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Lessons Learned From a Backyard Garden

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posted on May, 27 2008 @ 07:30 AM
I came up with a few ideas over the last few weeks that have helped greatly reduced my costs in gardening, and recycled old materials I had laying around unused. It kind of helps that I have some packrat tendencies in addition to being a cheapskate. So, that said, a few ideas that allowed me to recycle stuff I already had, and make it cheap for future additions:

  • The Cinderblock Spice Wall - A solid wall around the garden can be a pretty useful thing. It helps to keep out some critters, weeds, grass, certain pests, you can use the weedeater against it without fouling your line, it retains the soil and mulch, and helps to visibly define the border of your garden in a more attractive way. A cinderblock turned with the holes up-and-down, rather than sideways, provides a solid wall around the garden of ideal height to step over, won't block sunlight, and each cinderblock provides two built-in flowerpots with fantastic drainage! So I just grabbed the cinderblocks we had sitting around gathering cobwebs, and started my wall. I ran out of cinderblocks, but now I've got an ideal location for my marigolds, basil, rosemary, and other aromatic spices. And since aromatic spices and marigolds also deter pests and attract beneficial bugs, it adds a whole new layer of usefulness to the wall.

  • Coffee Can Flowerpots - I was going to plant strawberries in the garden until I heard it was better to keep them contained (less runners = more fruit). So instead I decided to pot them, but I had no flowerpots. I did, however, have several large empty plastic coffee cans that I had been saving because they're very useful items. So simply cut 4 holes in the bottom of several and now I have flowerpots of perfect size for nearly anything. I don't particularly care about the aesthetics, but if I did, I've got leftover primer and paint in the garage if it bothers me that much. The plastic retains moisture extremely well, the coffee can itself has some built-in grooves for easy carrying, and if I drop it, unlike fired clay, it doesn't break.

  • 2-Liter Watering Bottles - I've abandoned the fan sprinkler. It's convenient, but extremely wasteful and, thanks to water shortages, rather unethical and expensive (remember, I'm a cheapskate). Much of the water either evaporates before it can sink into the soil, or lands in a place not really necessary to water. And it's often a bad idea to get water on the leaves of your plants, either due to scalding from the sun, or disease from letting it pool in the leaves overnight. The solution? A watering bottle. I got the idea from those fancy blown-glass watering spikes you can buy at the store, but, being a cheapskate, I didn't care to pay $15 a pop. Plus the last thing I want are sharp glass spikes in the yard with my boy soon to start running around back there. So instead, I get a plastic two-liter bottle, cut the base off nice and evenly, and then bury the bottle so that the neck of it is below the mulch-line, into well-draining soil (like expanded shale/compost mix). I then pour water into the bottle via the cut-out bottom, and cap it with the cut-out part, inverting it so that the "nubs" point downward, catching condensation and dripping it into the water. I've been trying this tactic for a week now in the Tomato Triangle Experiment, and it's been working great. The liquid surface tension stops the flow of water when the moisture level is right, and then the water slowly flows in nice, even increments as the soil dries a bit, lets more water in, dries a bit, lets more water in, etc.

    Anyway, there's three ways the budget (or environmentally) conscious gardener can use "trash" to cut your backyard gardening costs. I'd love to hear more ideas if anyone has them. I know I've already seen several already, like the old tires method of growing potatoes, and so forth.

  • posted on May, 29 2008 @ 11:21 AM
    reply to post by HimWhoHathAnEar

    I would imagine they are the same seeds......they might not have some 'ingredient' like pesticide or fungicide that seeds intended only for planting might have, since they are intended for consumption in sprout form, but that shouldn't really hamper their growth. ( They might be a bit more prone to 'damping off' when they are very small, without the fungicide....?)

    Go ahead and try planting some and see how they do....

    We've started harvesting some of our beets. This is the first year we've tried them......and other than a few blemishes from the rocks in our less that perfect soil, they seem to have done rather well.

    They like coolish weather and the tops have already been wilting in the heat of the day, about 85 degrees, here. The first ones we pulled were a bit smaller, but tasted pretty good just boiled and salted so we'll give the last ones a few more days and out they come....this variety ( detroit red) seems a bit sweeter than the 'store bought' canned beets, with a bit milder 'beety' taste. I'll be putting these up as pickled beets.

    These little beauties are going for $2.50 for a bunch of 3 at the we've already paid for our seeds and have about twice this many left in the garden.....pretty good return for our effort and expense. ( The tops are also edible.....tho I've not tried them...)

