Looking back, I realize that I have had a front row seat in the evolution of garden designs and systems all of my life. From large gardens that consisted of tilled up areas of a lawn to the nifty Hybrid Rain Gutter Grow System pictured above, I realize that I have seen a lot since I was young. As I am gearing up for the the 2015 Gardening Campaign and changes I am going to make to my Small Scale Gardening, I have to stop and reminisce about the evolution in garden design I have witnessed over the years.
Life as a Seedling
As a kid, I was always been around gardens. My dad bought a small farm in Central Wisconsin once upon a time, and even though he sold it after a couple years, it taught my parent some valuable lessons about gardening and homesteading before it got trendy.
My parents had gardens wherever we lived: rural Wisconsin, northwestern Wisconsin and the various suburbs of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. My mom was always growing beans, tomatoes and squash and fighting against hungry rabbits and squirrels. The bigger battle, however, was against the weeds in the garden. The large tilled up gardens always seemed to get monstrous weeds and crabgrass. Needless to say, weeding chores turned me off and effectively stunted my evolution in gardening. It wasn’t anyone’s fault; as a kid and a teen, I ALWAYS had something better to do when it came time to weeding.
Fast forward to 2010. My wife and I got excited about gardening again when a neighbor in Illinois had a bumper crop of vegetables from her Square Foot Garden. We just could not believe she had that much produce from a few smallish raised bed boxes, and we had to find out more. Smallish, organized raised bed boxes with minimal to no weeding….we had to give it a try! We bought Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening book, and we were off to the races. We started with two 4’x4′ boxes, and we had a blast. We harvested tomatoes, lettuce, basil and other vegetables, and I was hooked.
In 2011, I realized that a single 12″x12″ area was too small for tomato plants, so expanded the garden by building a 2’x12′ planter with a wire trellis to support the tomato and cucumber plants. I used the new box for tomatoes and cucumbers. The 4’x4′ boxes had lettuce, bush beans, rosemary, basil, spinach, swiss chard, thyme, dill and oregano. We had a good growing season, and I canned a decent amount of salsa and pickles.
In Spring of 2012, I got a new job, and we moved back home to Minnesota after living in Illinois for nine years. We left the square foot gardens, wire trellis and potting table behind for the new owners of the house.
We moved to Minnesota in the middle of summer, and we moved to a rental house. I missed most of the 2012 growing season due to the move. In the end, it was good to retool since it was such a hot, dry summer. It was encouraging, however, to hear from neighbors back in Illinois who had been watching our house before the new owners took occupancy. Volunteer tomato plants had sprouted, and my neighbors ended up picking volunteer tomatoes several times that season.
I started doing some research to improve the yields from my tomato plants. I heard about Mittleider Method of gardening, and in the early Spring of 2013, I made two 2’x 4′ boxes to try it out. Using the two 2’x4′ boxes and one 1’x4′ box, I experienced great yields of green peppers, basil, jalapenos, cucumbers and bush beans. Building on this success, I decided that to evolve the garden design once again by expanding to see what else I could grow.
Growing and Branching Out
In 2014, I decided to Reset to Zero and start over again with my gardens. I cleared the wild area in the back of the property that was a dumping ground from previous tenants and overgrown. I built two new raised bed boxes (one is 18″x14′ and one is 18″x8′). I also rebuilt my 2’x4′ boxes and moved them into the newly cleared garden area. Using 25% sand to 75% peat moss soil mix on most of my beds per the Mittleider Method, I went ahead and planted the new garden with peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans and squash.
I also stumbled across Larry Hall’s Rain Gutter Grow System/Grow Bag Garden System and had to give that a try. The self-watering concept appealed to me. It made sense to me that plants would soak up as much water as they wanted. After all, as Larry Hall says, “You are not a plant whisperer.” Good point! So I built a Hybrid Rain Gutter Grow System and planted dill, lettuce, swiss chard, basil broccoli and arugula in it.
I had a great season overall in 2014, and I had great yields of green peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, arugula, and lettuce. I had marginal yields of potatoes, broccoli and green beans, and I think that is due to when these seeds were planted, how much sun they got over the season and how pests attacked the plants.
Evolution of Garden Design Continues
I am looking forward to the Evolution of Garden Design once again. My overall goal is to effectively use my small space and see how much I can produce in these raised beds and other gardening systems this year. After all, Small Scale Gardening is all about maximizing small spaces and resources to achieve maximum production!
How am I going to change my raised bed and gardens for 2015?
Well, stay tuned for Part 2, and we’ll grow this together!