Gardening Outside the Box

Reader Contribution by Lois Hoffman
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Everyone who has ever known me knows that I am a gardener at heart. When we were kids, we not only had our family garden but also a large truck garden where we raised potatoes, corn, and other vegetables for sale along the roadside. It was nothing to be out there from nearly sunup until sunset on the busy days in summer. So you would think that, as an adult, this would be the least of my interests. Instead, it is just the opposite. Each year there is the magic of planting a seed and watching it grow into a plant that gives back sometimes 2000 times itself. Yep — you can take the girl out of the garden but you can’t take the garden out of the girl. It’s in my blood.

Just like past years, I recently heard a couple of people say that they wished they had a garden but they either had no room for one or didn’t know how to start. How sad. Like with anything else, where there is a will, there is a way.

First of all, it doesn’t have to be “in the blood,” so to speak. All you need is a will, and anyone can learn. The thing is to start small. Maybe a couple herbs in pots on the windowsill is all you need to get started. This will work whether you live in a one-room apartment or on a big spread in Texas. As far as learning how, everyone’s new friend, The Internet, can talk you through anything.

Now, for the bigger problem: Many think that they have no space nor the right equipment to have a garden. Wrong again. The term “garden” encompasses much more these days than a plot of ground. True, digging up some ground, working it, and planting vegetables is the most basic way, but as more folks have gravitated to living in the suburbs and apartments, creative ways to garden “outside of the box” have evolved.

The easiest of these is to plant a container garden. All you need are a few pots that can be placed on a patio or deck. You can plant most any crop in pots including tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, beans … the list is nearly endless. Keeping with the times, plant and seed growers have developed dwarf cherry, blueberry, orange, and other fruit trees and bushes that adapt well to containers, too. These require no permanent ground space and are mostly maintenance-free. They eliminate weeding, and harvesting the produce is much easier since they are off the ground.

Photo by Adobe Stock/geografika

If you do have some ground space, raised beds are another popular option. They are made by joining 2x4s together for whatever size is desired. You can adjust the height by adding as many 2x4s as needed to achieve the desired depth. Although these do require ground space, they are not permanent and are also easy to care for with minimal weeding.

So, we have it covered that space isn’t a liability. For some, ground space isn’t the problem, but instead the problem is not having the proper tools to plow, till, and weed. There are some ingenious ways to work around this obstacle also.

First: the plowing. There is no way around this; you have to be able to “break ground” and prepare the earth for planting. The most conventional way to do this is with a mole board plow, which actually turns the earth over. There was a time when all gardens and farmers’ fields were plowed like this. In today’s world, this is no longer true. Many farmers are chisel plowing, where, instead of turning the dirt over, they just break up the sod.

This can be true for gardens, too. Most of our ancestors planted gardens to feed their families, and they didn’t have the modern plows of today. In many a garden back then the dirt was spaded up by hand. The important thing is to get it turned over and worked up until it is loose.

Last year down here at my “southern” home in Indiana, the gardener in me wanted a small garden, but Ron didn’t have a prepared garden spot. We took a small area of sod, hand-spaded it up, and worked it down to put a few potatoes out. They turned out so well that we wanted to put a few more out this year. Even so, it was still a small garden space and he didn’t want to hook up his plow just to till up a few feet. Guess what? He took his backhoe and dug up enough space. We picked the chunks of sod out and smoothed it with a garden rake. It looks pretty nice, even with plowing with a backhoe!

Even cultivating doesn’t have to be conventional. Hands down, rototillers do work the best. They keep the dirt loosened between the rows and keep the weeds down. They have the regular-sized tillers, or companies like Mantis have come out with smaller versions that are great not only for smaller garden spaces but also for larger ones in that they are much easier to maneuver.

If you don’t have a rototiller, no problem. I didn’t for years either. There is a wonderful hand tool called a weasel that has tines like a rototiller that works great with a little elbow grease. Also, laying cardboard, straw, or mulch between the rows helps keep weeds at bay. Most people think of weeding as a chore, but, call me crazy, I actually enjoy it. There is just something about going out in the cool of the morning and digging in the dirt that is so therapeutic.

So the next time you have a thought that you can’t have a garden because you don’t have the tools, think twice. It just takes a little ingenuity. As they say with most everything, where there is a will there is a way.

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