    Edit to add
    reply to post by thelibra

    I'm going to try your bottles for watering my melons....that will allow me to water the roots with out wetting the soil below the melons and risking rot on their undersides!

    [edit on 29-5-2008 by frayed1]


    posted on May, 29 2008 @ 04:05 PM

    Originally posted by thelibra
  • The Cinderblock Spice Wall

  • Cinderblocks are awesome. The ground where my garden is was on an incline so I used cinderblocks to step it out into three zones so each zone can be independently leveled.

    Look around dumpsters for more. Particularly areas with recent construction. I've found several dozen (made a cellar in the basement!) and probably just spent a couple dollars in gas opposed to a couple dollars per block.

    For watering each zone has a separate valved soaker hose and pvc assembly tied to my rain barrel. Drip line like T-Tape is best to save water and get the water right on the soil, but my soaker hose setup has been surprisingly effective. I need a bigger rain barrel though!

    [edit on 29-5-2008 by apc]

    posted on Jun, 24 2008 @ 12:43 PM
    The garden is still doing very well. In fact, I had to give away a load of butter lettuce and spinach over the weekend, as I can't keep up with it.

    Libra, I will definitely try your water bottle idea; sounds good.

    The purple bean bushes are beautiful. The leaves are dark green, but the stems are purple and the flowers are purple. I can't wait to see the beans.

    There were many blossoms on the Siberian Pea Shrub, but no peas. I don't know what happened. Maybe no bees.

    And speaking of peas, I planted sweetpeas along the fence to, hopefully, attract bees, but these blossoms have no scent whatsoever and they're all white. Not what I expected. And to top it off, I didn't realize that this plant and its pods/peas are poisonous. With a name like sweetpea... I had to pull them all out because I just got a new puppy last week and didn't want him getting ahold of it. What is going on with flowers losing their fragrance? Is this a by-product of bio-engineering our seeds now?

    I'm still waiting to see if my Granny Smith apples will be earwig free this year. I grew fennel and every week I cut some and put it at the bottom of the apple tree. What the heck? In Germany, they have a saying: Fennel in the kennel keeps the fleas away. We don't have fleas up at this altitude, but I figured I'd give it a shot-- maybe the earwigs don't like fennel either (licorice scent).

    posted on Jun, 24 2008 @ 01:15 PM
    Interesting that you mention the loss of fragrance. I was just at the grocery store yesterday, and I noticed that NONE of the fruits in the produce section had any smeel to them at all. Not even the organic ones. Very weird! The whole situation was so antiseptic and sterile I just had to leave. I'm glad my homegrown fruits and veggies aren't like that!

    BTW, I'm having terrible luck with my beans, bush and edamame. They grow very spindly stems and have a tendency for the leaves to shrivel up before the plant dies. We've had a spell of very hot weather lately, so I gave them a little extra water. Maybe too much? Any advice would be greatly appreciated, as this is my first attempt to grow any veggies.

    This has been the most helpful and informative thread! Thank you to everyone for posting their experiences!

    posted on Jun, 24 2008 @ 05:38 PM
    reply to post by Anonymous ATS

    It may be too much sunlight. Even extra water won't help that. I don't know where you live, but up here in the high Sierras, the sunshine in the summer can be brutal. I went to Home Depot and bought some shade... like the nurseries use. I put it over the western side of the garden so that as the sun moves during the day, it will protect all of the garden for a few hours a day.

    Next year, I'll order all my seeds, bulbs, etc., from the heritage collection. No terminator seeds and no flowers without fragrance. Even tulips only bloom one year, then nothing. Has anyone else noticed that?

    posted on Jun, 24 2008 @ 06:51 PM
    I've been getting the garden through the very hot days of the last week or so - 102-105 degrees F - by watering every two days.
    The usual is every three days.

    The container plants get some water in the mornings and late in the afternoon.
    They're pretty dry due to the high heat and hot, dry winds.
    The Cherry tomatoes in the container show the effects first by wilting pretty bad, but they come back ok.

    I'm watering with a black hose drip system and flooding the garden pretty good.
    So far, no signs of overwatering.

    Along those same lines I moved my 20' box car trailer to the west side of the garden to add some shade in the mornings which can be pretty warm during desert heat waves.
    91 degrees F at 0830 a few mornings back.

    The trailer probably won't help add much shade, but right now it's the only thing I can do, due to time constraints in other areas.

    The house is on the east side of the garden and it starts to receive shade at 3 PM and is completely shaded by 4 PM.


