When I looked for a house, I specifically wanted SOME growing room. This yard is very small and I was a bit worried, there was a lot of trees and shade and the previous owner love putting plants in the ground, but didn’t understand plants or landscaping. I spread all the heavy lifting out over a few years so it wasn’t overwhelming: moving plants around every year, cutting back invasives that she had let get out of hand, rearranging plants so the sunniest spots are reserved for the fruits and vegetables. Last year I managed to finally get rid of a ridiculously large invasive shrub that was stealing a LOT of the sunlight I wanted for gardening. I also reclaimed the sunny side of the house moving the perennial flowers and bulbs to other places in the yard. I finally cleared most of the fence line of all the weeds but it looks like the NEW neighbors will be adding a stockade fence to block some of the light.
RAISED BEDS. The first year was the most expensive, so I spread out the purchases for the entire summer. I built two long raised beds using pressure treated 2″x4″s – four 10′ cut into two 6′ and two 4′ lengths and one 8′ 4″x4″ which I had cut into 8 single one foot sections. Then I drilled all the pilot holes and assembled it into a ‘bed’ using long wood screws. I filled the beds with topsoil (I used the bed of my pickup to buy a half a cubic yard from the city) and then 400lbs (ten 40 lb bags of compost/manure) and then forked it over and it was well blended. The next year I added two more 8′ raised beds which I got from the neighbors, again it was expensive to bring in the soil, compost and manure, but the soil in my yard is not good for growing and spreading the costs out over a longer period of time made it affordable.
PERENNIALS. The raised bed closest to the door is dedicated to Kitchen Herbs, with all the perennials spaced around the edges and the annuals in the center. I brought my large sage bush from my last house, and transplanted in herbs the previous owner had planted elsewhere. Every year I cut back the over growth and dry the leaves. I did discover that small perennials don’t over winter as well as quart sized ones. I will dig up the biennal Parlsey and bring in the house for the winter. I may put in yet another small bed for JUST for the rowdy plants, like Mint and Lemon Balm which will allow for more space and light in the big bed.
PLANTING FOR PROFIT. Along the sunny side of the house, I have planted one Rhubarb crown every year. (three so far) These are expensive at $14 each and take at least a year before you can cut anything. This year I hope to divide two of them andbuy another one to start a row along fence side of the yard. Rhubarb sells for 3.50-5.00 a pound in season so it’s cost effective to grow it for sale or trade. It also freezes perfectly without any preparation.
FROM THE GROCERY STORE. The first Allium I put in the garden were green onions from the grocery store. I buy them in the spring and throw them in the garden and then go outside and pull what I need for the rest of the summer. They will overwinter and continue to grow, but they will be thicker and not as tender as the new shoots they sell in the store. I also put in store bought leeks when they start to wilt in the fridge, and any onions that get a little randy in the vegetable crisper. Last year I put in shallot bulbs and onion sets which I got end of season on deep discount. The shallots grew like gangbusters so I divided them and replanted them in fall
REMEMBER THE BEES. I group all of the alliums along the sides of the beds, and I divide and replant them in the spring when I turn over the beds. By planting all these different varieties, something is always in flower which keeps the bees busy and happy. There are multiple bee keepers within a mile. If all these allium plants do for the garden is attract bees that’s enough.
END OF SEASON SALES. My yard may be small but I put in one apple tree two years ago and one last year. The ones sold in Maine are hybrids grafted to dwarf stock to survive the winter. I had to search for the Liberty apple tree I wanted but if you call around and go further away from the metro area you a get a better deal….ESPECIALLY at the end of the season, you can get them at half price or less. The Empire apple tree I bought last year was damaged, the top had been lopped off, I think I paid $5 for it. This spring I will graft on one of the lower branches from the Liberty Apple tree to give it a new top. Fruit frees do need a lot of spraying for diseases and pests, but there are ten Liberty apple trees in my neighborhood, gifts from one of the locals….and they all seem to produce really well. I can always make cider.
Last year three grape vines, followed me home. I was only looking for one but it was $10 for all three. I wasn’t ready for them, so I put them in the ground in the experimental bed. Hopefully they will all survive the winter and until I build their new home in the spring. I’m not sure I will have enough sunlight and space for all three, so I expect to give one away.
ANNUALS. I have had poor luck starting seeds in this new house. It’s too cold and doesn’t have enough daylight. I have ordered or bought seeds in the past, and put the remained in the freezer. I have also started saving some seeds from each year. This year I am going to run some experiments using a thrift shop aquarium. I should be able to start a few seedlings. Over several weeks in the spring I visit the Farmer’s Market AND Home Depot and collect the seedlings I want at the best prices. Home Depot here carries common variety seedlings from Bonnie: the Black Beauty Zucchini and yellow straight neck squash, parsley, cilantro, etc.. which go on sale every other week when that shipment starts to wane. The Farmer’s Market have the harder to find varieties: summer savory, patty pan squash, cutting celery and yellow cherry tomatoes.
TEST DRIVE. One of the raised beds is dubbed the experiment bed, where I test drive different plants every year to see if they like my yard. My yard is very foggy wet in the mornings, I also have limited sunlight. I dub failures to be plants that bear very little fruit for too much care. Past failures were large tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, winter squash, butternut squash and pumpkins – this may may be due to not starting my own seedlings and getting them into the ground too late; the growing season is pretty short here.
