Thursday, May 14, 2009

Is It Some Ancient Burial Ground? No!

I confess I've had some amused looks and raised eyebrows with my gardening methods. After all, it just doesn't look the same way Grandma gardened. Moreover, my garden has been strange for more than 16 years and counting. I blame that book I checked out of the library. It described how a Pacific Northwest gardener built his gardens. He loosened his soil deeply, added organic matter, and then he piled the soil up into long mounds-- a Chinese method. I duplicated his methods and have loved the results. I leave walking paths and never walk on the mounds so all that softened soil never gets compacted -- yes, I still have to remind my family not to walk on the mounds, even after 16 years! There is plenty of loose soil for the plants to grow great roots, which equals great and plentiful produce. I plant double rows with row crops (i.e. peas and beans) and single rows with wide and large plants. In essence, it is raised bed gardening with added flexibility and less cost.

How do I water it? I used soaker hoses for a good long time and changed to drip irrigation with 2 gph (gallons per hour) emitters two years ago. Now, my drip system is hooked up to the sprinkler system and comes on automatically. Yes, I'm absolutely spoiled and loving it, too.

Last year, I attended a gardening class taught by expert gardener, Gordon Wells, and I made some modifications to my mounds. Imagine, he's a mound-builder, too! My mounds, like his, now have a bit higher sides, like a banana split bowl.

Here's a photo from last year's garden with my daughter by her squash "Squishie", which she planted late.

Note the rise on the sides of the mounds and the black plastic with holes cut for the plants. The drip system runs in the middle, under the black plastic. Rocks and bricks keep the plastic in place on ends and sides. When the plants are small, the black plastic has a tendency to blow up a bit and sometimes cover a tender plant. A smaller rock beside the plant and on top of the plastic will prevent this.

Most of the mounds are about 36" wide at the bottom and 24" wide on top, including the higher sides. (Gordon Wells uses a little wider mound for crops such as squash and a 10-ft. wide mound for indeterminate tomatoes. He uses the standard width for paste and determinate tomatoes. (Indeterminates sprawl and keep growing throughout the season). When you build your mounds, make sure to leave a good walking path at least 12" wide, and probably a bit wider, between mounds -- it's tough to walk in a narrow furrow. This also adds more soil to your mounds.

I admit that the first year, it is a lot of work building the mounds. Succeeding years, it's much easier than the old methods, and the abundant harvest proves this method works.

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