Gardening: Expanding the Empire!

Aug 31 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

As I've been thinking ahead to next year's goals, I have been critically eyeballing my yard.   I would like to expand my gardening square footage by at least double for 2012.  Because I now have 143 sq/ft. of ground under cultivation, that means I'll need to total 286 sq/ft.  What to do?

The easy victims are the planters in my front yard.   Right now, they are your standard ornamental planters, complete with rosebushes, weeds, and neglect.  But there is huge potential there.  The advantages are that there is already a border wall, installed irrigation, and 84 sq/ft. to use.  I am not sure if I'd yank up my lady rosebushes or just plant around them, because roses can be used for food too.  But either way, there are an excellent candidate for conversions to food production.

Exhibit A: Your standard, underutilized ornamental suburban front yard planter. This is a prime candidate to convert to food production space.

I'm left now trying to pick up an extra 59 sq/ft.  There are a couple of options I am toying with, and both include terrific amounts of backbreaking labor.  I am not looking forward to that part, but it is the cost of doing business in these parts.  Option A is to tear up a section of lawn and install a raised bed there.  This would involve sod removal, border building,  soil placement and building a dog fence.  However, it would be irrigated and I could pick up 108 sq/ft.  The other option is to use a strip of ground along the back fence the chickens have so graciously been clearing out for me.  It would have all the same requirements as the first option, except with the additional disadvantages of receiving less sun, being under a pepper tree, and having reduced access from the fence side.

Exhibit B: Patch of lawn that's gonna die! Aside from all the labor required to build a raised bed here, the hardest part will be to sell the Hubby on the fact that this needs to go!
Exhibit C: The back fence. This patch of ground is presently receiving the chicken-bomb treatment to clear it of nuisance vegetation. My least favorite choice, yet it still remains a candidate for conversion to edible space.

I am not sure what the best plan of attack is, but I have some time to mull it over and figure costs.  I'll keep you posted.  In the meantime, if there is anyone who has any suggestions or recommendations on sod-busting or raised bed building, I'd love to hear it.  If we can use recycled materials to do it too, even better!  Thanks!


9 responses so far

  • Zuska says:

    I have one of those seriously neglected ornamental front yard planting beds. My notion was to turn it all into native plants (I have great farm markets around here and am super unmotivated to grow food that the herd of deer living in the patch of woods in my back yard will eat before I get to it). So far I have gotten exactly three native plants into it, one of which (native wisteria) I am thinking of ripping out because it will not bloom and is eating the porch. But there was a praying mantis on the other native plant this spring! And I haven't seen one of those in years. So I guess I'll keep trying with the native plants, to support the native bugs, and give the birds something to eat.

    • suburbanstoneage says:

      I am glad to hear you've tried native plants! I tried some too in the back yard. Working with natives is going to take some practice, I can tell. Either my plants died completely, or look like stolid dullards. My project ended up looking exactly like the native-clad hills of So. Cal, which are, frankly, ugly 10 months out of the year. It'll take some trial and error to find plants that are both native and fit the bill. If you have some success for your area, please share! I'll do the same!

  • Karen says:

    If you're trying to grow food, think sun, sun, sun! We have an oak tree partially shading our veggie garden that my husband refuses to part with, yet he bemoans the fact that we get our first (and few) tomatoes in August! He doesn't understand why I've lost all interest in trying to raise veggies. I might find my veggie-growing interest again if he'd only let me get that damned tree cut down.

  • suburbanstoneage says:

    Excellent advice! That practically eliminates the option under the pepper tree. I would love to chop that tree down, but its trunk is in my neighbor's yard and it leans over the fence. I appreciate you comment, it probably saved me many hours of labor and seasons of disappointment!

  • Nicole says:

    You are in So Cal, yes? If so, a little shade won't hurt anything. When I lived in So Cal I had about 5-6 hours of sunlight per day at the peak of summer and had no issues growing anything vegetable. "Full sun" means different things in different regions. I'd skip gardening under an oak tree, though. Too dry. Very little will grow under an oak.