SQUARE FOOT GARDENING. I buy 6-8 cherry tomato plants, 6 zucchini, 3 yellow squash, 3 patty pan squash. Three Cherry Tomatoes are planted in row in the center of the long beds, and three zucchini down one side and three squash plants down the opposite side. The squash plant vines have plenty of room to flow outside of the beds, leaving the center space for the tomato plants. With alliums taking up any extra space on the edges. Last year I planted pea plants with in the experimental bed, I will be doubling down on that this year with bamboo towers at each corner of the bed.
STRAW MULCH. In the spring I buy one bale of straw and split it with my mothers. Hay has seeds making better animal fodder. I spread the straw mulch over the bed after I turn it over. The hollow space in the straw makes great insulation, and it keeps the moisture in the ground from evaporating cutting way down on watering. .I poke a finger into the soil and check to see how far down the moisture goes. I water at the end of the day, more frequently when the days get very hot. It doesn’t keep all the weeds away, but once you see the green of the weed poke up through the straw it is much easier to pull them out.
BAMBOO STAKES. Years ago I started using bamboo to stake my tomatoes because tomato cages were cumbersome to store and are only really good for tomatoes and dahlias. Bamboo stakes last practically forever, I am still using some I bought 30 years ago. I connect the tops together in a pyramid with 10 cent rubber hose gaskets or twine. Then wind jute twine around in a spiral to support the tomato plants. I also use the bamboo stakes and jute to build small fences and grids to support any other vines and plants and keep the dog out of the straw. At the end of the season I cut all the twine and put all the stakes away in a small golf club bag in the shed.
HERITAGE HAND TOOLS. Nearly all my tools are of the classic wooden handle design which have remained unchanged for over a century. Easy to find in a traditional hardware store, and harder to find in a big box chain store where they flog ergonomic plastic handles and flimsy steel. Some I have had for a very long time, many I acquired at yard sales. The trick is to keeo them clean, the minerals and water are NOT good for the steel. If well cared for they will last and even rusted they still work.
I keep all my hand tools and garden stuff in a 5 gallon bucket with one of those pocket tool collars I bought on sale: Trowel, transplanting trowel, hand cultivator, weeder, dibble, anvil and crosscut pruners. I have NICE scissors for cutting herbs and flowers but those are in the house. The bucket has a lot of other stuff in there, twine, pocket knife, wooden stake for marking, twist ties etc…if I can’t find something it’s in the bucket.
I also have had the same few long handled tools for a years and years: spade shovel, a garden rake, and short handled garden fork, lopping and hedge shears and a newish transplanting shovel which I was given by a neighbor who didn’t know what it was. I really like a small child’s rake I picked up at a yard sale. The only things I have had to replace over the years are the bamboo rakes, I seem to be hard on bamboo rakes and a hose.
PEST CONTROL. I have been lucky with pests but I never had cucumber beetles until I moved here, they are murder on squash plants. The Dollar Tree sells these short wire crooks for decorations, I store them in the golf bag and use them in the garden to hang yellow sticky traps, one 10 dollar package of 24 from Amazon has lasted me for a few years. Zucchini and all the squash are Cucurbitaceae family, so all the flowers are the same YELLOW. I just twist tie one trap per bed at the beginning of the season. I’ve only had to replace them the 1st year, they will attract some bad beetles too.
Borax – One year my zucchini failed from lack of boric acid, so I had to add Mule team borax to the soil. It also controls a bunch of pests like fleas, silverfish, beetles, ants and grain weevils.
FERTILIZATION. Now that I have had these beds going for a few years I have started worrying about fertilization. I have PLENTY of worms in my beds a lot more than I expected, I think they like the beds better than the yard topsoil. But I have a bottle of a locally made seaweed fertilizer that I dip into from time to time. I also take my peelings and trimmings and throw them straight back into the garden under the mulch. Every spring I turn last years straw into the soil unless it’s very bulky, then I pull it out and put it in the compost pile. I turn over the compost pile a few times a year, and work some of it into the raised beds. Last year I added manure from the dairy up the road to the larger beds and I may be adding another layer of top soil to them this year.
PRESERVE AND TRADE. My garden seems unexciting since I grow the same things every year: yellow cherry tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, patty pan squash, rhubarb, basil, parsley, sage many other herbs….but I manage to grow a large amount for one person with very little effort. I make small batch recipes of tomato jam, zucchini relish, pasta prima vera sauce, as well as freeze rhubarb and dehydrated my herbs. Everytime I visit my mothers I bring them excess produce and trade it for fresh eggs (which I was going to get anyway, but they eat more zucchini than I do) I also trade my extra produce with other people who grow other things. I am hoping that the shallots and grapes will turn into a new crop I can preserve and trade.
PLAN AHEAD. I have a spot in my yard with an old patio I dislike. The previous owner used it for sunbathing, I want the sunlight for growing things. I may put the posts for the grapes around it, but I am also feeling the urge to do one of those very deep potato planting containers. I am hoping to find the hardscape elements on craigslist or elsewhere before I decide exactly where to put things.
That’s it, that’s my lazy frugal simple gardening method. After the heavy lifting is done, all that is needed is maintenance. During the growing season I usually only spend a few minutes a week pulling weeds or watering. At the end of the season I pull out the plants when they have passed on and add them to my compost pile. In the spring I turn over one bed at a time when I come home from work. And spend an hour or two on a weekend ammending the soil before I start popping in seedlings. I spend more time making tomato jam, than weeding tomatoes.