Urban Garden Test

Last fall when I began to come up with my plans for installing urban gardens I decided that I should start with our yard in the front of our apartment. This is a relatively small plot and didn’t have very fertile soil, but it was close, got a good deal of light, and was all that I had to work with at the time. I drew up a simple contract with our landlords saying that we would keep the spot looking nice and that we would transform the garden back into lawn when we moved (if so wished).

My sister and I took soil samples from the yard and sent them off to get analyzed at NC State’s soil science department (as an aside–send samples off in the fall as it takes much longer than expected to get results). My wife and I began to sketch the general form  that the garden would take. I read and re-read seed catalogues trying to figure what to plant, when to plant it, and trying to keep my enthusiasm for seed ordering in check. 

At this point in the process, we began the initial garden “construction.”

 

 

This is the front of our apartment this winter, pre-gardening.

This is the front of our apartment this winter, pre-gardening.

We decided to terrace the yard because it already sloped down to the street, and we didn’t want to construct a retaining wall. We built the smaller terracing walls from unused materials that we found in our neighborhood. 

 

This was the progress after the first day. Half of the soil had been turned and the first retaining wall was complete.

This was the progress after the first day. Half of the soil had been turned and the first retaining wall was complete.

 

2 days of work, about 5 pairs of hands, a bunch of borrowed tools and some found objects

2 days of work, about 5 pairs of hands, a bunch of borrowed tools and some found objects

After the restructuring of the front was complete it was on to soil amending and finally the planting of the first of the cool weather crops. I learned that the more time you give the organic matter (compost) and other amendments to be incorporated into the existing soil by natural processes, the better. I recommend doing the prep in the fall and giving the soil a few months to stew.

 

Here are the first crops from the new garden--Lots of lettuce. The beets, carrots, and spinach were not as prolific as hoped.

Here are the first crops from the new garden--Lots of lettuce. The beets, carrots, and spinach were not as prolific as hoped.

As the temperature warmed and we got a feel for the space (and added more compost) we began to plant warm season plants and we also began to see more healthy growth from all of our plants. I’m looking forward to growing cool season crops this fall and winter to see how they respond to the improved soil.

The county school office is next to our place and they have their grass cut on a regular basis. The clippings are dumped between the buildings and, in the past, have been left there to compost. I started  to collect the clippings to use as mulch in the garden. We mulched the paths and around all of the plants. This helped to keep weeding to a minimum, retain soil moisture, and give the space a more presentable overall look.

 

The garden is starting to fill in. Luckily, the hail didnt do any real damage.

The garden is starting to fill in. Luckily, the hail didn't do any real damage.

In addition to the vegetables, we planted wildflowers in the front of the garden by the sidewalk. The flowers are not only for human enjoyment, but also attract beneficial insects, and provide habitat and food for various other city-dwelling creatures. Our ever-expanding collection of container plants also play a roll by serving as visual and physical boundaries, and they are nice to look at as well.

At this point, things are doing so well that I spend more time pruning / removing plants than planting new ones. The space does not allow much horizontal room for vining plants, so I put in vertical bamboo structures for them to climb on. The tomato and pepper plants also have bamboo construction for support.

 

So, this is the garden at the beginning of August. The wildflower are tired, and the vines are taking over!

So, this is the garden at the beginning of August. The wildflowers are tired, and the vines are taking over!

Now, we just sit outside, talk with our neighbors, and enjoy the fruits of our labor.

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