My neighborhood is called ‘midtown.’ There is the north side, south side, east side – and midtown. Midtown is composed of homes a little over 100 years old. The lots are generally about 75 feet wide and about 150 feet deep. We have alleys. None of the homes are ‘ranch style.’ And the garages were built for Model T’s. The trees are mature – many well over 100 years old. So where in the world does one put a garden?
Gardening is one of my favorite pastimes. Most of that energy goes into my perennial flowers – but I like a small vegetable garden too. Midtown has many old people like me – and we like to keep our yards neat and clean. Gardens, by their nature, are not neat. Mine is.
It took some work – but even my fastidious neighbors tell me they like my garden. (Maybe they just like the extra tomatoes that I freely give away.) In any case, I offer here some ideas for urban gardening (which is different than patio gardening.)
My garden is twenty four feet long and four feet wide. That is big enough for six large tomato plants, a set of onions, and several herbs. I like oregano, thyme, basil, Italian parsley, and chives.
My garden is raised about nine inches above the yard. The base is made of landscape timbers – readily available at Lowe’s or Home Depot and just about any hardware store. When not in a protest mode over American capitalism they can be found at Wal Mart. The landscape timbers come in eight foot lengths – so four by twenty-four is a convenient size to minimize timber waste. My landscape timber are stacked three high – thus about nine inches above the yard.
My yard has a slight slope, designed to drain the spring rains. But my garden is level. To level the garden I had to do some digging – the south side of my garden is two timbers above they yard, the north side three timbers. You get the idea. You will need a shovel, a level, at least twenty four feet of string, a strong back, and a weak mind, to complete this project.
I don’t know what most people do – but I used liquid nails as an adhesive between the landscape timbers. I suppose one could just use big nails or long screws.
After I built the structure I had to fill it with dirt. The local newspaper classified section has several fly-by-nights that sell black dirt. I calculated 24 ft. x 4 ft. x 1 ft. to get volume and called the dirt guy to order 96 cubic feet of black top soil – that seemed like a reasonable request. I think he charged me $50 to haul the dirt over in a dump truck and dump the pile of dirt in my driveway. I used a wheel barrow to hall the dirt to the garden.
I asked the truck driver how they measured the 96 cubic feet and he said they didn’t – they just loaded the truck and called it good enough. The pile of dirt sure looked like enough. It turns out that I filled my garden, all recesses in my yard, and two neighbor’s gardens with that truck load of dirt. The good life of small town Missouri living.
I fashioned five foot tomato cages with wire mesh that is customarily used as reinforcement in concrete slabs. Again, Lowe’s or Home Depot – I recommend Home Depot because I own stock in that company.
My custom is to purchase all of my plants at a local nursery. Very seldom do I start with seeds. If I do it is because I am bored in the winter. My garden usually has six tomato plants, two cherry, two early girls, and two beefsteak.
To keep the weeds down and a neat presentation for my neighbors I use cocoa bean shells. I buy those at the local nursery. About $12 of these shells covers the garden. They look nice and can be tilled into the garden in the fall.
My annual investment is about $25. From that I reap most of the herbs I need for a year or two, and so many tomatoes that I cannot find enough places to give them away. (I sometimes bag a few tomatoes and leave the in the dumpster at Aldi’s for the local Freegans.)
Anyway, my garden looks nice, I am entertained, my neighbors get tomatoes, and the freegans are happy. Everyone wins.