Planting a Small Vertical Garden

The following quick 'n dirty gardening advice is intended for friends who will tolerate a gardening lecture and my daughters who are still domestic divas in training (one of them pretty much has the hang of it; the other is still on the learning curve).

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Most of us have little yard space to dedicate to a garden, but even a small space can yield a lot of wonderful produce.

Rule #1: Don't plant anything you can buy at the grocery store for cheap that's better quality than what you can grow yourself. Why plant ordinary carrots when you can buy them for less than $1 a bag?

Rule #2: Plant those things you crave and that your family loves. Tomatoes are at the top of the list because no grocery store can ever compete with a fresh tomato grown in your own garden. NEVER. And it won't cost you $3.50 a pound. Plant peppers--Bells, Serranos, Paprikas, Pasillas, Habeneros--all those exotic flavors that you have to search for in the grocery store, and, if found, are over-priced and often past their prime. Plant herbs so you have fresh on hand. In warm climes, many herb plants produce all year around.

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Rule #3: Pay attention to the soil. Till it, fertilize it, and identify any special problems that need to be corrected--nematodes, grub worms, slugs, mineral deficiencies, hard impacted clay. Gardens Alive is a good source for information and environmentally-safe products for soil problems, plant diseases and insects. Keep a small compost bin in a corner of your garden for recycling grass clippings, leaves, vegetable and fruit scraps, and the contents of your office paper shredder. Work the new soil from your compost bin into the garden soil.


Rule #4: Start some plants from seeds--the ones you know you can't find locally. Any unusual variety that you want in your garden will probably need to be started from seed at least 8 weeks prior to planting time (when there is no danger of frost). I recommend using the BioDomes sold by Park Seeds. They feature sponge inserts that support root growth and are easy to transplant. You can place your seed germination tray in a sunny window. To encourage germination, place the tray on a heated propogation mat. (It's not required, but you get better results.) In a few weeks, you'll have plants ready for the garden. Before planting them, harden them off by gradually introducing them to the outdoor climate. They'll be stronger, more resistant to cool night temperatures, and less spindly.

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Rule #5: Plan your garden layout. Consider the effects of sunshine and shade on different plants. Don't place large plants next to small ones if you know that the large plant will so dominate the space that the small one can't survive. Don't crowd plants too close together. Ones that can grow on trellises will use space economically, but some plants, like winter squash, need a path to sprawl and sink in roots every few feet. If your garden is tiny, squash and melons may not be a good choice. One last thing--some plants do great in pots. Consider planting herbs in large pots and conserve your garden space for the plants with larger root systems.

Rule #6: Everything grows up and over. Pole beans and cucumber vines can be trained to grow up a trellis or other support system. (Sometimes beans and squash end up hanging out in the branches of my lemon tree.) Tomatoes need sturdy cages to keep them off the ground, where they are likely to rot. Any plant that tends to become over heavy with fruit, such as peppers or eggplants, should have a lightweight cage to keep the plant erect and the branches from breaking.

Rule #7: Learn to listen to your plants--what makes them happy, what makes them ill. Save some seeds from the plants you love. Next growing season you won't have to pay $3 for a package of seeds that doesn't even fill a 1/8 teaspoon measure.

Rule #8: Enjoy the bounty of fresh produce that will come into your kitchen during the growing season. Try a mediterranean breakfast of fresh tomatoes, olives, cucumbers and cheese instead of the usual fare. If you can find the time, learn how to preserve excess produce by freezing, drying, and canning or give it away to family and friends.


email:  ll.katmarian@gmail.com   © Linda Katmarian 2011-2015