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Just because you live in the city or an apartment doesn't mean you can't garden. You just have to be a little creative. Think about spaces around your apartment. Is there a fire escape, balcony, a roof area, or just a window? If so, you can garden. It is easier than you think. Let's get started.
The roof top provides the most space, if you are lucky enough to have one. You can build a raised bed with lumber. Try to have at least 4 to 6 inches of soil. A four foot square will give you 16 square feet of gardening space. Many garden centers sell plastic bags of soil. You can cut a few small holes in the bottom for drainage. The top can be planted with plants, that you start or that you buy. Cut an X for your plant with a knife. You could start with seeds, but it takes longer to harvest.
Containers come in all sizes and shapes. Last year I started tomato seeds in a Salem cigarette package. You can attach 2 or 3 rectangle boxes stacked up on a fire escape or balcony, as space permits. Place a few round pots or other containers on the steps. If all you have is a window, a south facing window is best, buy or build a shelf for containers.
The city of Anchorage, Alaska has a park area provided for community gardening. Perhaps your local park district or a local farmer will rent you a garden plot.
If you have a small walkway outside or patio you can find a few scattered spots for container or in ground gardening. If you have a fence, you can trellis up plants like cucumbers, muskmelon, pole beans, etc.
What can you grow in a container? You can grow almost any herb, flower or vegetable. There are a few guide lines to follow: Choose a container that will fit your plants when they are mature,sunlight for 6 to 8 hours daily is needed for most vegetables, however, radishes, leaf lettuce, parsley, and cabbage need only 4 hours a day; drainage is very important in containers, nutrients or food is needed; use an organic water soluble fertilizer, water your plants when they are dry; too much water is going to rot the roots, so it is better to under-water than over-water and a soil mix of peat moss with potting soil and vermiculite or pearlite is a good mix.
If, for example, you put up a window box container 4 feet long, 1 foot wide, and 6 inches deep you could plant a salad garden.
WINDOW BOX EXAMPLE
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We could plant 16 onions, 16 carrots, 16 leaf lettuce and 16 radish or any other combination you like. That is 4 square feet of garden space. If you have 2 window boxes, you could have as many as 120 vegetable plants growing at one time! If you wanted a tall vegetable, like a tomato, you could attach a stake to the container and tie the tomato plant to it.
Most seed catalogs list seeds or plants marked for containers. Check the growing days. You don't want to grow an indeterminate tomato or one like Big Boy, which takes over 100 days to harvest a tomato. You want one which matures at 40 to 75 days. Also, take into consideration your growing climate and how many growing days you have in you area.
Buy non-hybrid seed, NOT hybrids. Non-hybrids or open pollinated seeds produce true seed for next season's planting.
SMALL PLOTS TO GARDEN
Let's say your garden space is 4 feet by 16 feet, or 64 square feet. You build a frame and raise the bed 4 to 6 inches. What do you want to plant? Remember, plant only one square foot at a time. Build four frames 4 feet by 4 feet, inside measurements.
This 4 foot by 4 foot square is broken down into 1 foot squares.
One 4 foot square grows enough vegetables for one person for the summer.
You will be surprised at your yields. As you harvest replant another herb or vegetable.
So, we have 64 square feet with (I'll be right back, I need my adding machine to add up the number of plants). WOW!!!!! That's 363 plants!!! Are you catching on yet? We have put a lot of herbs and vegetables in a small space. We have eliminated the walk ways between the rows, or we have eliminated 85% of our garden work. We are NOT planting mini-farms, but SQUARE FOOT INTENSIVE RAISED BED GARDENING. Gardening now becomes almost work-free once you set up your beds.
Vine plants, all types, are grown vertically 8 feet high or a total space of 8' x 16' or 128 square feet for 12 to 16 plants. Actually 4' x 4' squares are easier to take care of with 2 feet between squares. I mulch between mine, because I don't like walking in mud after rain, or watering.
Keep a notebook of your garden. Plan what you will plant in advance. Keep track of planting dates, harvest dates, and harvest amounts. What grows best and what doesn't.
STARTING PLANTS INDOORS
Plant indoors 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost dates. You can use a good soil mixture. Take a container and put a few holes in the bottom, for drainage. Egg cartons and two liter soda pop containers work well. Next, add small pebbles in the bottom. Fill the container with soil leaving about an inch from the top empty. Put the seeds on top of the soil, and cover with a quarter inch of soil. Put the container into a tray of water until the top is wet, than remove. When the plants have a set of true leaves remove them using the leaf to pick up the plant. Put the new plant in a six pack; when the plants are ready to go outside, poke holes in the soil with a pencil. Put one plant or seed per hole. NO MORE! Don't forget to water. When you plant a seed a good rule to remember is plant seeds four times its diameter deep.