    Katt, the beefsteak tomatoes I planted due to your recommending them are doing very well.
    I need to thin them out - got nine in the only container I could find - and will keep three.
    The other six get re-potted and given away.

    I planted three watermelon plants in an unused corner and they're doing well.

    Picked a bunch of Santa Fe hot peppers and one Cherry pepper this morning.
    Later today, they get put into a jar with brine and placed in the refrigerator.

    I have five pepper plants, two are producing and three that were planted later will be producing before long.
    We'll do some for-real canning then.

    (Edited for typos)

    [edit on 24-6-2008 by Desert Dawg]

    posted on Jun, 26 2008 @ 07:07 PM
    I found a good way to attract lots and lots of bees to the garden-- lavender. I have some growing out front-- I think it's called Mexican lavender-- I'm not sure, but the bees love it and at any given time, there are at least fifty bees on it.

    So, I bought some more and planted it right in the middle of the garden and near the tomatoes.

    Other than on the lavender, I haven't seen that many bees this year.

    posted on Jun, 26 2008 @ 07:18 PM
    I have limited space so I container garden but get very good yields. Here are some notes of mine about the process.

    (1) Maximum container garden space is roughly 6 ft wide & 16 ft long (6x16) or 96 square feet & currently holds 97 containers of various sizes from 1 to 10 gallons. Don’t assume though that the area holds one container per sq. foot, some parts are more densely packed and others less so.

    (2A) The volume for 97 containers is roughly 312 gallons...for calculations sake it will be 320 gallons.
    (2B) For 320 gallons of potting mixture combine the following ingredients:
    160 gallons (26...40 lb. bags) composted cow manure)
    35 gal. sand
    35 gal. vermiculite
    35 gal. perlite
    35 gal. peat moss (one 4 sq. ft bale will do.)
    10 gal. ground limestone (2 cups per 5 gal. container)
    5 gal. 10-10-10 fertilizer (10% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus, 10% potassium)
    or 1 cup per 5 gallon container

    This mixture will fill at least 64...5 gallon containers.

    (3A) Next year, get fiberglass mesh screening & after cleaning the container, line the bottoms with it so that the drainage holes remain

    unclogged & bugs cannot get in then put a layer of large gravel, 1.5 to 2 inches deep on top of the screen before adding the potting soil to assist in draining.
    (3B) One 13 to 14 in. square piece of fiberglass mesh screen will be ample to line the bottom of each 5 gal. container...less of course for the 1 gal. containers and more for the 10 gal. ones.

    (4) For mulching (this applies to the large 5 to 10 gal. containers only) put a layer of red mulch down initially to protect the soil & to prevent the splattering of soil onto the plants. After the soil has settled down from the brim of the container by about 2 inches top off the red mulch off with a thick layer of straw...2 bales of straw should be more than enough, if not too much. 2.5 forty lb. bags of red mulch is ample for this task. For all other containers a thick layer of the red mulch is adequate.

    (5) 1 TEASPOON of BLEACH in 1 GALLON of water sprayed on TOMATO and POTATO leaves are said to stop various FUNGAL infections such as EARLY & LATE SEASON BLIGHTS. My father tried it works, not as efficiently as store bought fungicides, but it works, just have to spray with it more often. I tried it and he is right. Needs to use frequently though.

    I don't get enough to can but it is an excellent supplement to my purchases. And all this is in a small space in the yard of my apartment building.

    posted on Jul, 6 2008 @ 11:53 AM
    Oi there! This is just a quick post to add something new I've learned in regards to the garden.

    Lawn Clippings

    Up until I got serious about my compost heap, I just used the mulching attachment on the mower to grind my grass back into the lawn. Then I started using the bagging attachment to the mower to add to the compost. But on a fellow gardener's advice, I started using my lawn clippings as mulch for the vegetable garden instead. Up until then, I'd been using the best mulch I could buy, Enviroguard, and the veg just sat there, pathetic, small, yellow and dying.

    I swear to God, within three days of surrounding my veg plants with a good 3-6 inches of grass clippings, they started exploding into lush green growth. It was a complete transformation, and even plants that previously had been "hanging in there" but producing nothing, are now yielding after barely 2 weeks, even during the heat of the Texas summer, when stuff like squash isn't supposed to be able to fruit because it doesn't get cold enough at night.

