Now is as good of time as ever to grow your own food. The bad economy has me feeling like anyone with the ability and resources who is currently un- or even under-employed might want to pretend we are in an agricultural society rather than an industrial one. Lower incomes bring about the need to trim the budget and seriously consider alleviating conspicuous consumption. Just because you can buy something, doesn't mean you should.
Even if you aren't experiencing financial woes, you should still be at least somewhat conscious that we humans produce detrimental effects on our planet that you can help to pacify in some way. Whether it be consuming less products made by polluting factories, recycling water to grow plants to breath in our excess of carbon dioxide, or by composting food and yard waste to lessen the load on our land fills (mainly by keeping biodegradable items out of plastic bags, never to escape for nature to take its course, but rather to sit and add bulk to an item that will be there forever), you can help our planet.
And on top of financial strain and altruistic duties, gardening is just plain therapeutic. It's great to start the day by watering the garden and even better to come home and check for new growth. Fresh food is also much healthier than anything thats been processed.
In this presentation, I will show you how I went about building a garden and the things that a garden demands most; water, nutrients, and protection. I will show you how to do this in an environmentally friendly and cost conscious way.
On a foreward note: I made all of this stuff you are about to see a couple of weeks ago and did not think to take before or during pictures. Hopefully I can illustrate sufficiently with my words.
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Step 1: Make a Raised Bed Garden W/Sticks and Dirt
This all started when I decided to cut down a bush in my yard that was mainly long twigs ranging from about 1/4"-3" in diameter. Since starting college 2 years ago, many of my professors have been ecologically minded and preached of sustainability and environmental impact and such. Having meditated on their various teachings for a little while now, I figured it a good idea to plant my first garden, at the very least in preparation for being broke while eventually living completely on my own. Anyway, I ended up deciding to use these limbs/ twigs/ sticks to begin building a raised bed garden. Raised bed so I could add better dirt and compost rather than till into my hard and sandy soil.
I basically drew an outline of my garden by driving some of the more sturdier limbs into the ground, spaced about 5 feet apart, about 50 feet in length total, 2-3 feet in width and against the wire fence the seperates some wet land forest type area from my yard (the plants and stuff you'll see just beyond this fence are all my dads doings). The limbs I drove into the ground were about 2-3 feet in length and stood 1-2 feet above ground. I drove one in and then put another one directly behind it with about 6 inches between the two, as to allow me to add limbs in between these and build them up for the raised bed.
After I used up the limbs from the bush I removed from my yard, I needed a substantial amount more limbs. I scoured my front yard for limbs from trees that had fallen from the winter and some that needed trimming anyway. I then ventured into the forest behind my house and found one dead tree of a good length, some more fallen limbs, and finally a few more including one slim and long pine tree that were alive and i had to cut down but damn't I needed more and no one ever takes from that little forest because it's marsh or something that can't be built on so the invisible hand of the market says no one will be trying to purchase this worthless land. What I mean is, I know I cheated by cutting down a good tree and some live limbs that would use a good bit of CO2 but that forest will be there long enough to grow many more trees because no one will be buying it, so it's sustainable.
After building up the raised bed with limbs, I dug a big hole just behind my dads garden and just before the forest so I could add a couple inches of dirt and make the limb structure a bit more stable by packing the dirt as needed.
After that, I bought 5 bags of cheap compost and 5 bags of cheap top soil from Home Depot. I then put down the 5 bags of compost and spread basically evenly with the exception of a couple of feet that I left bare (with just fill dirt from the hole I dug) for potted plants to sit. I then spread the top soil directly over the compost.
Directly after the first rain and post adding dirt, I sowed my seeds that I bought from Wal-Mart and planted 2 tomato plants my mom bought me and 2 more she had in a place in her yard that didn't get enough sun that she gave me.
Also, I don't really mind the weeds growing on or directly around the raised bed as long as they don't invade the actual garden. They are plants too and can help to take in CO2 and exhale O2.
Step 2: Water: the Reason for Life
The source of water in my magical garden is rain, which we have plenty of in Pensacola, Fl. I capture the rain with a gutter and a barrel. How? Inquire below.
