Backyard Garden Dreamin’

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Would you like to create an edible landscape? Some individuals are turning their lawns or small acreages into food-producing backyard gardens representing a sustaining, integrating system. These self-sufficient edible landscapes are often in yards where fruit trees, berry bushes, vegetable plants, and grape vines grow in a bio-diverse situation providing unadulterated food.

It is amazing what one can raise in a small area. For example, one gardener’s family enjoyed a wealth of fresh vegetables for up to eight months from a garden of 500 square feet.

Advantages of Backyard Gardens

One is never too old or too young to pursue gardening. Gardening becomes a great interest to many of us; as time passes, most are tempted to try more complex techniques. Not only is this activity entertaining, but it is also extremely rewarding because of the bountiful fruits and vegetables that are available to eat.

In addition, backyard gardens lower food costs and provide healthful vegetables. They reduce the environmental impact of transporting and warehousing food, make meals more personal and appetizing, and connect family members with the weather, growth, and renewal. Children also build memories of these gardens and of working together.

First Steps in Backyard Gardening

First, one must clear the land of unwanted vegetation such as volunteer trees, ornamentals, and any other growth. This makes space for planning and planting. This area must be designed to manage water runoff and increase rainwater infiltration.

Once the gardener understands what is in the yard to work with, it is time to improve the soil, select plants, plant them, and take steps to promote their well-being.

Soil is vastly important in backyard gardening. Check the type and composition of soil in your backyard. Soil analysis is usually worth the nominal fee charged. Healthy soil assists in repelling pests while producing healthier plants with greater strength and resistance against illnesses and insects.

Soil should be prepared early in the spring or even during the previous fall. Remove all stumps, unwanted shrubs, and volunteer trees. Dig up the soil to about one foot. Add 2 or 3 inches of rotted leaves, aged manure, and compost. Mix this into the soil and level the area. Before planting, be sure to loosen the soil. Most plants require adequate fertilization and good sandy loam soil high in organic matter. If desired, starter fertilizers can be added. However, if the soil is rich, this should not be necessary.  If fertilizer is needed, use 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) each month while the vegetables grow. The fertilizer should be kept 4 to 6 inches away from the plants. Always water plants after fertilization.

Planting Choices for Backyard Gardens

There are many choices for backyard gardens, and they largely depend on the family’s needs and tastes, as well as location and climate.

Most backyard gardens include herbs and spices which add texture and scent.  Some are so attractive in appearance and scent, that gardeners can’t wait to add them to their cooking. These plants are also low maintenance and generally do not require fertilizers.

Annual herbs can be started from seed. However, woody perennial herbs are better started from cuttings or seedlings.  If seed is used, first moisturize the soil. Then, spread the seeds evenly so the plants will not be too close together. The depth should be three times the size of the seeds. Some types of seed should be dropped on top of the soil because they need sunlight to spout.

Some gardeners use pots to start plants. Later, when the plants become seedlings, they are transferred to the garden. This practice ensures that most plants will grow and thrive.

Vegetables for Backyard Gardens

Decide the amount of available space and how much energy you want to exert in vegetable gardening. Select the areas for growing certain vegetables.  Be sure these areas have full sun for at least five to six hours daily.  Check the path of shadows during the day from trees, fences, or buildings in the yard. Areas with the maximum amount of sunlight will be best for the plants.

Some gardeners double-dig gardens first removing rocks and roots with a pitchfork. Then, they use the same implement to turn up the soil. The fork more easily penetrates the soil and saves more earthworms.

Vegetable beds can be any length. However, keep the garden beds narrow because widths under four feet make areas easier to weed. Design pathways wide enough for a wheelbarrow; twenty-four inches is ideal.

Select the vegetables to be planted and decide how much room you have for them. Space most vegetables two feet apart. Some that do not take up as much space may be planted closer together. Allow extra space for vegetables that require cages or poles. Vegetables will have different planting times, growth rates, and harvest times. Plant taller vegetables in the back rows. This prevents them from stunting shorter plants with their shadows.

Seeds can be planted at any time the soil is ready, however, cloudy day or evening plantings are best to keep potted plants from wilting. Dig holes and place vegetable plants slightly higher than they were in containers. Tomato plants are planted deeper, sometimes covering two-thirds of the plant.

Most vegetables take about one inch of water weekly during the growth period.

Weeds, at times, mean more labor. However, a layer of mulch two to four inches deep will prevent weeds and evaporation of moisture. Cultivation is another means of getting rid of weeds.

Fruits and Berries for Backyard Gardens

Fruits and berries are investments in time and energy. Of course, some fruits require more labor. Again, choices rest on the individual’s tastes and desires. Also, be sure that choices are well-suited to your area’s space, climate, and soil.

Goji berry, black currant, Chinese chestnut, American hazelnut, and juneberry trees and shrubs are good in backyard gardens. Also, Nanking cherry, peach, pear, sand cherry, pawpaw, beach plum, quince, and fig trees are possibilities.

One backyard gardener managed to plant 200 trees and shrubs within one-third of an acre of land. Some of those trees may have been dwarf varieties which require less space.

Success in growing fruit depends on a variety of selection, soil management, fertilization, pruning, and pest control. It is best to plant only what can be cared for.

Small fruits offer advantages, such as requiring a minimum of space for the amount of production. In addition, these trees bear fruit one or two years after planting and pest control is more manageable.  Small fruits should be planted in the full sun as close to your house as possible

Fences, trellises, or arbors can be used to support grape vines and raspberries, or for vertical-growing plants.

Berries and small fruits don’t generally take up as much space as trees. However, a full-size, highbush blueberry plant may grow up to 12 feet high and 6 feet wide. Blackberries, too, can grow 6 feet tall and spread wide.  Planting these in a raised bed will keep them manageable.  Blueberries may be planted to form a dense hedge or planted along a foundation.

Strawberries can serve as borders for vegetables. They also do well in raised beds or even in hanging baskets. These plants are the easiest and most rewarding to grow if the right variety is chosen. Strawberries are usually at peak production for just one to three years. Of course, this can be increased if the strawberries are thinned. Try the everbearing plants which produce two smaller crops or even a newer variety that produces fruit all simmer.

Blackberries, dewberries, and boysenberries are good choices for backyard gardening. The boysenberry, easily killed by cold, should be planted only in places with mild winters.

Currants and gooseberries, hardy and easy to grow, are good also choices. One gooseberry plant will generally produce enough fruit for a household. These plants, which grow in almost any soil, require little to no pruning.

Raspberries, having shallow root systems, should be planted about 6 to 12 feet apart. This allows mulching or space for cultivating to keep out weeds.  Well-tended, these should bear for ten years.

Blackberries planted one year produce the during the next year. They like full sun and will do well in less-than-ideal soils. They require little care. One cup of blackberries gives 50% of the RDA for Vitamin C.

Today, most of us are taking a good look at what we are eating. Some far-sighted individuals are taking control of what they eat by growing food in backyard gardens. Most efforts go beyond a few tomato plants growing in pots. An edible forest of onions, chard, potatoes, spinach, lettuce, and squash not only provides healthful eating but is also a money-saving venture.

In most cases, one doesn’t have to “go rural” to see these amazing gardens. City dwellers are becoming more self-sufficient and gaining more self-esteem with their unique creations of beautiful, productive gardens.  The benefits of such a venture are enormous, leaving a legacy of memories and an abundance of fruits and vegetables.

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