    One of the easiest ways to convert a chunk of yard to a raised bed with with large sheets of cardboard or plastic. If you use cardboard (aka sheet composting), you can leave it down since it will eventually rot but the first year your plants will be a little shy on root space. If you use plastic, it solarizes the soil and kills almost anything under it, including good microbes and such, but they will repopulate from nearby soil. 4-6 weeks later, remove the plastic and add your compost, etc. and plant away.

    P.S. There are several trees known "pepper trees" -- you may want to ID it for sure. If it is a Schinus molle, it produces edibles berries, namely pink peppercorns.

    • suburbanstoneage says:

      Thanks! I do live in southern CA, I am very glad to hear that you have had success with 5-6 hrs. of sunlight. My existing ornamental planters face due east, and receive about this much light.

      Regarding sheet composting, if I solarize the soil, will the grass invade from any existing lawn outside the kill zone? If yes, I'll need to factor in a buffer zone around the bed. I am glad to hear you recommend these methods, as it seems to be a great way to save wear and tear on the back.

      Ah, yes... the pepper tree is a Peruvian pepper tree, Schinus molle, as you mentioned. I am glad you mentioned the Latin name, as I Wikipedia-ed it to confirm and found that the leaves/berries may be potentially poisonous to poultry (!!!). Of course, the tree is exactly over their yard, but so far we've been ok. The feathered Ladies would like to thank you for keeping them safe and their owner educated.

      • Nicole says:

        "will the grass invade from any existing lawn outside the kill zone?"

        Eventually, yes. Solarizing doesn't keep the soil from becoming habitable by plants (fortunately!), but how quickly you have to deal with weedy invaders really depends on your kinds of lawn plants. Here in the sultry south, bermuda grass will start making inroads in a couple of weeks with their runners -- over or under whatever barrier you put up. Weeds like creeping charlie require more time, but they will come in from below and when they do, look out. I don't recall ever having anything so brutal in So Cal, but the climate certainly could support some weedy barbarians.

        Height of bed will help, as will sinking an edging material into the ground 4-6". But nothing is 100% proof against weeds. Or if there is, someone is keeping it a secret.

        My formal vegetable garden is raised beds forming terraces on a hillside of untreated southern yellow pine 2x8's (cheap, local and very renewable here) which I thoroughly coated with boiled linseed oil. It should last a minimum of 10 years and probably 15 and even the termites haven't touched it. Stone or concrete is obviously more durable, but also more expensive and takes up more width, and bermuda grass easily works its way through the tiniest cracks. I used a different method for this site: I tilled it up originally in the winter, let the frost damage the roots, and then filled the beds with horse manure and topped with lots of old straw mulch. Weed problems have been relatively minor; I just pull up a few when I do my daily check of the garden in the afternoon. Only the violets are usually vigorous enough to grow through that much mulch. Pathways are simply mulched with whatever is free; I need to fine some more since it rots so quickly.

        I am putting in about 900 sq ft of decorative but mostly edible landscaping this fall but it will not be raised. It will be solarized (baking now, actually), mulched and then have a mowing strip made of concrete pavers (or similar) along the edges to avoid the labor of weed-eating. I might add a sunken edging later if it gets necessary.

        Chickens... someday. Or ducks, since I'm less likely to lose them to hawks if they cruise around outside.

  • Crystal Voodoo says:

    When I built my dad's raised veggie beds I ended up cutting out the turf in sod sized squares and about 4 inches deep. Then I took concrete landscaping stones that were about 2"x6"x12" and stood them up on their side (think the obelisk from 2001) and staked 2 pieces of rebar one on the interior and one on the exterior of the bed. My dad and I then capped the top with a lumber railing to keep everything aligned and together. It's held up about 7 years now and the height keeps the lawn from encroaching. Just a thought for your consideration.

    • suburbanstoneage says:

      Thanks for the suggestion! One of my concerns about a raised bed is the longevity, that yours has lasted 7 years is a great sign. The last thing I would want to do is put in all that effort and have to so it again in a few years because teh beds deteriorated. I appreciate the feedback!