Maintain your garden; weeding, watering, taking notes, making compost, feeding, etc. After weeding two or three times, there will be almost no more weeds. Your plants will crowd out the weeds.
When the plants are almost ready for outside, put them outside during daylight, to get used to outside conditions. Make a cold frame to start more plants outside; even better, build a greenhouse. It will extend your growing season, maybe all year long.
Vegetables that can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked are: Radish, beets, swish chard, carrots, lettuce, peas, spinach, onions, garlic, leeks, parsley and chives.
WHAT TO PLANT AND WHEN TO PLANT IT
Cole Crops: plant 4 to 6 weeks before your last frost date: broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, onions, potatoes, peas, spinach, kale, turnips and asparagus.
Hardy plants: plant 2 to 4 weeks before last frost date: beets, carrots, chard, mustard, parsnips and radish.
Non-cole plants: plant after last frost date: snap beans, tomato, okra, sweet corn and soybeans.
Hot weather plants: plant 1 to 2 weeks after last frost date: lima beans, melons, eggplant, sweet potato, pepper and cucumber.
Medium heat plants: summer planting: beans, squash and chard.
Hardy plants: late summer 6 to 8 weeks before fall freeze: beets, kale, mustard, turnips, spinach, collard and lettuce.
WHY RAISED BEDS?
1.Sun heats beds like a solar collector, warming the soil.
2.The soil drains water faster, and plants grow faster.
3.DON'T WALK ON YOUR GARDEN BEDS.
4.Neat gardens produce more vegetables.
5.Keep soil level so water can deep soak evenly.
6.Raised beds produce more vegetables.
7.Vegetables can be picked 5 to 10 days earlier.
8.Raised beds do very well anywhere.
9. Snow insulates raised beds from freezing as snow melts it gives off heat. The heat goes into the bed, causing vegetables to grow faster.
10. Put on leaves and compost, and till into soil.
WALL OF WATER;
1. Lasts 7 to 10 years.
2. Harvest is 2 to 4 times more.
3. Plant tomatoes 6 to 8 weeks before normal planting.
4. Warms soil 10 to 15 degrees warmer than outside area.
5. Put wall of water out at least one week before planting.
THEORY: When water freezes it gives off 80 times as much heat as it normally cools off. When water is cooled or freezes, it gives off heat. Three gallons of water equals 9,000,000 calories of heat every night. It's like burning a fifth of a quart of fuel oil.
6. Open top is good to 16 °F, closed is good to 10 °F.
How to plant your square foot garden
1 Plant Per Square Foot: broccoli, cabbage, corn, cauliflower, potatoes, pepper, tomato, eggplant and muskmelon.
4 Plants Per Square Foot: swiss chard, lettuce, parsley and celery
9 Plants Per Square Foot: beans and spinach
16 Plants Per Square Foot: beets, carrots, onions, radish and turnips
Trellis upward: muskmelon, squash, pole beans, watermelon, cucumbers, pumpkins
Leaf Mold: 1 to 2 inches
Cow Manure: 2 inches
Lime: except potatoes or West of the Mississippi River.
Sow winter rye: Germination time is 4 to 5 days; till rye into the soil in the spring; mulch first with lawnmower.
Clay: Clay or sandy soil can be broken down by adding organic matter like leaves, grass clippings, etc.
Buckwheat: Puts nutrients back into the soil when tilled in, makes soil more workable; releases nitrogen into the soil and stops erosion.
Green Manure: 'Green Manure', Rye, 3 pounds per 40 feet; plant in the fall.
COVER CROPS: ALL SOIL BUILDERS
Plant in the Fall Two types: cold and warm
Warm: Buckwheat, clover
Cold: Winter wheat, rye, Australian winter peas
Building better soil: The best PH is 6 to 6.5 for overall gardening. Potatoes are one exception.
In a 60 square foot area, add these building blocks:
Compost: 2 large bags
Peat moss: 2 large bags
Pearlite: half a bag
Granulated dolomite: 2 cups
10-10-10-Organic fertilizer: 1 ½ cups
Gypsum: 4 cups
Bone meal (0-10-0): 6 cups
Pine mini-nugget bark: 1 large bag
Till all of the above together for great soil; wait a month. Do a PH test one month later. Take a soil sample from all four corners and the center. Buy a soil test kit at your local garden center. Buy a cheap one for less than five dollars. They are simple to use. Follow the instructions on the box and color chart.
