Saturday, May 11, 2013

Want to be a Hipster Gardener? Contain Yourself!

Everywhere you look right now there are advertisements for growing your own vegetables. The buzz is overwhelming. You'll save money, have better selection, better taste, and the list goes on. There are pictures all over the magazines of the "new hipsters" - the cool people who have turned their entire properties in to sustainable farms. They grow enough food to feed their entire brood. These "hipsters" usually look like they just stepped off the page of an Abercrombie ad. As a Master Gardener I am here to fill you in on a dirty little secret: These people don't really exist. If they do exist you should not spend your precious time envying them. Why? Because traditional vegetable gardening sucks. Why do you think that there was a mass exodus from farm to city living in the 1800's? If vegetable gardening was so easy and fun wouldn't the city people have all left their factory jobs for a life in the country? When the "hipsters" aren't posing for a fancy photo shoot they are most likely screaming at their kids or drinking, and having their gardeners help them with their plants. Take heart though, there is a compromise. To feed a family you don't need a huge plot. If you think small, you can make vegetable gardening doable without weeding, excessive watering, and hours spent scorching in the sun. You may not be as cool as Organic Gardening magazine would like, but you'll be a lot happier. The solution is container gardening.

Living in Dutchess county, we have a tremendous deer population. It makes vegetable gardening in your yard without proper fencing impossible. I do all my own vegetables on my deck. I have a 5x5 planter box from Gardener's Supply Co.The box cost about $100.00 and it holds 3 gallons of water to slow feed the plants. It's ideal for a deck because decks get really, really hot. In this box I have grown; lettuce, tomatoes, peas, squash and eggplant. I use "grow bags", that you can buy at Gardener's Supply, also to grow onions, sweet potatoes and fingerlings. All you do is fill the bag with soil, plant your plants and when they are ready to come out, dump them upside down; beats the heck out of rotot tilling, and digging. For my herbs, I use pots. The herbs are beautiful and deer rarely have an interest in them. I put the pots throughout my backyard flower gardens.

My favorite book on container gardening is called, "Vertical Gardening" by Derek Fell. This book gives great advice on what veggies grow well together in tight quarters. It also shows you through photos and drawings ways to support heavy fruit and vegetables that can vine upwards. Another recommendation is "All New Square Foot Gardening" by Mel Bartholomew. He uses an excellent method of raised planters and sectioning them into different square feet. You can reach all the plants without stepping on the soil and it basically eliminates weeding.

One thing both these authors spend a significant amount of time on is soil structure. What you put into your containers, grow boxes and raised beds really makes all the difference. A high benefit of using small spaces to grow is that you can have much more control over your soil. Personally, for smaller containers I like moisture control potting soil. For my raised bed and grow bags I use Sweet Peet. Sweet Peet is a mixture of peat moss, manure and compost. Plants really thrive on it. You can make a mixture of soil 1/3 blended compost, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 coarse vermiculite. These can all be purchased inexpensively in bulk from any gardening center. Once your plants begin to grow, placing mulch in-between them helps prevent the growth of weeds.

Now is the time to get your vegetable garden started. Mother's Day is the benchmark I use for when I put my summer vegetables into the soil. I will keep you posted on what varieties I am using and how they do.

Get out there and grow something!

Happy Gardening,
Maggie Flynn

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