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My gardening methods

September 20, 2018

 

In the above video, Patrick Dolan explains his gardening methods. His methods have a lot of overlap with my own and I agree 100% with his five gardening principles:

 

  1. Grow a lot of food

  2. Don't spend much money

  3. Don't work harder than you have to

  4. Work with Nature, not against it

  5. Use methods that are well-supported by scientific research

 

Grow a lot of food

In his video, Patrick Dolan states that he has 700 square feet of growing space that produces an estimated 1,000 lbs of food per year. Given what I have, I can't compete. The non-paved portion of my backyard is just 180 square feet. In that space, I have four in-ground raised beds, 5-feet by 3-feet each, a total of just 60 square feet devoted to seasonal vegetables. What happened to the remaining 120 square feet? Those are the paths surrounding the beds.

 

When I first built raised beds in this space, I had 6 of them, but the garden felt cramped due to the narrow paths and it was difficult to reach all sides of the beds. When I redesigned the space, I put a lot of thought into comfort and accessibility, so I sacrificed 2 of the beds. The 4-bed design with its central pollinator bed is more beautiful, inspired by the classic geometric look of a potager garden. A close friend liked my design so much that she asked me to help her to replicate this design for her vegetable garden. Of course I was happy to help.

 

Back to growing a lot of food: to make the best use of what I have, I plant intensively in these 4 beds and I grow summer vining crops vertically. I also grow in containers on the paved patio and on my front steps. I'm working to add more edible plants to my front yard, which is already planted with culinary herbs in the sunnier spots and woodland edibles in the shade.

 

While it's not possible to grow enough to independently sustain my husband and myself, every homegrown vegetable we eat is one fewer purchase from the grocery store. This summer, homegrown vegetables were part of nearly every evening meal, be it a salad, stew, or stir-fry. Just think of what I could do if I had a larger garden!

 

 

Don't spend much money

I don't buy fertilizer or exotic soil amendments. I make compost from my own kitchen scraps (vegetable peels, egg shells, and coffee grounds) and garden waste. 

 

I don't buy woody mulch, but I also don't need much mulch anymore since my backyard paths became well-colonized by white clover. For my front yard, I prefer leaf mulch, which can be picked up for free at Takoma Park's Public Works Department. To mulch my vegetable beds, I only need to buy one bale of straw per year.

 

A few years ago, I installed a drip irrigation system on a timer, which waters my vegetable garden efficiently, saving time and money. And when there's rain the in the forecast, I turn the system off.

 

Where I do splurge is on plants. I buy vegetable seeds and seedlings, annual flowers and herbs, and perennials. You can't have a vegetable garden without plants after all. I've also slowly built an edible houseplant collection (more about that in a future post). 

 

 

Don't work harder than you have to

I don't double-dig or till. I don't turn my compost bin. I don't dig finished compost into the soil, I just add it on top of the soil's surface and let Nature do the hard work of mixing it in. I stopped applying mulch to the backyard paths after the white clover took over. I pull weeds when they are small, while their roots are not well-established in the soil. I try to prevent weeds in the first place by planting intensively, to out-compete them with desirable garden plants.

 

 

Work with Nature, not against it

If I was to re-order this list, this principle would appear first. All of the other gardening principles flow from this one anyway. If you work with Nature, you don't have to work so hard or spend so much money. You'll grow more food by putting into practice the lessons learned from scientific observations of the natural world around us.

 

Our choices in the garden impact the environment. It was reported in the news today that scientists have observed a decline in non-pest insect populations. I believe that gardeners can make a difference.

 

I garden year-round by matching vegetables to their preferred growing temperatures. I choose varieties that are highly productive with minimal coddling. In the shade of my front yard, I grow plants that tolerate those conditions. I include native plants to attract good bugs like pollinators and predators of pests as well as natives that serve as the larval food sources of butterflies.

 

I no longer use pesticides--not even organic pesticides--and I won't be cutting back my perennials this fall, thanks to what I've learned about protecting good bug habitat. I feed the soil life with compost.

 

And I have to say that adding a birdbath to my garden has had an enormous impact. It's not just the birds that use it, but I've seen all sorts of good bugs stop to have a drink. Not only have I not observed any increase in bird-pecked tomatoes, but I think the birdbath has been the secret to fewer pests on my collard greens. Just make sure to dump out and refill your birdbath twice a week to interrupt the mosquito life cycle.

 

 

Use methods that are well-supported by scientific research

I'm always looking to expand my knowledge, even if it means that I have to change my point of view. I make mistakes and I try to learn from them. Whenever possible, I attend local garden talks and classes, read books, watch videos, and visit (or volunteer at) public gardens. I think critically about what I've learned and I ask questions to other gardeners and experts. When I find something compelling, I share it here on my blog, such as ways that home gardeners can adapt to climate change or why you should ignore listicle magic.

 

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