How does your garden grow
April 23, 2020
"Mary, Mary, quite
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and
And pretty maids
all in a row."
Remember that poem? It's been a long time for me and I suppose most of us. While it has many interpretations, none of which have ever been proven as fact, the literal meanings are those of flowers in the spring. But the line I'm focusing on is "How does your garden grow"? Most everybody knows of the old tried and true gardening methods...plant the seed in the ground, water, and watch the plants grow. But there are other methods of gardening that have been used for many years and new ones are coming out all the time. Some actually work and some fail. But people are always looking for new and innovative ways to grow plants, especially food. "Necessity is the mother of invention" is a quote attributed to Plato, a Greek philosopher around 400 BC. That's certainly true about vegetables. As more people move into the urban areas and covenanted developments where they aren't allowed to have a garden, they look for alternative methods to grow both flowers and vegetables. Flowers are pretty straightforward, but a growing group of people want to grow food for themselves and their family.
Growing vegetables can be challenging when your neighbors or the government won't let you. This is becoming more common as we throw away our freedoms in order to fit in. But there are those of us just radical enough to look for ways around the rules and regulations. We look for alternative methods to grow our vegetables that the rules won't stop.
An obvious method is to grow vegetables in your flower beds right among the flowers. This works for quite a few vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and so forth. They are actually pretty plants and lend beauty to your beds in their own right. A couple of others that grow well in a flower bed are asparagus and strawberries. Strawberry plants make a good border and they taste good too. In Laramie County, the Ft. Laramie variety is probably the most common and grows better than other varieties. Of course, it was developed in Wyoming for our environment. There are also quite a few vegetables that can be used as ornamentals even if you don't intend to eat them and they do a great job of enhancing the beauty of your flower beds. The main one that comes to mind is ornamental cabbage. It grows more upright than head cabbage and comes in a variety of colors. There are multiple colors of cauliflower on the market now, too. Besides the standard white, you can get purple, orange and green. The purple and orange turn white when cooked and taste just like the standard white cauliflower. The green variety is actually a cross with broccoli and has a taste all its own. I don't know how to describe it, but it's delicious.
Raised beds are another alternative to planting in the ground. Although it's really just an extension of ground planting, raised beds are great for us older gardeners that want to make it easier on our bodies to tend the plants and harvest. You can make a raised bed any height you want. I have raised beds from six inches to nearly two feet. The lower beds are primarily to define an area for a particular plant, sometimes to keep it from spreading. I plant mint in a raised bed because it does spread readily and I can mow it down if it escapes the bed. The taller beds make harvest a lot easier for low growing plants because I don't have to bend over for long periods. Raised beds require the same attention as ground planting and they do restrict the number of plants more so than ground planting.
Containers are a favorite of folks in town where having a ground garden is difficult. One of the truly great things about container gardening is that you can start now. Containers can be indoors until the weather is right to take them outside. That way you can get a head start on the season and miss some of the hottest weather. In fact, you could grow year-round indoors if you wanted too. You can use almost anything for a container. Large flowerpots work well, but if you want more containers and a lower cost here's an idea for you. Find a local painter and ask him for their empty five gallon paint buckets. You'll have to clean them out but that's easy. Latex paint dries quickly and then will simply peel out of the bucket. You may have a little bit of residual that you can't get off, but that's okay. Drill some small holes in the the bottom for drainage, fill with a prepared soil (not just dirt) and plant whatever you want. Vining plants will require a trellis but that isn't an issue with a five gallon bucket filled with soil. It's best to replace the soil each season to eliminate roots and any diseases that may have gotten into the container. I used this method for a tomato plant last year and it grew over seven feet tall and three feet around before cold weather killed it. A variation of container gardening is to use rain gutters and stack them on an "A" frame. This will increase the amount of plants you can put in a confined area and make tending the plants and harvesting easier. I suggest a five inch rain gutter if you use this method. I used four inch in my trials and really needed more room for root growth. Remember to allow for drainage. I just made sure mine weren't watertight so they would leak. For larger rooted plants, PVC pipe (cut lengthwise) can be used.
Hay bale gardening was a big rage just a few years ago. It does work and has the same advantages as raised beds. They take a little more effort and the bales are only good for a season. Disposal of the used bales can be an issue. For me I can just put them in the compost pile, but that isn't an option for everybody.
Another alternative is hydroponics. Although this is my favorite it's not for everyone. It has a lot of advantages, but it can be expensive. Since there's so much involved with hydroponics I'm going to save it for an article all by itself later. I'm still building hydroponic systems and will have some great photos then.
If you are ready to start your gardens with containers, the Master Gardeners have a virtual plant that is going on now. What that means is that you can look at the plants we have ready for sale now at our website (lcmg.org), select and pay for the plants you want and then pick them up directly from the grower. Buying through the virtual plant sale you can avoid the crowds and lines. Right now the best plants are available to you without having to be at the physical plant sale by 8 am on a specific day. Visit our website at lcmg.org for more information and to see the plants that are ready. I don't mind if you want to call me directly at 307-640-2445 if you have questions. Or you can ask a Master Gardener. It's what we do.