Posts Tagged ‘container gardening’
I only visited one of the five sites on last weekend’s first annual Urban Farm Tour, organized by Oakland’s Institute of Urban Homesteading. But I was pretty blown away.
I toyed with the idea of saving these photos, hoping I might do an interview and full story on Kitty Sharkey, who lives on her 4,000 square foot “Havenscourt Homestead” in East Oakland.
But I couldn’t wait — I was too amazed and inspired by what I saw.
Kitty — a 9-5 working woman in love with her 52 goats, ducks, chickens, rabbits, and cats (plus several bee hives) — lives on a smaller property than I do. Her own little 2-bedroom home was bought as a foreclosure, just three years ago. THREE YEARS, and she’s done all this.
What might I do in that time…
Kitty’s front yard is an official Bay Friendly Garden — she tore the lawn out (much as I’m doing now!) and put in low water plants.
The driveway used to run from the street to the garage at the very back of the property — now, just the front portion is for parking, while most of the length is used for veggie gardening! The secret to getting huge plants in containers? Poop, Kitty says. Amending the soil with manure has done wonders for her tomatoes and other vegetables.
Somehow, there are 52 animals on this homestead. That includes goats, chickens, ducks, rabbits, and cats — but doesn’t include the two bee hives on the garage roof. All that and a hammock occupy most of the backyard. Remarkably, it doesn’t actually smell like a barnyard! Kitty practices the “deep litter” method of maintaining the animal coops and pens, which allows manure to compost in place underneath a deep layer of hay or pine shavings while keeping things relatively odor-free. Whatever she’s doing, it works.
At right, Kitty addresses the crowd while the goats pull and nibble at the bottom of her shirt for attention. Maybe I should get goats on my homestead… ;)
If you’re researching container gardens, you know there are loads of options for sale — terra cotta pots, plastic troughs, Rubbermaid storage containers — and plenty more DIY instructions for redwood boxes, raised beds, and converting any “container” known to man into gardening space (did you see my computer garden post last week??).
Here in Oakland, I was looking for the cheapest possible option — but also something easily mobile, symmetrically attractive, deep enough for carrots, and wide enough to row some veggies.
I needed squares — cubes at least a foot deep.
Milk crates come in a variety of sizes (we have 12” cubes and 13”x15” boxes, and I’ve seen ones that are double wide), they’re really easy to move, they’re almost always free, and they can easily be arranged side by side in “beds.” I found most of my crates on Craigslist — I brought 28 of them home one day in my little Ford Escort when I discovered that a gelato shop in San Francisco looking to get rid of more than 100! Now I see them all over the place (I’m still hoping to score some of those double wides…).
While you can’t put soil directly into milk crates (huge gaping holes aren’t exactly conducive to holding dirt), they’re really easy to line. But what to line them with? I considered burlap, for economy’s sake and easy drainage, but I didn’t think it would last long. Instead, I settled on synthetic landscaping fabric. It’s about $25 for a 3×100-foot roll at my local Home Depot –I think I Iined about 15 crates with my first roll.
1. Cut the landscaping fabric to fit your boxes. You’ll need two identical strips for each box — the width must be 4 to 6 inches wider than the box width (if you bought 3- to 4-foot wide fabric, just cut it in half for most milk crates), and the length must be long enough to fit down both sides and across the bottom, plus a few inches leeway on each side. An easy way to measure is to wrap the fabric around the outside of the crate.
2. Put one strip across the inside of the box to cover two opposite sides. Make sure the fabric fits down into each corner so you don’t end up with a rounded bottom (likely to stretch and tear) when it’s filled with soil. Stitch in the handles on each — or wherever is convenient based on the placement of holes on your crate — to keep the fabric in place.
4. Fill it with soil! I used a mix that was about one half top soil, one quarter compost, one quarter chicken manure, plus a few tablespoons of dry organic fertilizer. I also added a few worms — we inherited a large family of earthworms when we got dirt from someone else’s yard, and I try to keep a few in each box, since they help keep the soil and plants healthy.
5. Plant! I’ve found that carrots, beans, and lettuces can be rowed in these containers, but that plants like eggplant and squash need a full container to themselves. I have peppers planted diagonally — 2 in one box — and they seem to do well that way. I found a really good resource on companion planting that I use to help determine what to plant with what and which boxes to put next to each other for pest control, flavor, shading, etc.
Holy moly… and three weeks later I’m finally back to Urbivore. No, I’m not abandoning it or getting lazy — my laptop self-destructed. My advice: keep your antivirus up to date and don’t — I repeat DO NOT — download torrents while ignoring the “Your antivirus subscription has expired” message popping up on your desktop!!
While I’d like to do this with my old laptop:
This is a much better idea (if not totally attractive in this photo…) — hi-tech container gardening!
Alas, for now it’ll stay in one piece so I can rescue things off the old hard drive as needed, and possibly so it can be fixed by my all-knowing computer guru: Dad.