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Please don't remind me that I'm poor; I'm having too much fun pretending I'm simply "living green" like everyone else these days.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Do you garden?

I've seen a surge in the number of people posting about starting backyard gardens for the first time. I'm sure it's the economy getting so many interested in growing their own foods. I used to have a garden in my back yard. It was part yard garden and part container garden. I had blackberries, grapes, and a cherry tree. A neighbor had apple, plum, and pear trees. There are also walnut trees in the neighborhood. I had strawberries galore! I had several types of garden herbs. I grew almost all our vegetables for a whole year.

The only thing left of my gardening days is my cherry tree. I miss those days. I loved gardening just for the fun of it. The fact that I could grow food to eat was just a bonus. Along with all the vegetables I also had lots and lots of flowers; but the point of today's post is about the food I grew.

I used a combination the intensive planting method, the square food method, upright method, and container method of growing stuff in my garden because my yard is so small. I grew enough stuff to can or freeze that I rarely bought vegetables or fruits at the store. Over the years I've gradually stopped gardening because the neighborhood kids get into the yard and destroy everything. I need a 6 ft high privacy fence to keep them out but can't afford it. Right now I have a short 3 ft chain link that's falling down. Now days I just look at my backyard and yearn to plant things again like I did in the good old days. Since I can't actually plant things anymore... I can still at least talk about how I did my gardening.

One of my favorite methods of planting my garden was companion planting. The concept was to pair plant something that fruited above ground with something that fruited underground in the same spot. Add to this that they were planted in a container together.... that's how I got the most for the least amount of space. I think my very favorite was a tomato and potato combination. The tomatoes fruit above ground and the potatoes fruit underground.

How I planted these two together was to get myself several food grade 5 gallon buckets. It had to be food grade to be sure it was safe. Paint buckets or any bucket that holds chemicals pose a danger of getting the chemicals into whatever you grow. I got pickle buckets from a fast food restaurant. I filled these with straw. No dirt.... just straw all the way to the top of the bucket. Don't confuse straw with hay. There is a big difference. Straw looks yellow and hay looks grey green. The straw was packed in the buckets at medium density. Meaning tight enough to hold plant roots but not so tight that water couldn't get through it. The potatoes needed room to grow.

I drilled drainage holes around the bottom edge of the buckets. Not on the bottom itself but around the outside bottom edge so I could see if they got blocked up with straw bits. Easy to clean them out if I could see the holes.

In each bucket of straw I planted one potato set about a foot below the top of the bucket. I planted these on Good Friday every year and gave them their first water. That's all I did at that time. It was important to plant the potato sets deep in the bucket. So the growing potatoes would be below the root line of the tomato plant that would be added later.

Potato plants grow large green foliage that dies when the potatoes start to grow underground. When it got warm enough to plant tomatoes; one went into each bucket beside the potato foliage. By the time the tomato plant is large enough to set fruit the potato foliage has died. At this time I added a broom handle to the bucket for a stake to tie the tomato plant to it. I would fertilize the tomatoes as usual during their growing season. The buckets were in a place where they got rain or I could water when there wasn't enough rain.

In the fall when it was time to pick the last of the tomatoes and harvest the potatoes; I simply turned the bucket over and dumped everything out. Nice clean potatoes.... no digging. If I had had a basement storage area I could have just carried the buckets there.... straw and all for winter storage. I could then let the potatoes do their thing until I was ready to dump one to have fresh potatoes for dinner.

I did several other types of companion planting but I can't think of them right at this minute. I hear a storm about to come through this area so I best get off the computer.


kathi said...

GREAT ideas Anita.. I will have to tell David.. I like the "no muss no fuss" harvesting of the potatoes.. and hmm,, wonder if they would survive longer in the garage?
Too bad it still is too cold here to plant much of anything, yet.

Patriotgal said...

It's a shame you had to quit gardening because of the neighbor kids. My wish for you is that somehow you can get a privacy fence. I've seen them posted, every now and then, on Freecycle.