What's going in the ground? How to make the most of your garden spaceApr 15, 2019 11:59AM ● By Paige Slaughter
I’ve decided to try something new this growing season, and I invite you to be part of it. I’ll be centering my column around my own 12-by-12-foot gardening space, where I’ll utilize concepts from permaculture, biomimicry and high-impact gardening to create a thriving garden ecosystem. Join me in designating a precious space to growing food in a way that honors the earth, provides nutrition and nourishment to you and your loved ones, and brings us closer to Nature.
The layoutMy garden, like me, lives in Carbondale, Colorado. Zone 5b. Using only hand tools and just a few simple, low-cost season extension items like blankets and straw, I’ll focus on growing tasty and nutrient-rich annual plants, maximizing space and minimizing weeds using organic growing methods.
If you decide to follow along, you can tweak the layout I’ve designed on the next page to fit your space and lifestyle. I’ve started with a 12-by-12-foot square, giving me 144 square feet of heaven. Here are a few ideas for adjusting the design to suit your needs: • Build raised beds if kneeling low doesn’t feel good in your body. • Widen the rows to 2 feet, or add additional rows. I’m planting in a way that minimizes the amount of exposed soil to prevent weeds and encourage moisture. • Divide the square into smaller spaces. If your space is longer and narrower, or you need to spread out your garden for some other reason, you can still follow this design and modify your layout according to the sections. Sections 1, 2 and 3 can be pulled apart, and throughout the growing season, you can still follow the succession plantings. • If there’s a particular crop you’re not fond of, simply replace it with something you love that has similar growing habits. I’ll suggest alternative crops as much as possible.
Get plantingOnce you’ve tweaked the design to fit your growing space, gather up your seeds and get planting! Prep your garden beds with compost and a nice layer of topsoil that will provide a nice space for your seeds to germinate.
This month, we’re planting potatoes, poppies, greens, carrots, beets, onions, sweet peas and buckwheat.
All these crops can be sown directly into the soil. It’s always best to sow extra seeds and pull the plants out later. This will help ensure we have abundance, and will help prevent weeds from coming up in between spaced-out plants.
PotatoesHave you ever held onto a potato too long, and it starts sprouting growths? Those are called eyes, and they’re what we plant in order to grow more potatoes.
You can order potatoes for planting from seed companies, or you can find your favorite kinds at the grocery store and store them in a warm, light place for a few weeks until they sprout eyes.
One or two days before you’re ready to plant, use a clean knife to slice up the potatoes into sections. This will give the cut pieces time to dry out to prevent rotting. Each section should have an eye or two. Smaller potatoes can be planted whole. Whatever you’re planting should be about the size of a golf ball.
On planting day, dig a 6- to 8-inch deep trench into soil that you’ve loosened and moistened. Place each potato piece cut side down, with the eye pointing up towards the sky, every 6-12 inches (fingerlings can be planted closer together, while larger potatoes will want a bit more room). Fill the trench with about 4 inches of soil. Let the plants start to grow, and mound up the soil around the plants as they grow taller. After about 10 weeks, they’ll be ready to harvest.
Poppies and pansiesPoppies add beauty to the garden in spring, before it’s warm enough for many other flowers to come up. Sow a row of poppy seeds at the surface of the soil. Poppies need light to germinate, so add a thin layer of straw on top of the bed to hold in moisture and provide some protection for spring frosts.
You can pick up plant starts from a local nursery and plant pansies along with the poppies. Pansies are also cold hardy and the flowers are edible.
GreensSpread seeds across the bed, so that each section of soil is sprinkled with an even layer of seeds. We’ll thin the plants as they come up, harvesting microgreens, young leaves and eventually full-grown greens.
For this style of planting, a leaf lettuce might be easier to manage than head lettuce (though I love head lettuce and will mix some into my leaf lettuce mix anyway). Cover seeds with a thin layer of soil and then a thin layer of straw to hold in moisture.
Carrots and beetsMix a bit of sand into the section of soil where you’ll sow carrots and beets (unless your garden soil is mostly clay, in which case, skip the sand and add compost instead). Seed these root veggies the same way you seed the greens, covering them with soil, then a thicker, 1-inch layer of straw. I like to cover my carrot seeds with a layer of fabric to create a darker environment.
OnionsSpacing will depend on the variety of onion you choose, so follow the spacing guidelines on your seed packets when planting. Sow onion seeds in rows and cover with soil, then straw. Onions are slow to start, so be extra diligent with pulling weeds around them.
Peas and buckwheatWe’re planting a larger area of peas for a few reasons. Young sweet pea shoots taste wonderful in salads, so this is a cover crop that we’ll harvest and eat! Later, we’ll use this space to plant corn, beans and squash.
Our thick bed of buckwheat will suppress weeds, put out flowers for beneficial insects and fix nitrogen in the soil—all while taking care of the space in our garden that will eventually hold tomatoes and peppers.
Please write and share your stories, questions and insights! I’d love to hear about your experience as we venture into this new growing season together.