Backyard garden in the 'Burbs

Basketball hoop became our cucumber trellis
I found the following saying and felt it was so appropriate for spring that we, in Minnesota, at the end of April, are so anticipating;
When I go into my garden with a spade, and dig a bed,
I feel such an exhilaration and health that I discover
that I have been defrauding myself all this time in
letting others do for me what I should have done
with my own hands.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
The element that speaks volumes to me, about this saying, is that all of us can grow fresh organic food in our backyard, with little effort.  Even though my husband and I have been farming and gardening our entire life together (and on much larger acreage than a back yard), our current backyard garden (approximately 150 square feet) also rewards us every day. 
Peppers in buckets 
That’s why I want to reach out to some of the students in our class, as well as anyone else in the community, that may think they need more space to grow food.  We have a beautiful small lawn with shrubs, trees and perennials planted.  Intermixed with this landscape, we grow raspberries, strawberries, asparagus, and several varieties of tomatoes, chives and other herbs.  In addition, we have a 3’x20’ “garden” box next to the garage that we grow beans, potatoes, peas, greens, cucumbers, squash, carrots, and several varieties of peppers.  The best part of our garden box is that it is three feet tall, so bending over has been all but eliminated!

For anyone getting started, there are just a few basic things that you want to keep in mind:

1.     Start small. You can grow a lot of plants in a small area, as well as in pots and other containers.  Starting small also allows you to efficiently water when needed. (We have two 50-gallon rain barrels).  In addition, a smaller garden is easier to mulch, weed and hand-pick pests.
2.     Understand your soil.  Is it primarily sandy or clay? This will determine what you may need to add to attain the rich humus soil that most fruits and vegetables like.  In addition, it will determine how much watering will be required.  Soil tests are always a good idea if you believe your soil is lacking in nutrients.  County compost sites are good sources of free, nutrient-rich soil.

Hard to see, but we have raspberries, strawberries,
tomatoes and herbs growing among the flowers
3.     Don’t rush the season.  Many things can be planted outside now but they are considered “cool” weather crops.  Things like tomatoes and peppers like warm temperatures.  You can plant these items once all chances of frost are past, but until the temperatures are much warmer, they will just sit there, and they may be more susceptible to pests and diseases.
4.     Many companies now sell organic seeds, bulbs and cuttings online.  I have also found organic seedlings of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, herbs, etc. at local nurseries as well as big box stores.
5.     Planting a wide variety of vegetables, herbs and flowers attracts many beneficial insects that will allow you to not use pesticides.  I also have some water elements in my yard that attract frogs and toads and many varieties of birds.
6.     Weeds, what can I say about weeds?  Not all weeds are bad.  Many weeds are quite edible, such as dandelion greens, lambsquarters, and others.  As well, many beneficial insects are attracted to weeds.  So, my theory with weeds is to find a happy medium with what you can stand and don’t stress out about them.

Garden box is now taller, we added two more boards
to raise it up even more
7.     Planting in pots – they have to drain well.  In addition, figure out how deep (wide) the roots will be for whatever plant you are putting in pots.  Most of them (for annuals) are not that deep (or wide) so I stuff newspapers and other materials in the bottom of the pots before I add the soil or plants (to lighten the load).
8.     Involve your neighbors.  My next door neighbor also puts in a garden every year using a all the other neighbors leaves from the following year as his “garden”.  Check out the rows he has made for this year in the picture below:
Neighbors’ “garden”, out of leaves

My word of advice to you beginning backyard farmers is: be creative, have fun and you can’t fail, whether anything grows or not, the time spent in the fresh air and sunshine will more than make up for anything that doesn’t produce, plus, “There is always next year!”.

Sharon Utke

1 comment:

  1. You will always want to follow the basic rules in landscaping so you know that your work will be always right. Security and privacy is also important in this.

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