Starting and maintaining a garden may seem like a difficult and time consuming task. It is. It is also thoroughly enjoyable and a healthy alternative to processed foods. Due to high and rising food prices, pesticide contamination, genetically modified foods and unpronounceable ingredients in our foods, I am motivated to expand our garden area. We do not live on a country farm; we are in suburbia. However, we are blessed with a large backyard and a wonderful growing climate. Although we do not have the rich, loamy soil found in the Sacramento/San Joaquin delta, we get the sunshine, early break from frost, and enough cold to have good yields from fruit trees such as apples and pears. Citrus trees do very well here, the trees are full of oranges, grapefruit, and lemons. We do have occasional frost to worry about with citrus trees.
Unfortunately our particular piece of Paradise was a neglected array of Bindweed, Nutgrass, Purslane, Dandelion, and my favorite, Bermuda Grass.
2009 was the year we decided to start our garden. The enormous hit we took to the monthly budget did not allow for truckloads of garden soil and redwood raised beds. I began with cinder blocks and red bricks found free on Craigslist to form raised beds. Rocks and broken concrete work well too. The set back to these materials are the nice hiding places for plant devouring bugs it provides. I have learned to let the Black Widows build their nests in the cinder block holes. I use the holes for green onions and marigolds. I leave one third available for spiders. The spiders are nocturnal and eradicate many earwigs and sow bugs. As long as you are aware of their presence, they do not pose a real threat. If I need to work near the spiders, I wear gloves.
I added soil amendment and garden soil to some existing dirt and began with the basics. Here in Northern California tomatoes, cucumbers and squash grow well. I also grew potatoes, garlic, and jalepenos.
Over the next few years, I started removing the sides of the raised beds to combine them into bigger beds and added steer manure and soil amendment. We then added asparagus and artichoke to the garden. These take a few years to produce well, and we are still waiting. The wait is worth the 12-15 years that these plants will produce with only some fertilizing and mulching.
This year we are expanding the gardening area substantially. The new area is too large to use the same raised bed approach. I am still using raised beds, but, on top of a layer of tree mulch. The idea came after watching Back to Eden. The theory is to use mulched tree branches and leaves to layer upon the soil to eventually produce a nutrient rich garden soil. I spoke with a local man that claimed to have watered his ‘mulch’ garden 4 times throughout the entire summer; A hot, NorCal summer. Drought conscientious! A plus, indeed!
In the film, they place newspaper over the weeds prior to mulching. Newspaper may have worked well for him, but, we are dealing with Bermuda Grass! If you do not have to contend with this weed, consider yourself blessed.
I have acces to 4’x8′ sheets of cardboard. The weeds get an overlapping cover of cardboard and a 4″-8″ layer of mulch. Local tree trimming companies are usually willing to drop off a load of mulch if you are able to handle the entire truckload. This is usually anywhere from 10-15 yards of mulch. It is a a driveway full!
As I layer mulch, I will also add ashes from the fireplace, compost from the compost bin, rock dust for trace minerals, dirt from the chicken yard, and occasional organic soil amendments. The important thing to avoid is mixing your mulch into the soil. Do not mix! Layer the mulch and additives like you would layer a lasagne. The wood will deplete nitrogen as it decomposes if it is mixed into the soil. There will be a minimal nitrogen depletion anyways, but, it is less if the mulch is layered.
Upon planning this year’s garden, I need to rotate my crops. Tomatoes, zucchini, and potatoes have grown in the same place for two years and are overdue to move. This area will now be home to beans, and peas. These plants give nutrients back to the soil. Rotation is recommended to prevent disease and pests waiting in your soil from attacking your young plants. The drawing of the garden shows the new beds, yet to be constructed, and the existing area with the plant selection.
On the other side of the yard we have a Red Leaf Maple and a green Japanese Maple. On this side of the yard we want to start an herb garden. Many herbs such as oregano, basil, and thyme grow well here and are used in cooking. Other herbs can be grown for healing and medicinal purposes. Why buy herbs if they can grow in your yard? For example, German Chamomile is a nice looking plant and the flowers can be dried out to make Chamomile tea that helps with sleeping issues.
I have intentionally chosen the side of the yard that receives shade from an oak tree in the neighbors yard beginning at 4:30 p.m. In California it is not uncommon to have many days over 100 degrees, sometimes 110-112 degrees. The plants seem to do well when they are spared the direct sun during the hottest part of our day which is at 5pm. I am going to move the bell peppers to the patio this season. The peppers do not like the temperatures over 90. I have seen my share of beautiful, green, bellpepperless plants….
This year’s crop choice was determined by economic factors; the seeds that are in the freezer from last year! Last year we had a small garden due to the required effort that went to the expansion. The time was utilized building the picket fence to keep the dog out and the mulching project.
This years perspective crop will be:
Roma Tomatoes, Solly Beiler cucumbers, Marketmore 76 cucumbers, Table Queen squash, Green Tint Scallop squash, Delicata squash, Wando Peas and Oregon Sugar Pod Peas, unknown Bean, Bloomsdale Spinach, New Zealand spinach, California Wonder red pepper, Ozark Giant red pepper, Danver carrots, Berlicum 2 carrots, Black Beauty zucchini. Mixed in throughout these will be Oregano, basil, thyme, cilantro, sage, and parsley. Garlic, potatoes, onions, asparagus, and artichoke are automatically part of every year’s garden.
A Meyer Lemon tree is going to be planted in the north/eastern corner of the garden. It is a dwarf to reduce shade in the asparagus spot. Outside the main garden area are raspberry and blackberry, two apple trees, and soon to come, a mandarin tree. There is a location for a grafted tree with nectarines, peaches, and plums. I am also trying to squeeze in an apricot tree, but, we are running out of room. Herbs that cannot tolerate full sun will grow in pots on the covered patio.
We are not farmers or experts at gardening; we are a normal, suburban family trying to grow fresh food. There is no need to read labels or research pesticides in your organic backyard or community garden plot. We will periodically update our progress and encourage everyone to join the gardening movement.
Try to imagine a world full gardens of fresh, organic vegetables and herbs, and mini orchards of fruit and nut trees! Imagine a world without Monsanto! If you need a little more motivation, the following links should be more than sufficient.
Mercury in high fructose corn syrup:
Genetically modified foods cause sterility:
Sperm counts have dropped to alarming levels:
Some people have claimed to overcome cancer with carrots: