Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

May 8, 2014
Compact gardening beds the easy way

Remember to join Gary Fawson and me this coming Saturday at the “Gardening Walk and Talk” at the Fawson grounds in Grantsville. This expansive landscape complete with shady grass walks, ponds, bridges, ramadas, pastures, mature trees, shrubs and meadows is sure to please and fire up your imagination with new ideas for your yardscape. There is no charge for this event and you can ask questions to your heart’s content. The grounds are located in northeastern Grantsville at 187 Waterhole Way. To get there, turn north off Main Street onto Booth Street, right on Barbed Wire Drive, left on Waterhole Way and proceed north to the end and then turn right into the driveway. We’ll be there from 10 a.m. to noon.

If you’re like most gardening-minded folks, this time of year really gets you enthused about new planting areas and beds, varieties of vegetables to try, and more accessories to put in the garden and yardscape. For most, there are still places around home that can be utilized for a small kitchen garden, or to place a splash of color with annual and perennial flowers.

Of course, big dreams, if realized, come with work attached. Many a planting has been thwarted by not having beds done before the hot weather settles in. “Spring fever” gives way to the hard realization that digging into ground, that was soft not too long ago but now resists your spade, is just not that enjoyable.

If I’ve described you, let me suggest a couple of approaches that can whet your gardening appetite this year. It’s likely that when you think about a planting a seed bed, you envision digging down into the soil, amending it, and smoothing it for planting. Let’s challenge that approach. Instead of digging down, let’s go up. Let’s add a layer of growing medium on top of the ground’s surface. Suddenly, the condition of the native ground is much less important and the difficulty of preparing the bed has all but disappeared.

One way to get started is to simply purchase 40-pound plastic bags of potting mix. Don’t use “top soil,” as it has much less organic materials in it than potting mix. It’s warm enough now that you don’t need to be concerned about getting frozen bags of mix. The bags will be pliable and will be easy to handle. Simply smooth the bags flat on the ground next to where you want your garden. Use a utility knife to cut several short slits all over the bottom of the bag. This will provide drainage through the growing medium. These are necessary and if not done will lead to putrid soil and dead plants. Now roll the bag over and place it where you’d like to plant your new little garden. Smooth the face of the bag and then cut a large pane of the plastic out, leaving only enough border to retain the soil. Repeat this as many times as you would like to fill the available space. Be sure to leave access space or aisles so you get around your new instant garden. Plant your starts or seeds directly in the soil mix, water as usual, and watch them go. At the end of the season, or in the early spring, simply remove the plant material, turn the bags over and empty them into the space. You’ve both improved your soil as well as enjoyed a crop. This is a good technique for annuals. Removing debris and dead plants at the end of the season will also discourage overwintering insect pests.

If you decide to do the bagged mix approach on a slab, you’ll need to be aware of a couple of things. First, you will need to put some spacers or pipes under the bags to create small channels for water to drain away. Water must move through and away from the bags to maintain a healthy growing space. Second, water moving through soil mix will stain the concrete. You can cover the concrete with plastic, but water has the maddening habit of finding a way under the covering and you’ll likely end up with some discoloration. So, if that concrete needs to stay pristine, look for another location for your instant garden.

Another approach is to use small 24-inch by 24-inch growing boxes for mini gardens that can be both productive and decorative. These are easily constructed using four pieces of 24-inch long by “2-by-6” redwood or cedar pieces. Once cut to length, turn the pieces on edge and connect them in as “chasing” pattern at the corners. Affix a piece of quarter-inch galvanized heavy duty screen (known as “hardware cloth”) to the bottom using small fence staples or strips of wood nailed with galvanized nails to the bottom edge of your box. If you really want to bump up attractiveness and utility, you can cut some small handholds, or affix pull strap handles to the top edge. Painting them in bright hues and colors is a great approach too. Place a piece of weed block on top of the hardware cloth, fill with potting mix, and plant some “pick and come again” or rapid growing plants such as basil, spinach, loose leaf lettuce, radish, or small headed lettuce. These “mini gardens” are fun, decorative, productive and can be moved around as desired for shade and sun. Kids love them too as they grow their own small garden. Try putting their names on them for a special treat. Eating veggies will never be the same for the little ones in your life.

Once you get those beds or mini boxes ready, it’s time to plant. Assuming you’ll be planting veggies, here’s a great tool to help you determine what varieties work well here in Northern Utah. Visit (don’t you just love those long website addresses?) for a fact sheet entitled “Recommended Vegetable Varieties for Northern Utah.” The sheet was compiled by surveying a variety of sources, both professional and hobbyist, for their insights. The listing will certainly get you going in the right direction, and perhaps challenge you to try some new crops or varieties that you’ve never have before. Being bold pays off in the garden — so go for it.

Jay Cooper

Garden Spot Columnist at Tooele Transcript Bulletin
Jay Cooper is a new contributing writer for the Garden Spot column. He replaced Diane Sagers, who retired in November 2013 after writing the column for 27 years. Also known as Dirt Farmer Jay, Cooper and his wife have been residents of Erda since 2001 after moving to Utah from Tucson, AZ. A passionate gardener and avid reader of horticultural topics, for several years he has been a member of Utah State University’s Master Gardeners Program, and served as chapter president in 2013. Cooper says Tooele County has an active and vibrant gardening community, and the Garden Spot column will continue to share a wide range of gardening, landscaping, home skills and rural living themes.

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