goals for your garden.

For example, you don't like to stoop, you may want to design your beds so they are 2 to 2.5 feet high.  If you plan to eventually grow enough fresh vegetables to feed your family of four, you will want to lay out your garden plan to be built over a period of two or three years.  When your garden is completely built, what will it look like?

Determine the best area of your yard for a garden.

Needless to say, it will be an area that gets at least 8 hours of sun every day.

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Here are a few suggestions:

1.  Don't dig.  Tilling the soil is too much work.  Instead, build your garden soil on top of the area where you want to garden. Enclose the garden bed or not?  Usually establishing any kind of a border to define the area of your garden will increase the expense.  However, there is always the possibility of free or found wood, or other free materials from which you can fashion the sides of your garden bed.  

2.  Build the soil.  There are about as many ways to build soil for a bed as there are gardeners.  An expensive way to go is the Mel Bartholomew way: 1/3 vermiculite; 1/3 sphagnum moss; 1/3 compost and garden soil.  Soil with this mixture for a 4 ' x 8' bed will cost approximately $60.  By the time you figure the cost of the wood for the sides of the bed, the hardware, and the plants, your 4' x 8' garden will cost about $125 to install--not counting labor.

The thing to remember when building  your soil is that you need something in your soil to aerate it; something in it to retain water; and then of course, something in it to nourish the plants.

If your budget is lower than a worm's back, build  your soil as we have built the soil in the Winding Garden here at the Garland Community Garden.  This urban garden bed has no frame and most of its soil is made from found materials.

1) On a Monday and Tuesday here in Garland, drive around and pick up about 10 garbage bags of leaves and grass clippings curbside.

2) Stop in at the back of liquor stores and other retail stores and pick up cardboard.  You will need enough cardboard to cover the bottom of  a 4' x 8' bed about 20 times.  This will pretty much fill up the trunk of an average car and the inside of the back seat.

3) Drive to Mesquite and pick up a cubic yard of compost for $10.  (This is a lot of compost.  It is enough to fill the bed of a 3/4 ton pickup.  Be sure to bring a tarp to cover it for the trip back to Garland.  If you don't have a truck, ask a friend.  Talk them into becoming a gardener.)  In the future, Loving Garland Green may have a pile of compost that we make available to Garland gardeners who are registered with us.  Figure out a way to share this load with several gardeners as you will need only about 1/4 of the load for a 4 x 8 foot bed.

4) Buy two bags (2 cubic feet each) of garden soil.  This will cost about $12.00.

5) Wet the cardboard completely so that it is soggy and lay down the first layer in the bed.

6) On top of that layer place a layer of sticks.

7) On top of that layer place a layer of leaves.  (Note:  many urban gardeners will not use grass clippings as this source is likely to have a high content of chemicals that homeowners typically use to maintain their lawns--the worst of which is Roundup.  In addition, lawn clippings often include dog feces--another undesirable source for garden soil. One gram of dog waste can contain 23 million fecal coliform bacteria. Dog waste can spread giardia and salmonella as well. )

8) Water with the hose.

9) Place a layer of leaves.

10) Place a layer of crumpled newspaper

11) Place another layer of leaves or other dried plant matter.

12) Water with the hose.

13) Place another layer of soggy cardboard.

14) Continue until the bed is about 8 inches high.

15) Pat the sides all around the bed so they slope toward the inside of the bed.  Do this so you can mow around the edges of your bed if needed. 

16) Mix the compost and garden soil and spread on top.  You should have about 4 inches of this soil on top.

17) Water thoroughly.

18) Plant with seed and transplants that you've obtained from friends and other free sources.

Following this method, it is possible to have an 4' x 8' bed for as low as $20.00.

4. Install Water Conservation Devices.

1) ollas - You can make them yourself from unglazed flower pots.  (Seal the hole in the bottom of one pot.  Place the pots together rim to rim and gorilla glue them together.  Place most of the olla below the surface of the soil.  Water in the top hole.  Keep hole covered with a piece of pottery to prevent evaporation.)

2) feeding baskets - Fashion a cylinder from chicken wire. The cylinder should be approximately twice the height of the soil in the bed.  Reinforce the sides of the wire with bamboo sticks.  Place the cylinder into the soil so that its bottom is resting on the bottom of the bed.  Place wet soggy cardboard in the bottom of the basket.  Then put vegetable scraps from your kitchen on top of the cardboard.  Water thoroughly.  Place crumpled newspaper on top of the vegetable scraps to mask odor.  Water the feeding baskets and add vegetable scraps and newspaper at least once a week.  This will nourish your garden and will reduce the need for water.  

3) Insert soggy wet cardboard into the soil around the plants twice a week during the heat of the summer.  Soggy wet cardboard can also be used or mulch on top of the soil around the plants.

4) Once plants have started, be sure to mulch your garden well to prevent the soil from drying out.  Soil is a living thing teaming with microbes that require moisture . 

Monday, May 12, 2014