Eye On Life Magazine

Lifestyle * Literary

Eye on Life Magazine is a Lifestyle and Literary Magazine.  Enjoy articles on gardening, kitchen cooking, poetry, vintage decor, and more.

Urban Gardening – Well-Designed Money Gardens

Sometimes it’s a good idea to take concepts and things that have worked since man came out of caves, and take a fresh look at them. I can picture in my mind some caveman (probably some cave woman) stepping out of that cave one morning and saying to themselves:

“There’s got to be a better way that risking getting eaten by an Allosaurus, and running around ducking a flying Quetzalcoatlus. I bet if I look around in this forest closest to the cave — I’ll find something else for breakfast, after all it’s right in my own backyard.  Gee, I really like this.  Maybe these seeds from it will grow.”

Out in that early edible forest garden, was man’s fundamental experimentation — finding a way to successfully raise food, and not have to risk everything traveling on bare feet in a hostile world, paying a price they couldn’t afford.  In my day dream, when that cave woman stepped outside everything around her was food. Fruit and nut trees (apples, pears, peaches, pecans, etc.) all framed the canopy picture in the background of the scene she saw. There were gaps in the tree line, and in them grew raspberries, blueberries, grapes, and the like. Closer in, her bounty included wild edibles, herbs, wild flowers, and perennial vegetables.

She didn’t have to be a modern day Master Gardener to know that some of what lay in her edible forest urban garden was for food, other plants and trees were for medicine, still others for the benefit of insects, birds, butterflies, and wildlife. In the open sunny areas, some plants supported each other, some served as soil builders, and others kept the weeds at bay.

To some degree in nature and remote wild areas, the cavewoman’s edible forest can occur quite naturally. However, to the wide-awake me, it’s the ultimate in terms of both art and science, in designing an edible high yield family garden. It’s the kind of garden we should all have.

Realistically, unless you have at least thirty feet by fifty feet (9x15m) free space and a fairly temperate climate to achieve such a permaculture, this is pretty much a day dream for most gardeners. It would also be difficult to achieve this diverse, high yield, self-maintaining, healthy ecosystem in urban and even suburban America in many parts of the country.

I think right now, in our current uncertain financial times — many of us don’t have the time, patience, or the land to achieve such an edible forest. Maybe we can’t garden in a forest, but to a certain extent, we can garden like a forest, on smaller scales. Happily there are many alternatives that can keep the Allosaurus from eating our modern day food budget, and the Quetzalcoatlus from darkening our skies — and that’s what I’d like to share today.

Welcome to Your Edible Urban Money Garden

Money gardens were similar in nature to Victory gardens of the Great Depression era. Burpee Seed Company has capitalized on this concept in light of the growing food crisis and dramatically raising food prices.  They’ve determined that for roughly $10 in seed, another $40 in fertilizer, etc. the average family can save $1,250 in groceries by growing their own fruits and vegetables. They are even offering a savings packet of seeds to encourage this.

They are right; basically, a family can save about a 1 to 25 cost savings ratio just by growing their own fruits and vegetables. Having an extra $1,250 back in the family budget is one way of giving your family it’s own bailout.

I’m not necessarily recommending Burpee’s plan, although a sound one — only because it is limited to only offering six different vegetables: Lettuce, tomatoes, green beans, peas, and carrots. Now, that’s great if those varieties are the only vegetables your family likes and eats. Notice non-existent amount of seeds offered in this planting plan when it comes to fruits.

I’m much more in favor of growing vegetables and fruits, in a more thoughtful and uniquely designed plan that is tailored to your individual family’s preferences and needs. If no one in your family likes string beans — there’s no point in growing them.

Selecting the Proper Site for Your Urban Vegetable Garden

Location, Location, Location

  • Nearest the house if possible
  • Away from natural predators (poultry, dogs, wildlife) if possible by fencing. Remember that fences also serve as trellis’ for pole beans, tomatoes, and other crops in need of support
  • Sunshine - vegetables need at least five to six hours of full sunlight during the middle of the day
  • Away from root competition (not under trees and shrubs)
  • Good gardens grow where weeds grow
  • Good gardens shouldn’t be placed where the land is low or wet
  • Never plant over septic-drain lines, tanks, or mounds
  • Near a source of irrigation

Edible Money - The Urban Gardener Basics

Plan for Gardening Success

As with anything that involves expense and hard work, you need a plan for your garden, if you want to be successful in off-setting the high cost of grocery store food purchases. There’s an old Proverb that most of us have heard at one time or another that applies here:

“He who fails to plan, plans to fail.”

