My O.C.D., Raised-Bed, African Key-Hole, Weed-Proofed, Drip-Irrigation, Kitchen Garden

Yea, sometimes I feel like I have “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” – everything must be neat, tidy, and arranged just so.  But I’m also obsessive about trying out new things.  Over the last few years, I’ve convinced my sweet husband to help me experiment with a garden in the back of our urban home on the eastern coast of VIrginia.  I’m an avid fan of Mother Earth News, so look for ‘easier’ or ‘better’ tips on how to get a better yield from our garden each year.  This year will be a little different – we think it’ll be much hotter this summer, we’ll probably have much more of a crop yield, and our kids are all three going to be either out of the house, or working full-time jobs, and not interested in eating fresh lettuce or broccoli from the garden.

My husband, Jim, and I adore fresh produce, love walking out our back door at the end of the hard work day and being able to pluck fresh okra, tomatoes, or egg-plant right off the vine, bring it into our kitchen, and eat it within minutes in a salad or fresh-cooked.

Since we are trying something new this summer, I thought I’d share those methods with you, add a few photos, and see what you think.  Information on African Key-Hole Gardens can be found in this month’s issue of Mother Earth News.  We’d also advise buying your pre-established plants from a reputable garden-shop.  I’ve seen many of the ‘budget-stores’ trying to get into the market selling seedlings and the employees of these stores don’t know squat about their care and either over- or under-water them, and care for them incorrectly.  The professional garden stores seedlings might cost a little more, but they have been well-cared for and you know they won’t die within a week after getting them home and in the ground.

Step One. Raised beds, deeply tilled.

Step Two: Smoothed dirt, drip irrigation (from an ingenious system my husband cobbled and plumbed together).

Step Three: Apply weed-preventer cloth over the bed to keep weeds from taking over.  This should allow water to come right through when it rains, but keeps weeds from successfully growing up through your veggies and causing a lot of work for you.

Step Four: Get that big can of “Preen” for veggie gardens and sprinkle liberally around the edges where weeds could start growing around the beds and into/over into the raised beds.

Step Five: Cut small holes into the plastic weed preventer cover and slide your fresh little seedlings into the hole you’ve dug underneath.  This will be similar to laparascopic surgery.  Keep the hole small so there is very little avenue for weeds to use to gain a hold in the garden.  Through the hole you’ll dig down enough to set the plant, then once the plant is set, use your fingers to scrap the dirt from the hole back up and around the stem.

Step Six: If you are planting seeds, simply use a tool like a screwdriver to pop a hole large enough to slide the seeds into the ground.  Since the weed cover is going to act as the ‘top layer of soil’ you won’t need to worry about covering up the seed.  It’ll fall down a little into the cracks of the dirt anyway.  We planted spinach, radishes, green beans, and okra seeds in addition to:  Tomatoes, Bell Peppers, Cucumbers, Yellow Squash, Zuccinni, Cabbage, Broccoli, and Eggplant.

Step Seven: If you have tomato plants, be sure to prepare ‘cages’ or a support system for them.  The last three summers of our garden, our tomatoes grew to about five feet tall by the end of the summer.  They were huge and the little scrawny tomato cages sold at the hardware stores didn’t do much for our plants – they quickly overwhelmed them in about four weeks.

Notice we repurposed those little scrawny tomato cages (behind our tomato plants in the above photo) – those will be the bases for our African Key-Hole Garden mulch idea.  They did have some very sturdy legs and rings to which we attached our chicken-wire to become the new mulch collectors.

Step Eight: Center your stakes or your wire cages in the center of the raised bed, cut a moderate sized “X” in the middle where you planted the frame, then wrap it with chicken wire or whatever you have handy to repurpose for holding the yard and kitchen waste scraps.  We used industrial strength ties (plastic with teeth, you insert tail into head and it ‘catches’ to lock) to hold the wire edges together and to attach to the tomato cage wires to avoid blowing away.

Step Nine: We turned on the drip-irrigation hoses for about an hours to ensure our beds with plants and newly deposited seeds got a good soaking.

Step Ten: We’ll hopefully be able to start pulling fresh, ripe, red radishes out of the ground in about two and a half weeks (they grow fast!), and other fruits from the vine by mid-June.  Can’t wait until we get our first crop of okra!

More photos of our garden:

This photo above is a completed garden bed with tomato cages, the mulcher in the middle, and all the plants and seeds established for that bed.

Our little garden elf watching over the catnip mint.

This photo is of one of the two garden elves which watches over my garden.   She is playing a harp to the catnip mint.

The above photo shows our first ‘dump’ of garden waste into one of the African Key-Hold Garden mulch pits established in the middle of one of our raised garden beds.  We’ve planted green beans in a ring around the mulcher so they’ll have a place to ‘crawl’ up and hold on to as well as gaining full power from the nutrients which will leak out into the bed.

I can’t wait to see what this summer brings!  Those who see us regularly – we will be sharing the wealth!

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