My house has gutter in the front and front half of the sides only. On one side there are massive bushes that completely hide that section of gutter, so I took it. It's about 15 feet long and I didn't cut it, just the down spout that goes from the gutter 'T' to the barrel which is very small, so now I have a surplus of that in my garage. I reused everything and added nothing, even the screws. Its easy to hang gutter by the way, just look at some that's already up, get a ladder, mark some holes where the mounts will go, drill pilot holes, screw screws, hang gutter, done.
The 55 gallon plastic barrel came from freecycle.org. It was free, not even far from house at all actually, and once held ketchup. I wouldn't even risk using a barrel that had any type of toxic substance in it at one point but if it's just a little dirty like mine was, rinse with water, scrub with dish soap, rinse and repeat until satisfied. I put my on/off valve (which luckily came with the barrel) about 2 inches above the floor of the barrel so sediment won't clog the valve. Find the size of drill bit you need for your particular valve by drilling into a scrap piece of wood or something and fitting the valve. Once you find the exact size bit, drill slowly and steadily, then use rubber washers and/ or silicone as needed to seal the valve into the hole (I only used a few washers).
I built a structure to hold my barrel and a future barrel just over some small bushes with enough room to still trim the bushes and just under the gutter spout. All the wood I used was in my garage already so it's not all the same shade, brand, origin, etc. but it is recycled being that it was all used for something else at one point. The legs are 4 foot 4x4's, 2 more 4 foot 4x4's sit on top of 2 legs each and run lengthwise (the main holding power), 4- 2 foot 2x4's sit atop these with a 2 foot 2x8 in the middle (so 2 barrels can share the middle plank), 2x4's box in the bottom of the structure for rigidity, and finally small cuts of 2x4 tie the top lengthwise 4x4's to the legs. As a note; the 2x4 attached to the left fore and right rear legs are only there because I couldn't get all of the nails out to remove it when salvaging that 4x4.
After slipping my structure over the bushes with the help of a tie down strap pulling the bush tight and therefore smaller, I put up my barrel. I then measured and cut the piece of intermediary gutter connecting the gutter 'T' to the barrel. I slipped this piece onto the gutter 'T' and wedged it against the barrel's lid and then drew and outline on the lid where the piece would insert. I used a jig saw to cut the square for the intermediate piece which only slips into the lid about a half of an inch.
The black plastic hose was salvaged from an irrigation project my dad attempted a while back. I water my garden in thirds with one green palefull each, wait a couple minutes for the water be absorbed, then do it again. With a good rain, my barrel fills in about 5-10 minutes, and I only use a small section of gutter.
Step 3: Composting Is Nutritious
Now to make fertilizer. For this I built a compost tumbler. I had to buy the barrel for the nice lid design. It came from a feed and garden store and once held pickles. It cost $25. The other things I had to buy were a piece of 1/2 inch rebar and 2- 1/2 inch screw down clamp things. Once again I had all the wood and the 1/2 inch pvc you'll see sitting around.
The 2x4's on the bottom are staggered like that because I had awkward lengths on hand. The 4x4's are 4 feet each. The rebar I mentioned is inside the pvc pipe and it's that length because I didn't feel like cutting the rebar and that's just the size Home Depot had. The pvc is cut to the length of the rebar and just slid onto each other.
Cut the holes in the barrel a little above the middle so it's bottom heavy and the top tends to face up. The holes are a little bigger than 1/2 inch so some air can get in the barrel in between opening to add material.
Add all plant material including from the kitchen, some leaves, shredded paper, or whatever isn't too heavy or thick like sticks which will take a while to break down. The heat in the barrel is what makes the decomposing relatively rapid and will produce nice compost which will look like soil and be full of nutrients in about 2 months. I've filled mine, which took about a month, and now I just spin it and open it for a peek every now and then. I'm in the process of making a worm bin so I'll have something to do w/ my food scraps in the mean time.
Step 4: Keeping the Wildlife at Bay
It didn't take long for my dogs to find my garden interesting and start digging for treasures.
I used what I could find to make a fence, which included; some bent/ broken tomato cages that my dad used a season or two ago, some thin bamboo stakes also from my dads garden, a piece of chicken wire type stuff once again jacked from my dad, and some salvaged sign legs (see pic).
Just do what you can with what you have.
I used a combo of old tomato cages and salvaged sign legs to support the tomato plants my mom gave me. I also bent any metal from the cages and sign legs toward the forest to keep eyes and what-not safe.