Organic Vegetable & Herb Gardens
The idea of eating fresh organic vegetables just picked from your own garden or having a supply of fresh herbs just outside your backdoor is a particularly primal vision that most gardeners, if not most people, can relate to immediately. Yet, how many of us have actally attempted the creation of such a garden? For those with little or no gardening experience, the intimidation can be great. There may also be those who harbor memories of disasterous, muddy, weedy attempts at making a vegetable garden. For all those people, as well as more experienced gardeners, we offer a simple and low-maintenance approach to creating a beautiful and bountiful vegetable and herb garden in your backyard.
The main consideration in selecting a site for your garden is sunlight. Healthy vegetables and herbs require lot of light, so choose a site that recieves ample sunlight. You may also want to avoid steep slopes, though terraces are a completely viable option, and consider which views that you wish to leave open, and which views you are inclined to want to block out.
RAISED BEDS WITH COMPOST
While it is possible to garden directly in the ground, this can bring up a number of challenges inclunding rocky soil (nearly a given in the Catskills and Hudson Valley), clay soil, acidic soil, poor drainage, poor nutrient balance, and toxic residues. All these issues are sidestepped with raised beds. The beds we construct are typically made from hemlock and stand 8" tall. Stone beds are also possible. They are built directly on top of the existing site, with no other preparation, and then filled with weed-free compost over a layer of weed-supressing cardboard or newspaper. We use high-grade organic leaf compost from an local professional composter, but you could use your own compost as well, or even use uncomposed yard materials (grass clippings, leaves, kitchen scraps, etc) stacked in layers to fill up the raised beds (an approach known as "lasagna gardening"). This approach eliminates any need to use a rototiller, plow, or shovel, and the beds are immediately ready to plant. High quality compost is also free of weed-seeds and rich in slowly-released nutrients. Many crops will flourish in such conditions without any additional fertilizer. While some weed-seeds will still come in on the wind and sprout, they are easily pulled from the loose soil.
There are many historical inspirations here including the English kitchen garden, the four-square garden, and the French potager (pronounced with the French accent!), and this is a great place to do some research and apply your creativity and vision. While these styles all have their particular differences I would emphasize the similarities. The main thing in desingning the garden layout is to create small, easily accessable gardening spaces separated by easily walkable paths. Your design can be symetrical or not, but most will have some degree of formality, which will work best with the geometric raised beds.
FENCE & GATE
For many people in the Catskills and Hudson Valley, a vegetable garden is not possible without a way to keep the deer out. If deer ever visit your property, a proper fence is a necessity. Luckily, it is also another way to add flair and distinction to your garden. We recommend using posts made of red-cedar, which are long-lasting and give a natural look to the garden. Posts should be spaced about every 6 feet, should stand about 8 ft. above the ground, and should be sunk to a depth of about 3 feet. Between the posts, low visibility black wire deer-fencing is one option. Decorative cedar braces are another, and certainly create an immediate impression of rustic hand-crafted quality. The gate should be wide enough to accomodate a cart or wheelbarrow, and can be exteneded to create a more solid architectural feature and focus.
For those lucky enough not to worry about deer, a lower fence can still bring a sense of structure and enclosure to the garden.
PLANTING & MAINTENANCE
A detailed look at this subject is beyond the scope of this article, but for the most part, it is a simple and straight-forward process. Spring and early summer are times for seeding. Scrape a shallow trench in the compost, drop in the seeds, backfill and stomp with your foot, water well, and wait for the seeds to sprout. You may want to draw a simple planting plan ahead of time, and use a string and stakes to help with the placement. Wooden stake labels are also very useful and appreciated when you forget what you planted earlier! You may want to have separate areas for herbs, vegetables, and flowers, but ther are no rules. Some of our favorite and most attractive gardens are planted with a mixture of all three.
No garden will be completely weed-free, though the raised bed should be much-more so than other types of gardens. Still, occasional weeding is necessary, especially when the sprouts are getting established, and some plants will require special attention, such as the staking up the tomato vines and keeping an eye out for pests, but this should not be a reason for intimidation. The harvest will be in before you know it!
Compost is highly water-retentive so this type of garden requires less watering, but you will want to maintain a regular schedule of checking the soil moistrure and watering when necessary. An fairly easy option for reducing or eliminating watering time is to install a drip irrigation system. This is a very efficient option and maintains soil moisture while using minimal ammounts of water.
Have fun and enjoy the harvest!
FernCreek Design *
Olivebridge, NY 12461
(845) 657 - 0324 * info@FernCreekDesign.org
Serving the Catskills, Shawangunks, and Hudson Valley including Ulster County, Dutchess County, Kingston, New Paltz, Woodstock, Saugerties, Phonecia, Wawarsing, Accord, Marbletown, Naponach, High Falls, Rosendale, Stone Ridge, Tillson, Gardiner, Hurley, Shokan, Rhinebeck, Rondout, Port Ewen, Hillside, Lincoln Park, Connelly, Eddyville, Bloomington, Esopus, Pine Bush, Boiceville, Olivebridge, Krumville, and surroundng areas.