Mail Call: September/October 2013

In the September/October 2013 edition of Mail Call, one reader shares an insightful experience building a low maintenance vegetable garden, readers sound off about articles in our July/August issue, and more.

| September/October 2013

  • Poor soil and garden-bounty marauders inspired Dan to create something with a little more structure.
    Photo By Dan Dreifuerst
  • A fairly intricate and calculated compost, mulch, and soaker hose system helped immensely.
    Illustration By Dan Dreifuerst
  • A fairly intricate and calculated compost, mulch, and soaker hose system helped immensely.
    Photo By Dan Dreifuerst
  • Don Koppel built an extravagant chicken coop to house 13 chickens; farm-fresh eggs for Mrs. Beasley’s Dog Treats!
    Photo By Maydene Koppel

Low-Maintenance Vegetable Garden

The 2012 gardening season was terrible for us. The deer and rabbits ate most everything that came up, and the weeds took over. Our soil here in southeastern Wisconsin is clayish and bakes to almost concrete when dry. For this season, I had to change things up, and thought it might be useful to give other folks some ideas for their own gardens.

I built a new garden 14 feet wide by 50 feet long and went with 50-foot-length soaker hoses. I used 36-inch-wide landscape fabric between the four rows with a 6-inch-wide planting opening, which determined the 14-foot width.

This garden is for my larger warm-weather vegetables. I have my cool-weather garden with narrow rows in separate raised beds. You can use different fabric widths to suit your needs.

I used a middle buster or furrower with my tractor to open up a trench to place the good composted material, and raked the clay soil away from the furrow. This poorer soil eventually ended up under the landscape fabric between the planted rows. If you don’t have a furrower, you can dig the poor soil out by hand with a shovel. You want to end up with a flat garden area. My strips of good composted soil are about 14 inches wide, the same width as my tiller.

I then put 36-inch-wide strips of landscape fabric down and placed wood chips over the fabric, leaving 6 inches between the strips for planting. Soaker hoses went down the length of all four rows, and I connected them at one end with a four-way manifold. My four-way has a shutoff at each port. I made wire hooks in the shape of a “J” to pin the soaker hoses in a straight line down the rows.

We have deer and rabbit problems, so I constructed a 4-foot-high fence around the entire garden with a gate on one end. I added a rope at the 7-foot-high level so deer would not think about jumping in. At the ends, I made the fencing removable so I could till the rows in spring. To do that, I’ll rake the wood chips back a little and fold back the fabric to do the tilling.

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