|From The Mulch, 2009, and still relevant today!
Lots of people tend their lawn and clip the shrubs once in awhile, yet never think of themselves as gardeners because they don’t grow flowers or vegetables. Some say they’d like to expand their horizons and I say, “Now’s the time!” School’s out, and lots of people are staying close to home this summer. That’s what you need to succeed at flower and vegetable gardening: time to spend and hands, hopefully willing, to do the work.
Growing is almost easy with good soil. Few soils in the Southeast qualify, especially the ancient clays of our area. You can improve the soil’s drainage and density at the front end, or struggle with wet soil and compacted roots later. Trust me, this recipe works!
Here’s what you’ll need for the bed built in this example:
• Shovel (a tiller is nice if you can borrow or rent one)
• Stiff-tined garden rake
• 6 bags of ground pine bark
• 3 bags of compost or 3 wheelbarrows of old leaves
• Small bag of garden lime
• Small bag of vegetable garden fertilizer
• Seeds of pumpkin, okra, zinnia, and gourds or cypress vine
• Hot pepper plants
Choose a sunny place that you can reach with the water hose and sprinkler. Measure an area 4’ wide and 10’ long; mark it with spray paint or stakes. Use a mower or string trimmer to cut down whatever’s growing there to ground level. Turn over a shovel’s depth of soil and chop it up with the shovel blade. Top the turned soil with the bark and compost or leaves, then sprinkle lime and fertilizer on the whole plot – just a dusting of each is plenty. Dig or till the amendments into the soil, then start raking. Your goal is a loaf-shaped bed about 3 inches high that slopes gently down to ground level.
Next, plan your planting for these hot summer vegetables and flowers. Put a trellis on one of the 4’ ends of the bed, preferably the one facing east or north, to support a row of gourd or cypress vine seeds. One foot from the row for these seeds, plant 3 pepper plants across the bed. Measure 24 inches and plant 3 more. You’ve now used up 3 feet of the 10 foot length. Move over 12 inches to plant okra in a patch 2 feet wide. With 4 feet of bed left, you have room for a pumpkin hill. Go to the center of the remaining 4’x4’ space and plant 4 pumpkin seeds. Sow zinnias all around the edges, or in a row across the front of the bed. Water the bed every other day until the seeds come up (if it doesn’t rain) and follow seed package directions for thinning the stands.
Visit the garden everyday to catch the show: new leaves, soon flowers and yes, insects. You’ll want to fertilize and watch for pests so you can catch them in the act early when they can be controlled more easily. When you need garden products, ask for organic first. Take lots of pictures, and if young children are involved, set up a yardstick on the trellis so they can measure the rampant vine growth. To get tweens involved, let them set up speakers and blast music while they weed. Fire up the grill and feed them lunch, too, or reward them with homemade ice cream. Remind the teenagers there’s no better place to work on their tan than cultivating the garden, or do what I did. Tell them it’s easier to get gas money on Saturday night if you ask while standing next to the garden they tended on Saturday afternoon!