It's Not Too Late for a Fall Garden
Help Stretch That Food Budget!
I lived here for about a dozen years finding a spot somewhere every year to plug in a couple tomato plants so I could have my "bacon 'n mater sammich" at least once or twice during the summer months. A couple years ago I figured it out, and decided to step it up a notch. I have never been happier - and I believe a couple of neighbors are pretty happy too! There aren't many things better than that first, vine ripe tomato, some fresh yellow and zucchini squash, fresh green beans, maybe some cole slaw from your cabbage or fresh broccoli, strawberries, bell peppers or even banana peppers, and so on.
I love fresh vegetables and it is so easy to get a small raised bed garden together and have those things you love the most. Saving money is a part of it, and can be a significant part of it. Since the first ripe "Better Boy" came in, I have pulled no less than 40 pounds of beautiful ripe tomatoes from my 8 vines. That is some number of bacon and tomato sandwiches with white bread and Duke's Mayonnaise and a little salt and pepper - a couple jars of tomato sauce put back for later this year and some pretty good vegetable soup on a stormy summer day.
The basic plan is simple enough. Go round up something to provide a box to hold some soil in. My raised bed is one railroad tie deep and two ties wide - approximately 8X16 feet. I sprayed the grass inside the box after I set the ties in place so I wouldn't have extra grass making its way up through the soil. I made a plan to include a drip hose because it gets hot where I live and we can go for a couple weeks along the way during the growing season without rain. Here in North Georgia we also are subject to watering restrictions and drip hoses are the only way we can water our gardens.
With the problems of watering and water retention, I started my plan with a base of leaf mold or decomposing organic material I was able to pick up free from our city. They pick up limbs and leaves and grind then compost them and allow the locals to come by and pick up a truckload or two for free. Sometimes if the loader isn't too busy they will do all the heavy lifting for you!
Keep Building on the Plan
After the layer of leaf mold, I put down several inches of topsoil from a local soil merchant. I didn't know there were such folks, but I found one. I'm sure if you went to your local Walmart or other big box store - or my preference - your local feed and seed store - they would have the different bagged products like topsoil and other organic soil amendments. There are a couple of things you are trying to do with your bed. You want to be able to hold moisture; you want to have the soil provide a strong base for the roots to hold up the plant and you want to provide some basic, organic fertilizer for the plants to grow in.
Yes, you are going to water these plants - either with the drip line I show mixed in with the soil shown or with a hose and some time standing there spraying it. This is important throughout the growing cycle.
Smooth up the soil when you get it all in the box. With these ties about 9 inches tall, you can see I have added about 7 inches or so of fresh soil and soil amendments. I mix in some long-term fertilizer products that meter out their goodies over 30 or 60 days. Now lay out what you are going to plant and place them on top the soil before you plant anything. Think through things like tall plants over short ones, those that need to spread out and those that only grow up.
Squash take off like a vine once they get going. Cabbage take up a good bit of space. Same thing with Broccoli and tomatoes really need support and space.
In the spring you can wait to plant some items that can't possibly take a late frost - so you plant things early like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, onions and strawberries are all pretty cold tolerant. These are the same products you can be choosing in mid-summer that will be maturing up into the fall when an early frost might kill weaker plants.
Later in the spring - usually around here we choose the week after Easter (sometimes that is late, sometimes that is early, but frosts just don't happen a week after Easter here). That is when you can insert your tomatoes, beans, squash, eggplant, and so many other vegetables. As the early spring products mature and can be removed, make the most of your limited space and plant started plants back in their place. This way you can get the most from the space.
It is cathartic for me to work my garden. I love the digging and watching the blooms come on. I love pulling a fresh tomato off the vine in the morning, or anticipating the sauerkraut I'll be making with the cabbage. This is my garden in the picture above. On the left are strawberry plants, then tomato plants, broccoli is next, cabbage after that, then 4 bell pepper plants and 4 banana pepper plants, the side closest is 2/3 yellow squash, the back is zucchini and beside them are okra that have just poked up through the ground. Outside of the box on the right are my blueberry bushes. If you look to the background you can see the end of my grape vines and in between I have my blackberry vines.
If you just decide you want to do this - you can with very little outlay and a little time. Enjoy a fresh cucumber or squash or ear of corn. It is fun, good for you, good for your family and you can share a little (there will be plenty) with the neighbors! That makes it even better.