Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Guerilla gardening: Zero cost, minimum care

This gardening post is about my less-than-traditional gardening experiments this year.  I've been interested in gardening methods that 1) save time, 2) take up little space and 3) are basically free to implement.  I do admit that my methods won't win any Lawn or Garden Beauty awards, but fortunately I have a portion of my yard which is enclosed by an old wooden fence.  I am able to keep my experimental ugly gardening private from my neighbors.  :)

I like to try new things and new methods every year.  Gardening is somewhat indigenous and systemic.  I mean, weeds can grow anywhere, right?  Gardening is also a learning process, though.  The best advice I can give someone is to not get discouraged, to just try again.  There really *is* a style and a method for everyone.  Sometimes, you just have to learn what works for you and your climate (zone) and what needs to be planted when.  The biggest mistakes that people make is planting early crops too late and late crops too early or planting their veggies in the wrong location all together.  They think they or their soil has failed them when really, it's usually just a matter of the wrong plants being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  :)  If you have made this mistake (like I have many times,) don't give up.  Just make a note of it and try something different the following year (or maybe even later in the same year.)

One thing that frustrates me with Garden Planning Books or Websites is that they make it seem too hard or too expensive to garden.  Raised beds don't actually have to be made out of specific lumber, ya know?  You don't have to have a specific soil mix, either.  Over time, you can build your own super soil by maintaining a compost pile.  Yes, it takes a year or so, but if you're in it for the long haul it is worth it.  There is something deeply satisfying about building up your soil year after year, about experiencing better yields over time simply by throwing your vegetable scraps and lawn scraps on a pile and turning it once in awhile.  I love building something from nothing and becoming tuned into the rhythms of the seasons.  I feel like it makes me a more stable person, invested in longevity and sticking with something to see the end result.

I'll say it again....the pictures below are not really pretty gardening.  I LIKE luscious looking garden pictures, but the point I'm playing around with this year are alternative gardening methods.  There are many people around the world who could benefit from growing at least a portion of their own healthy food - and they don't have the money to invest in *any* gardening supplies.  They need to use whatever they can scavenge or what they already have on hand.  Can you grow butternut squash in a box?  Why yes, you can!  You can also grow potatoes in a box...well, let me show you some of what I've got growing in my back yard:

This vine (and his siblings) are growing on my compost pile.  I keep two compost piles - it's nice to be able to flip compost back and forth to keep the mixture at the right level of moisture, decomposition, etc.  This year, I had some cantaloupe pop up in the top of one pile.  It's nestled in amongst the shredded paper, dried grass clippings, etc.  Since I've got two piles, I'm able to leave this one alone and let this plant and others like it go wild in a very fertile environment.  No boxes, no special mix, no....nothing.

Here's my butternut squash.  This picture was taken last week, but as of today there are about 6 vines about 4 inches tall.  It's just what it looks like.  A box, filled from my compost pile.  A box can be moved around to hit the best patch of sunlight, until I figure out where it seems to do best.  And then, as the vines grow and spill over the edge, the box will decompose and it won't even be visible.  Will six butternut vines really help me feed my family?  Yes....I could get up to 30 or more gourds from these, if past experience is a guide.  I'll keep them in my cellar and use them throughout the fall and winter.  If this method does well, I will plant more next year.

Rats.  I had a picture of my potatoes growing in a tall box - but the picture is turned sideways and I don't have time to convert it...

Instead, here is another batch of potatoes that I have growing in a pile, surrounded by bricks.  These potatoes were from a bag that started to get "leggy" this spring.  Rather than throw them out, I planted them.  Often the potatoes from the grocery store are sprayed with growth inhibitor, but these evidently were not.  I started with a tiny hill of compost, then put the potatoes (cut into pieces) all over the top.  I did not space them - they are kind of crowded and jumbled.  I took the least care that I could, because I wanted to prove that anyone can grow anything cheaply, if the conditions are right.

I covered the potatoes, then as they grew green leaves I kept covering them, higher and higher.  I surrounded the area with bricks (that were already here...) to contain it a bit - but you can use a box, a stack of tires, a wooden frame, a barrel, anything really, as long as it has drain holes.  I'm still covering the new growth every few days with a bit of straw, compost and dirt, and I will do so until they flower.  I'll let the stalks die completely down, and then I can begin harvesting some potatoes.

Trying new things is one thing that keeps gardening fun for me - I hope you've enjoyed it too and have learned something along with me.  Life is all about learning and growing and adapting and starting all over again based upon what you learned previously.  Don't be afraid to try new and unorthodox things.

Keep on learning, and keep on growing.  :)

This post is linked in with Connie's Gardening series


  1. Great garden! Thanks for sharing the many ideas. I look forward to a place I can have my own compost.

  2. I love all the creativity going on here!

  3. Thanks for sharing, Holly! This is my first real garden this year, so I need all the help and tips that I can get! :)