    It's amazing. My lawn is St. Augustine (and weeds), I dunno if the same works for Bermuda, etc, but apparently this stuff is green gold, and I can't even imagine the effect it'd have on plants already with a good yield.

    posted on Jul, 6 2008 @ 12:04 PM
    reply to post by thelibra

    Do you have some good pics on your garden so far? Im curious to see how you set the blocks up also

    posted on Jul, 6 2008 @ 12:12 PM
    I came across this thread about a month ago and decided I was going to give container gardening a shot. I started picking up pots and few at a time using the grocery budget. Now, I have a dozen or so pepper seedlings, a large tomato plant, and a habanero plant that is just starting to produce it's first peppers. Plans are in the works for many more too

    Thanks for starting the thread, it inspired me and I'm sure it has others as well.

    posted on Jul, 6 2008 @ 10:18 PM

    Originally posted by mybigunit
    Do you have some good pics on your garden so far? Im curious to see how you set the blocks up also

    Sure thing, man. I went out back and snapped these just tonight. Except for the last one of me holding the pumpkin, that was a few weeks ago.

    This is the garden overall. Early on I had nice tilled rows, clean soil, and paths between them, etc. I found out two things really quick: almost everything died or failed to sprout from seed, and the one thing besides the pumpkin patch that flourished was lawn grass. When I let the grass in, and stopped fighting it, things started to live. When I started using the grass as mulch, starting two weeks ago, stuff just started to thrive.

    I guess mother nature just likes a little bit of a mess sometimes.

    This is a section of the spice wall that I have set up. On either end are marigolds, which keep rabbits and other pests at bay, and the petals of the marigold can be used as a colorful additive to salads. Between them, from left to right, there's Sweet Basil, Foxtail Rosemary, African Blue Basil, more Foxtail Rosemary, more African Blue Basil, and Tuscan Blue Rosemary. Against the fence, from middle to right is Wild Mint. In the upper left is part of the "main" pumpkin patch.

    This is the Tomato Triangle Experiment. I'd given it up for a dead failure. The tomato plants and peppers had all pretty much died. Then I started using my lawn clippings for mulch two weeks ago. This is the result. The biggest tomato plant on the corner was only barely taller than the humped white brick two weeks ago. Now it's got a thick healthy main trunk and is covered in tiny little yellow-white blooms. The pepper plant in the middle was dead. I didn't even see anything there as of two weeks ago. Now it's looking like it's making a full recovery.

    This is the only plant that took from seed. Initially, as I mentioned, I'd tried rows that failed. Only one tiny scrawny little plant survived, and it was poking out of a solid chunk of clay I'd been unable to break up and just left aside. For weeks it sat, only watered if it rained. I'd intended to throw it away. Finally I figured... what the hell? I'll pop it in the ground and see what happens. It dwindled down to one pathetic yellowish stalk with a sickly leaf. Then about two weeks ago, I covered the base with about 3-6 inches of lawn clippsings, and filled the inside of it's box. This is the result. In this photo, you can just make out 2 of the 4 zucchinni now growing on it.

    This rather unimpressive watermelon plant was also yellowing and dead. I'd picked it up and never got around to planting it. Then, two weeks ago, since I had all these leftover lawn clippings, I just popped it in a pile of peat and compost, and surrounded it with lawn clippings. Presto, change-o! It's now a survivor.

    A similar story. These are yellow squash, strawberries, and what are probably yet more pumpkin vines starting. The whole area was another failed experiment till the lawn clippings saved it.

    I thought for the longest time this was actually a somewhat healthy survivor of my initial seed-rows, either a yellow squash or a zucchinni. My first clue that I was wrong should have been the fact that it lived. It was a hearty survivor that stayed healthy, but otherwise produced nothing. Once I put lawn clippings on it, it tripled in size and I found myself the proud owner of yet another damn pumpkin colony. You can just make out one of the fruits coming in near the bottom.

    This is the accidental pumpkin patch. It's now back up to the size it was before the squash vine borer blight knocked back 3/4 its growth. At its present rate, it'll take over the yard before fall is over. The whole thing started from a funny looking sprout in my compost heap.

    Here's the pride and joy of the big pumpkin patch. It's hard to tell from the photo, but this pumpkin is already larger than my ten month old boy and it's not even started to turn orange yet.