As farmers and gardeners we are stewards of the land. We must be careful of what we use on the land. Rotating crops is very important. Crops should be planted and rotated as follows: Heavy feeders are melons, okra, spinach, squash, tomatoes, and cabbage. Follow these crops by planting soil builders like beans, peas, peanuts, soybeans, and cover crops. Follow with light feeders like carrots, leeks, peppers, potatoes, turnips, or garlic.
On farm land you should plant in this order for seven years: 1) Soybeans 2) Hay 3) Wheat 4) Oats 5) Corn 6) Pasture 7) NOTHING, let the land rest.
Reasons for crop rotation: healthy plants, stronger plants, quicker growing, fewer diseases, better nutritional products and quality.
Plant GREEN MANURE like rye, clover, alfalfa or buckwheat. At about 6 to 8 inches till it under, letting it rest for 2-3 weeks, or cut with a mower, and put on a compost pile.
PLANT AND ROTATE BY DISEASES AND PESTS PER GROUP
Each group above has the same pests and diseases. Rotate them as a group. Tomatoes can cause diseases in the soil, which can last over 10 years; pests over winter at the vegetables roots. Clean up your garden before the first snow. Remove non-producing plants from your garden.
MAKING COMPOST (NOT ON A WINDY DAY!) COMPOST IN 14 TO 25 DAYS
Compost Bin: Leaves should be a 12 inches deep (brown) and grass should be 6 inches deep.
-Make sure grass has NO herbicides.
-Do NOT use black walnut or sycamore leaves, they have a built in herbicide.
-Sawdust removes nitrogen out of the soil, do NOT use in compost bin.
-Do NOT use magnolia, it is too hard to break down.
-Leaves; mix with water.
-Manure, water makes bacteria active.
-High nitrogen fertilizer of one cup.
-Two quarts of alfalfa.
-Lime, one cup.
-Spade full of soil, has bacteria.
-Add more leaves.
In general, put as much organic material into your compost pile. Throw your garden by products on the compost pile. Do NOT use vines or tomato plants or sawdust in compost pile.
Attach a microwave thermometer to a handle. Place it in the center of the compost pile. 120 to 140 °F is very good. 150 to 160 °F, the compost is about to burn out and smell. Keep moist and turn. Good compost is about 25% air. The compost pile should be about 4 to 5 feet across.
This can be done on a wide row. On top of the soil which has been tilled. ADD: 1) Leaves 3 to 5 inches 2) One gallon of ashes per 100 square feet. Ashes sweeten the soil- east of the Mississippi River only. 3) Per 100 square feet add one quart of 10-10-10 organic fertilizer. 4) Lightly lime. 5) Cover this with some soil, ½ to 1 inch. 6) Water enough to soak. 7) Let set 10 days to 2 weeks and till into the ground. This process releases nutrients back into the soil, holds moisture, stops erosion, and acts as a blanket to protect the soil.
COMPANION PLANTING: HERBS
1.Tomatoes repel cabbage butterflies.
2.Dill draws tomato hornworms.
3.Mint repels ants.
4.Nasturtiums repel aphids, squash beetles, carrot flies, white flies, bean beetle, and stripe beetle.
5.Marigold repels nematodes, Mexican bean beetle, rabbits, groundhogs, and other animals.
6.Thyme repeals Japanese beetles and tomato hornworms.
7.Summer savory repels bean beetles.
8.Radish repels vine burrowers away from cucumber flies.
9.Red peppers repel rabbits.
10.Sage, rosemary, garlic, and mint repel cabbage flies.
11.Garlic repels moles, grubs, crows, voles, and rabbits.
12.Onions repel cabbage flies.
Build or buy a few bird houses to draw birds. They will eat insects from your garden. Put up a bird bath so they can get a drink and take a bath. A winter bird feeder will help birds thru the worst part of winter.
SOME PLACES TO GET NON-HYBRID SEEDS
Square Foot Gardening By Mel Bartholomew, ISBN 0-87857-341-0 $11.95
Joy of Gardening By Dick Raymond, ISBN 0-88266-319-4 $19.95
SQUARE FOOT GARDENING: Vol. 1All the Basics
Vol. 2Getting Started
Vol. 3Small Space Gardening