Let's Start a Garden

Is it possible to give gardening a try on a very small scale? For those who are new to this hobby or want a modest patch to care for, the answer is yes. Raised beds require no soil preparation. In fact, the number one reason for using raised beds is poor soil.

By definition, a raised bed means simply having the planting medium on top of the native soil. The bed should never be wider than four feet because one must be able to easily reach the middle without stepping on the soil. The minimum depth is six inches, but root crops require more. The raised bed does not need walls but will be tidier and longer-lasting with them.

Raised beds do not have to be elaborate. Wood is a popular option. A 4x4-foot kit can be had for under $50.

Filling your raised bed will require two to three big bags of planting medium, depending on depth. I've also seen a 3' x 3' x 10" plastic kit which requires no tools to assemble for $55. It would require the same amount of soil mix.

Another increasingly popular option is the "grow bag," shown below. One advantage of these is that one can place them on a sunny porch or patio. I have mine sharing the air conditioner's pad. Seeds of Change has a set of three for $15. These fabric bags did have to be discarded after one use, but there are sturdier ones available.

Place the bed or bag where it will get at least eight hours of sun every day. It needs to be near a source of water. To prevent drainage problems, the site should be fairly level. One can place cardboard, newspaper or an old piece of carpet under the bed, but this is not essential. The lack of light will kill any weeds or grass under your container.

Now your bed is ready for plants. If you want to grow vegetables, choose ones that your family enjoys eating. For such a small area, purchasing the plants rather starting them from seed provides more variety. The space will hold nine herb plants or four larger vegetables such as squash or tomatoes. Smaller veggies like peppers and eggplant will take up the same space as the herbs.

No reason not to mix things up. You could have a "salad garden" with one caged tomato, a bush cucumber and two or three herbs such chives or parsley. Great options for growing from seed include summer squash, bush beans, basil and marigolds.

There are some selections that have low yields for the space needed to grow them. Corn must be grown in bigger blocks in order for pollination to occur. Each stalk may only yield one or two ears. Pumpkins sound like fun, but the vines run far and wide and yields are low for the enormous amount of space they take.

Raised beds are just as great for flowers as they are for edibles! You could create a cutting garden for fresh flower arrangements or plant flowers to attract butterflies. Want a fragrant garden? Choose an assortment of lemon-scented herbs or any combination that takes your fancy at the garden center.

For those new to gardening, start small. You can always build on success.

Master gardener Ann Bartlett never lets lack of familiarity with a plant stop her from trying it in the ornamental beds around her home.

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