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Gardening for Lazy Bones Part Two

Part, the second Guest Article by His Laziness Stravo Lukos

Didya miss me?

I was busy finishing my outdoor chores and winterizing my cars. Get ready for Wonderful Winter, folks. This is the time everything and everyone has for rest and recovery. Your plants are doing the same; just remember to wrap your young trees so that they don’t freeze and split during a spate of warm days and frigid nights.

In the last part, we spoke about planning and zoning. Generally, you will want a southerly exposure for your gardens. If you live where the sun becomes brutal after 1400 hrs. (2 p.m.), then you will want a structure or tree to shade your crops, or at least some of them, usually from the south to west-southwest sector. I haven’t met a cornstalk yet that didn’t soak up as much sun as I gave it, though, so study your plants’ needs.

Another tip: If you don’t prune your tomatoes and eggplants, those extra leaves actually help shade the plant and its fruit. You won’t harvest as much all at once, but you’ll harvest plenty enough over the long haul. Nature’s pretty smart that way.

How did you do with those lists? Generally, most of you will plant the stand-byes, like tomatoes, corn, squash, beans, and peppers. Allow me to suggest a few more: Potatoes, eggplants, radishes, peas, spinach, cabbage, leafy lettuce, greens (e.g. chicory, dandelions, argali, mustard, endive, chard, stinging nettles), strawberries, raspberries or blackberries (depending on your climate), and herbs like oregano, basil, dill, chives, cilantro, mints, chamomile, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Of course, you don’t have to grow all of these, but you should do yourself a favor and plant those you like. You’ll be using herbs and flowers for companion planting, too; however, more about that later.

Don’t, do not— upon pain of litigation for attempting to work— rototill, spade, or otherwise tear up your garden space. If there is sod there, just cover the area where the raised bed is going with mulch and newspaper (no colors, please, just b&w newsprint). Grass cannot grow without light.

Why a raised bed? Because it’s the best way to garden, as well as the easiest. If you have a hidden lot, simply mound the area as high as you wish, but remember to keep it no wider than you can reach to touch center. NEVER step on your raised bed. Verboten! Raised beds discourage rhizomous weeds and warm faster than their ground-level counterparts. If you live on poor soil, such as that found here in Spokane, you can build up the garden with a layer of sandy loam, then compost and finally, rich topsoil. My raised beds are two feet high, 10 feet long, and four and a half feet wide. You can make yours any length you wish, just don’t make them too wide.

If you have enough garage or shop space, start building your raised-bed boxes during the Wonderful Winter. I used 1” x 8” x 10’ cedar planks with treated 2” x 2” x 4’ cedar stakes for support. If you live in an area plagued by ground squirrels, moles, or other such burrowing vermin, get some heavy-duty metal screening to cover the bottom of your boxes. This means you will need to make the boxes at least two and a half feet high to accommodate long taproots, like those on tomatoes. If you use chicken fence, it won’t stop the little monsters; they’ll squeeze right through the openings. If you are mounding your raised beds, you must plant stuff that repels burrowing pests, and that’s easier read than done. It’s a hungry world, and starving animals will put up with just about anything in order to eat, especially early in the growing season when sustenance is hard to find. Deer, rabbits, raccoons, birds, and bears are a different challenge. Fences (electrified work best), repellents, and big, mean dogs are about your only defense. You’ll still lose some plants to the critters. I’ve heard of some folks planting a sacrificial garden to the local fauna. Dane geld, I say. I’ve watched an entire month’s efforts slurp underground to be devoured by ground squirrels. Then they took my offerings in their little garden. Know thy enemy. As for diseases and insect pests, we’ll discuss those later, too.

I use cedar whenever the whatever will be in contact with the ground or buried in it. Cedar rots very, very slowly. Treat the wood with a preservative, and it will withstand harsh weather. Slap some asphalt-based roof emulsion on it, and the wood will last into the next millennium. See your local hardware expert for the latest wood preservative. And don’t forget to treat the ends of the wood, also. Water will search the smallest opening to enter and decay your boxes.

After you’ve cut and treated all your wood, measure the distance between your support stakes. These will hold together the beds as well as stop them from bowing out under the pressure of soil and water, especially when it all freezes. Starting on the long side, align your planks (three or four) side by side. Don’t worry if there’s a bit of space between some of the boards. Place the 2 x 2s perpendicular to this sidewall. Put the first and second stakes no more than a foot from the corners. Now find the center of the sidewall and put a stake there.

On my 10-ft. wall, I needed to place two more stakes between the center and corner stakes, making five supports in all. On the end sides, I used only two stakes. At first, I predrilled the wood, but soon became impatient and just muscled the screws (not nails!) into the stakes. Some cracked, so I slopped on more preservative. Don’t be so lazy. You’ll have better results. I’ve heard of self-drilling wood screws, and if you can find them, use them. Also, make sure your screws are the exterior type. You knew that. Butt your ends and screw securely. The screws should have plenty of purchase into the wood, but you don’t want to go too far into your planks, either.

Remember that all American lumber is measured green, which means that it’s never as big as it says it is. Allow for at least an eighth inch shrinkage; therefore, if you use 2 ½” screws to secure your walls to the stakes, you’ll do just fine. Slap that emulsion inside the garden box and to the bottom 18” – 20” of your stakes, the part that’s in the ground, and you’re all set. Stravo Lukos has been gardening and landscaping since he was eight years old. "Every oldtime Greek and Italian had a garden. It was the 11th commandment." Now, 44 years later, he still is learning and experimenting in lazier, more efficient, less expensive ways to grow plants. He has a BA in English, with several courses in forestry and soon, a certificate in horticulture. His yard is a wildlife sanctuary, veggie gardens, and a fruit-nut-and-berry patch.

Other interests include hiking slowly, camping in luxury, teaching kids how to garden, reading in bed, road bicycling on level ground, hugging his dog, smoking cigars, and cuddling with his wife in front of the television. Life is good.

You can contact him at [email protected] ,but it'll take forever to receive a reply-- if he gets around to it.

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