Dear friends: I hope you've decided to garden with me this summer and grow some sweet cherry tomatoes, lettuce, some other good things to eat, and maybe a few flowers. Let's get started.
Today I'm going to show you how to choose a spot for your garden, how to build a garden bed and a cage bed, and how to get the soil ready. Then on Monday we'll talk about the really fun part -- planting your small crop.
First, look for a spot where the sun shines quite a bit during the day. Leaves use the sunlight to turn the nutrients (raw food) that the roots bring up from the soil into sugars (``cooked'' food) that the plant can eat.
The spot in the yard which I chose is shady early in the morning and again late in the afternoon. But in between it's nice and sunny. Most plants like 6 or more hours of sun, but lettuce will do nicely with only 4 hours. Even tomatoes that love lots of sun will grow with less than 6 hours. In other words, don't give up on gardening just because you don't have lots of sunlight. If you have only a shady place available, that's OK. I'll tell you about some other plants you can grow that don't need much light.
In my garden I've made some ordinary garden beds and some cage beds. Here's how to make an ordinary garden bed:
1. Mark off where you are going to have your garden. Don't make it too big. Push a stick into each corner of your garden plot and tie string between each of the sticks.
2. Use a spading fork to loosen the garden soil inside the stringed area. Push the fork into the ground and turn the soil over. Throw out any grass or weeds when you dig, and any big stones. Little stones don't matter.
3. Add some peat moss to make the soil soft and comfortable. You can buy it at garden centers. Look for a package that says ``milled sphagnum peat.'' I would suggest you put two to four bucketsful of peat on a garden that is 4 feet by 4 feet (16 square feet, in other words). After spreading the peat evenly over the garden, blend it into the soil, using a garden fork.
In my garden the soil is acid, so I have added a little lime to make it nicer for the plants. Not all soils are acid, so ask someone at your nearest garden center what is best for your area.
After you dig over the soil, you can try something that I did to make my garden look nicer: I put planks of wood -- called 2-by-4's -- around the edges of the garden. Then I nailed them together at the corners. The wood border helps keep moisture in the bed when you water the plants, but it's not necessary. Just rake the soil smooth, and you'll be ready to start planting.
My cage beds are small, round beds with a circular fence around them. The fences are there to support plants that grow tall. I plan to grow cucumbers, runner beans, and tall cherry tomatoes in mine.
To make a cage garden, all you need is a piece of chicken wire or stiff wire fencing about 5 feet long and 4 to 6 feet high. You will also need two wood or metal stakes to support the cage.
1. Dig over the soil and add peat moss just as you did for your square garden, but in a circle that's 2 feet in diameter.
2. Drive the two stakes into the ground 6 inches apart anywhere on the edge of the circle.
3. Put up the fencing around the circle, using wire or string to attach each end to one of the stakes.
I've made my cage bed an easy way by taking an old tire and wrapping the fencing around it. If you try this, fill the tire about halfway with soil and peat moss to make a bed.
Now you will have a sort of wire tube or cage with a slit down one side. The gap or slit is there so you can reach in and pick the fruit or vegetables that grow inside the cage.
You're ready for planting.
All the best,
Peter Tonge P.S. The first part of this series ran June 5.