Well, your garden will probably grow, but you’ll be working a lot harder at the very least, if you fail to plan your edible garden on paper first. The best way to approach this is to draw on paper:

  • The location of each crop
  • The amount to be planted
  • The date for each crop to be planted
  • Decide what crops will be rotated in behind the earlier ones, and where they will be placed
  • Decide where and what companion plants are to be planted
  • Try to use any existing fences for trellis vining crops (cucumbers, pole beans, etc.)
  • Don’t grow the same crops in the same location for more than three years in a row (crop rotation)
  • Use wood stakes, string, and a yardstick to lay out straight rows
  • Plant corn in blocks instead of rows to distribute the right amount of pollen to the corn stalks
  • Be sure to allow enough space between rows to be able to tend to and harvest your crops

 Urban Vegetable Garden Plan Considerations

  • Plant tall plants along the north side (to reduce shading smaller plants
  • Plant medium high plants in the middle
  • Plant low growing plants on the south side of your garden
  • Make garden rows north and south to allow exposure to sunlight to be even for all rows and plants
  • Group plants, if possible, by similar growing instructions and number of days until maturation
  • If you are hampered by lack of space, use wide-row methods (intensive gardening) of beds four feet wide, then plant mini-rows of vegetables
  • If you are hampered by lack of space, consider square-foot gardening methods
  • If you have physical challenges (not limited to those in wheel chairs, or back problems), consider making your garden a “raised bed” vegetable plan
  • Crops with a longer growing season until maturity should be placed to one side of the garden
  • Group all herbs together as they need similar care

Nourishing Your Money Garden

Protecting your investment in your money garden has a lot to do with being organized and realizing that gardens need tending.  It’s no secret that you can’t just plant them and forget them. They need watering, almost daily inspections, feedings, and good planning to begin with — if you want your harvest and efforts to pay off.  Still, I don’t think it’s all that hard, nor near as much work as most non-gardeners imagine it to be. Nor, is it as hard as those of us, who had to help in the garden as children remember it to be either.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Cherry Tomatos - Photo credit: Dennis WoodOne of the problems that novice gardeners, and even some seasoned veteran family gardeners have is trying to gauge just how many of a certain vegetable they want for the year. Almost all garden resources are very vague on this topic — probably because it’s subjective according to individual tastes, room to grow crops, and even weather.

Space-wise, the general rule of thumb is that you’ll need approximately 100 square feet of garden space per person. Beyond that there are certain yardsticks that seasoned gardeners know — like:

  • You should plan to plant two tomato plants per person in your family that actually likes and eats tomatoes. Anything more than that, probably means you’ll be canning tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, chili sauce, ketchup, and be gifting surprise packages on your neighbor’s front door, when you see them drive away.
  • Plant six to eight of lettuce, or other greens per person in your family that likes and eats them. Do this every 3-4 weeks during your peak growing season.
  • Grow greens indoors or in protected areas during the winter.
  • Three to four rows per person for string beans.
  • Watermelons, squash, cucumbers, and cantaloupes - four to six melons per vine. Remember that commercial watermelon growers thin them to two per vine to get bigger watermelons for market. Some varieties can grow way more fruit on just one vine than a family of four can eat in season. On average you can expect about 10-15 pounds per person in harvest per vine.
  • Corn is subjective. Generally, you only get 2-5 ears of corn off one stalk.
  • Potatoes will yield 15-25 potatoes per plant. The average family uses 110 pounds of potatoes per person per year. That’s only about 8 plants per person.
  • Strawberries are very unpredictable in terms of per person yields. One prolific hanging basket can out produce many strawberry plants in a hundred foot plot. Strawberries depend a lot on soil type, and weather. I don’t think you can over plant strawberries for most families and if you do, they freeze well.
  • Perhaps the biggest problem most first time and even long time gardeners have, is planting more than their family can consume. Some of this has to do with not investigating fully, the yields expected from certain vegetable and fruit plants.
  • Part of the problem is throwing all caution to the wind when planting very tiny seeds like carrots, and not thinning plants when they first sprout. There is a simple solution found in your cake decorating supplies that only needs the investment of a box of Jell-O.  Simply make Jell-O according to the box directions, mix the seeds in when it gets to room temperature, then pour into your cake decorating bag and hand squeeze into the garden.  The Jell-O keeps the seed waste to minimum and also nourishes the seedlings.  This method works for planting carrots, celery, and other small size seeds.

Another part of the food growing dilemma, is not knowing what to do with excess crop in terms of canning, freezing, selling, or gifting.  Then, there are those who want a garden, but don’t have a place to grow crops, have work schedules that don’t permit such activities, or have physical limitations that hamper being able to grow their own food. Some may just be convinced that they have a brown thumb or even a black one, and aren’t anxious to kill still another living thing. Thankfully, there are other opportunities for everyone to at least grow some of their own food.

Fun Money Garden Fact

There is a plant called the “money plant.” The Lunaria Annua grows silver dollar size seeds that look like half dollars. It also has beautiful purple flowers. It’s a nice conversation piece and addition to your garden or patio