Thursday, March 5, 2009

Building the Kitchen Garden - Part II

The new kitchen garden is well underway, the construction is complete, and I couldn't be more pleased. Last weekend my sturdy helper and I woke up early, got our run out of the way, and headed to the local mega-home improvement store to rent a roto-tiller. For a sum well under $100 we had the use of a powerful power tool for a 24-hour period.

We proceeded to remove the turf from the entire side yard. The only thing we would spare is the spindly Fig Tree we rescued from someone's trash and planted last year. I chose the location based mostly on the fact that it is the only piece of our yard that gets full sun. This piece of the front yard was hardscrabble at best: I have never really taken care of it. It had been reseeded at some point with a type of grass completely inappropriate for the blistering Central Texas summers. And unfortunately, because it sits on the corner of our lot it gets a lot of dog traffic, and not all of my neighbors are as consistent about cleaning up after their dogs as I am.

I harbor high hopes that by revamping this area from a rough-and-tumble piece of turf into a thriving garden it will curb some of the ill-mannered littering that goes on there. I know for sure it will look better- lusher, greener, and more lived-in. These are the added benefits of my new kitchen garden.

My sturdy helper ran that tiller all day. I followed behind. Slowly, and with much tedium we picked and plucked every bit of old grass and weeds out of the area. We raked and re-raked. And at the end of a very long day we retired to the couch with take-out, a bottle of Vihno Verde, and a Woody Allen movie.

Sunday we rose again, feeling rested, refreshed, and pleased as punch with ourselves for what we had accomplished on Saturday. We loaded the rented tool into the back of my tiny car, and made the quick trip back to return the rental and purchase the lumber we would need to finish the job.

We spent a good portion of the day building the beds. We used untreated lumber, and I highly recommend that if you try this at home you also use untreated lumber. The chemicals used to weatherproof lumber can leech into your soil, and therefore your food. We built a total of seven 4' x 4' raised beds and arranged them randomly around our newly tilled piece of land. These beds will give me a total of 112 sq. ft. of kitchen garden, which isn't overly ambitious by anyone's standards, but is plenty for a household of two.

The previous week I had made the trip out to The Natural Gardner - my local organic garden center and nursery. When I walked in I asked for help, and I was lucky enough to have asked someone who was not only willing but able to help a lot. I told her my plan, showed her my drawings, and made it clear that I was a transplant from Minnesota and that this was my first attempt at gardening in Texas. She was a fountain of useful information; providing me with charts of what to plant when, and which varieties are best adapted to our growing conditions. She showed me the seeds, talked about soil amendments, and then marched me off to the dispatch office to hook me up with some dirt.

That truckload of organic soil was delivered to me and my waiting raised beds mid-week. Based on a bit of complicated math, I had ordered 3 cubic yards, which is a lot. Not being one to sit around when there's work to be done, and motivated by my excitement and enthusiasm, I filled all of my beds that same afternoon. Wheelbarrow load by wheelbarrow load, I got the job done. Then I added the recommended soil amendments; Glistening Green Sand, which is basically potash and iron, Cottonseed Meal, and worm castings.

As it turned out, I had too much dirt for the job. About 1 cubic yard too much. I blame the math. Fortunately, I have friends who garden and I was able to gift the extra dirt to them. I was glad to do it, and they were glad to have it.

By dinner on Sunday the construction of the new kitchen garden was complete. The best thing about the construction process was a realization that I had picked an ideal location for my new kitchen garden. Not just for all the reasons I stated above, but because I was out there in plain view while I worked and people noticed. Countless folks stopped to chat, ask questions and offer their encouragement. It became clear that I would not only harvest edibles from this space, I will also get to know my neighbors, and the folks who travel around the neighborhood. This is a benefit I had not forecast, but which I welcome.

Stay tuned for Part III - In which I plant the Kitchen Garden.

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