    This is me, a few weeks ago, holding the first yield of my whole garden. The wife snapped that photo in the middle of me saying "Oh Yeah!" like Joe from Family Guy. That pumpkin went to Mr. and Mrs. J, as a thank you for all they taught me. They turned it into three of the best pumpkin pies I've ever had, a large serving bowl for beef soup, and some very fertile seeds for their own garden.

    posted on Jul, 7 2008 @ 10:14 AM
    reply to post by BlueTriangle

    For your info I have grown 8 foot tall tomato plants in 5 gallon buckets... it works and it works well... the only labor intensive part is setting it up.

    posted on Jul, 7 2008 @ 10:23 AM

    Originally posted by grover
    For your info I have grown 8 foot tall tomato plants in 5 gallon buckets... it works and it works well... the only labor intensive part is setting it up.

    Wow, I've been considering transplanting mine into something bigger. Currently it's in about a half gallon pot and growing like a weed.

    posted on Jul, 7 2008 @ 10:27 AM
    The big thing is you got to weight it with gravel or bricks in the bottom to prevent them from tipping over. I got decent yields container gardening... not enough to can but certainly enough to help my food budget in the summer that's for sure.

    Also I do things like smoke my jalapenos and then dry them in a dehydrator for homemade chipoltes and string and hang my cayanne peppers, seed and dry romas in the dehydrator and so on. I have grown cabbage and made a winter's worth of sauerkraut as well.

    The big thing to remember its not all about size, its about yield. Vegetables in containers are sometimes smaller but the yields are good, especially if you make your own soil and make it as rich as you can... a good reference is "The Bountiful Container" I highly recommend it since it is one of the few books on container gardening that focuses entirely on vegetable and herb container gardening.

    [edit on 7-7-2008 by grover]

    posted on Jul, 7 2008 @ 10:30 AM
    reply to post by BlueTriangle

    I'm guessing Grover is growing tomatoes in a plastic 5 gallon bucket, perhaps like a mud bucket?
    (A mud buckets original use was for drywall compound fwiw.)

    I've been gardening off and on for a while and am learning a lot about gardening in the desert.

    As well as learning about growing in containers which I never did before.

    Not sure of Grovers location, but I'm finding that the good looking red clay pots allow the moisture to dry out pretty fast.
    To the point where, during this heat wave I'm watering the conatiners twice a day.

    I'm wondering if using a plastic bucket would be less wasteful of water?

    Although, watering my containers twice a day is using less water than if the same amount of plants were in the garden.

    Fewer weeds as well.

    posted on Jul, 7 2008 @ 10:34 AM
    reply to post by Desert Dawg

    I live in southwest Virginia.

    And yes I use plastic buckets harvested from restaurants and the like.

    But i grow far more than tomatoes, I grow chinese cabbages, swiss chard lettuce in window boxes, eggplants, cucumbers trained to grow over garden arches out of 10 gallon containers, ditto with pole beans and summer squash, sweet and hot peppers and a lot of different herbs.

    Plastic drys out slower than clay but the big drawback is the watering, I do it twice a day too, once in the early morning and again at twilight.

    [edit on 7-7-2008 by grover]

    posted on Jul, 7 2008 @ 10:50 AM
    Thanks Grover.
    I should have went back and looked to see if your location was posted.

    Im going to do a few more things in containers.

    Funny part is, Sweetie wanted to bring all her pots with us when we moved and I didn't.
    The last move - out of five 800 mile round trips - I filled up the pickup bed with pots.
    And I'm using most of them.

    Fwiw, I have a garden update and report on my bean growing experiment.

    Go here:'

    posted on Jul, 25 2008 @ 12:08 PM
    I'm finally putting up a few photos of our backyard garden.

    external image

    You can see in the foreground where the butter lettuce and spinach was-- all harvested now, but I will plant more next month. Behind that are the potatoes and you can't see the cabbage and brussels sprouts behind them. Moving left are the five varieties of tomatoes-- looking forward to them, then the onions, Japanese cucumbers, melons, two varieties of squash-- acorn and yellow, then zukes and two varieties of beans-- green and purple bush beans. My garlic died. I think too much water? It was between the potatoes and the cabbage. There are also a few flowers here and there to attract bees. Lavender works best for attracting bees here.

    external image

    A close-up of one of the purple bush beans with its purple blossoms and beans.

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    Our little vineyard, with three varieties of grapes.

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    The herb garden with a blueberry and blackberry in the center-- when they're bigger, they'll be transplanted into the ground. In the barrel we have dill, parsley, rosemary, fennel and cilantro.

    external image

    A wide shot-- the sunflowers are getting tall. You can see the composter. And the dying lawn-- I'm xeriscaping all of it except two areas under two trees.

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    I plan to put in a winter garden this year too.

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