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The Small Garden

11/28/08 7:55AM By Henry Homeyer
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(HOST) Last summer, gardening guy Henry Homeyer decided to experiment with somewhat unorthodox, small-scale gardens - designed to save both money in the food budget and time in the garden. Today, in the first of several commentaries on the success of this venture, he says it's not too late to start one for next year.       

(HOMEYER) Economists tell us that tough times are ahead. I suppose much of my retirement savings has disappeared, like nearly-finished maple syrup boiling over into the fire. But I haven't checked and try not to worry. After all, we always grow plenty of our own potatoes and winter squash, and fill 2 freezers with vegetables. There are many benefits of being a gardener.

This past summer I helped to prepare and tend two gardens in addition to my own. They were, by most standards, tiny: each was just 12 feet long and 8 to 10 feet wide. They were designed to prove my theory that one can grow a considerable amount of food in just 15 minutes a day if you're willing to have a small garden in the middle of the lawn.

Assuming we haven't had a thick layer of snow and the lawn hasn't frozen solid, you can even get started this weekend. You can measure out a nice small rectangle for the garden and mark its location with string and grade stakes. This will make your neighbors curious, and some may ask what you're going to build in middle of the lawn. That's OK. Seeing those stakes will remind you that - come summer - you'll be growing your own salads or tomatoes or potatoes or beans - whatever it is that you crave fresh from the garden.

Before I planted those little gardens-in-the lawn last spring, I had the soil tested by the state Extension Service. That's something else you might be able to do now - or later when we have our January thaw. Use a shovel to remove a square foot of sod, and gather up a cup of soil. When you send it off to be tested, ask for the test for organic gardeners, and be sure to get it tested for the percentage of organic matter. You want to have about 8 percent organic matter, but lawns rarely do.

If you're starting with an average lawn, the soil is probably acidic. Adding some limestone or wood ashes will fix that. Since soils change pH slowly, your soil will be better when spring comes if you add it now. You can just sprinkle some limestone or wood ashes over the grass, and let rains and melting snows wash it into the soil. But moderation is important. Soil with too much limestone won't be productive. One shovel of ashes or limestone spread on a 9 by 12 garden is a good start for most plots.

Gardening should be fun, and if you don't bite off more than you can maintain, it will be. So think small. I just wish I could follow my own advice.

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