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Planting A First Garden
To curtail global warming, here are the usual tips: ride a bike, use
low-energy light bulbs, hang the wash outside, plant a garden. Not just any
garden, but a garden that will feed you. A garden that is pesticide and chemical
fertilizer-free not only will feed your body, it will feed your soul. And it may
take the pressure off global farmers who now must produce for their own people rather
than ship goods to the United States and Europe.
You have no garden at all? Then check into the potential of community
gardens. There may be one near you. Or, there may be a neighborís garden to
share. You do the work and share the produce. Many neighbors will be delighted
at the prospect of homegrown produce in their own yards.
Donít have a backyard? Consider the front yard. More and more gardeners are
using every available inch of land. Have only a patio? Tomatoes, peppers, and
eggplants grow well in pots, as do herbs. Cucumbers will vine up a trellis.
Perhaps you live on rocky soil without a teaspoon of garden-ready soil? Build
up rather than try to dig; raised beds may be the best choice.
Once you look around, youíll find unused ground that may sprout the best
But how to start? Well, consider two approaches. One may be perfect for you.
Youíve discovered a spot of land that gets about six hours of sun and has
access to water. Thatís the first part. Now you have to decide: tear up that
plot of grass or scratch up the weedy dirt? You have two choices. One is called
the sheet composting method. This takes a bit of time, so itís best to set
aside the winter or spring. But in a hurry, a month may do. Place cardboard on
the top of the soil, overlapping the edges. The area you cover with cardboard
will be your garden. Water thoroughly. Layer leaves, grass clippings, composted
veggie scraps, even composted sheep, poultry, goat, llama, rabbit or horse
manure. Avoid cow manure, which may contain the deadly Ecoli strain of
bacteria and also arrives with too much salt. Ecoli may kill you; salt will kill
But if you have no available quality animal manure, itís of no importance.
Excellent gardens can be made from only leaf and grass clipping mulch. The major
fertilizer ingredients are easy to come by, without resorting to chemical
fertilizers. Grass clippings provide nitrogen; leaves, especially oak leaves,
provide phosphorus. Western soils usually contain plenty of potassium. If you
need extra nitrogen, alfalfa in powder or pellet form is excellent.
time the grass or weeds decompose under your cardboard, the layering will be
soft and pliable, almost like a layer cake. You can set your transplants where
you wish by simply pulling away the mulch, digging a hole, planting your tomato
vine. Pull the soil and mulch back over the plant. Water and watch it
Thereís another technique that requires the use of green manure, also known
as cover crops. This is the sowing of rye or alfalfa, clover or vetches to
enrich the soil. Legumes such as alfalfa, clover or vetches add a boost of
nitrogen. This is best sown in fall and allowed to winter over. It stems
erosion when those March winds arrive. By April, gently till in the thatched
ground coveróbut only gently. Over-tilling is now recognized as overkill. The
elaborate structure of soil, complete with beneficial fungi and bacteria colonies,
can be torn asunder by rigorous tilling. Farmers
are getting away from this damaging practice, so itís worth discarding. Gently
folding in your cover crop as if it is a whipped egg white in batter will give
you a giant boost in nitrogen and humus.
Consider trying a living mulch. Growing a sea of red clover and planting
within that crop will continue a nitrogen flow from the clover roots to your
plants. This technique is being used in fields to conserve water and fertilize
without chemicals, but I've also seen it used in greenhouses.
After tilling, allow the cover crop to wilt and decompose. Youíre ready to
plant and line up drip irrigation if thatís your choice. Drip irrigation will
get water exactly to the plants if theyíre lined up. If not, you may end up
watering by hand. But either way, a thick mulch will prevent water from
evaporating all too quickly. It will keep the soil at an even temperature, too.
If slugs are a pest, consider using dry pine needles, which are too sharp to
encourage much slug maneuvering. But other mulches will also serve you well:
collected leaves from the fall, grass clippings mixed with leaves, hay, straw or
compost. The earthworms will turn all into humus and youíll have to apply
several layers throughout the summer. But the addition of mulch will suppress
weeds, lower your water bills and improve the soil. Once you get in the mulch
habit, youíll never break it.
Except for placing your plants in the garden, youíre finished. Of course,
thereís the need to choose plants, but the hard work is done. With a garden
like this, you shouldnít require extensive water. You need little or no
fertilizer. And the hard work is finished. Itís time to enjoy the fruits of