A Small Plot of Earth

A gardener’s skill is noticed in the most unique places within our community. On a drive through streets of Winston-Salem, take notice of the workings of a container garden. There may be a few small raised beds or planter boxes, several barrels and buckets, and pots strewn on the grass, sidewalk, and steps, or hanging. If time permits, you may discover an urban gardener’s desire to liven his or her world with fruits, vegetables, and brightly colored flowers, has also inspired neighbors across the street and next door. There is camaraderie when folks can share ideas openly and encourage those who claim to be without a green thumb to try. It is empowering to be told, “Anyone can be a gardener.” Especially those who are surrounded by a small plot of earth.

Vertical Ideas: The location, first of all, must receive six hours of unfiltered sunlight. Once that requirement is achieved, the possibilities, truly, are endless. The achievement of thriving plants growing vertically has a multitude of definitions.

  • Creating a Wall: With a study trellis, fence, pallet, or leaning ladder, a great number of plants, especially herbs, can occupy one location. Tied by fastening, or placed on a shelf, the container only needs to be well cleaned each growing season and watered to eliminate dryness or stress. (Add a scoop of baking soda, and shake it around the sides as if it were flour in a cake pan. The baking soda will encourage growth and vitality to your newly planted seeds or plants.)
  • Bowed Structure: One of the most beautiful ideas is lifting fruits and vegetables, which grow on a vine, to become established on a trellis. Imagine cucumbers, winter squash, cantaloupes, and even small watermelons without their white belly. (Just remember, heavier fruits should be wrapped in breathable, expanding transparent netting to contain them safely.)
  • Hanging Planters: One great space-saver is to invert tomato plants from the bottom of a bucket and hang the handle. Additionally, strawberries cascading over the side of a hanging basket is striking, and makes it easy to harvest the fruit. By placing hooks on available tree limbs, decks, or porches that offer adequate light, baskets can also accommodate a surprising number of vegetables, such as eggplant, lettuce, and cabbage.
  • Circular Containers: Creating a “tower” is one advantageous solution to growing potatoes. While there are several options, one method is to use chicken wire wrapped in a circle and held by posts. Place a thick layer of straw on the inside and bottom of each layer. Water generously. The key to success is adding equal parts of soil mixed with peat moss. (Potatoes love acidic soil.) Place the potatoes in a circle toward the outside edge, and cover with six to eight inches of combination soil. Check your harvest dates before starting, and plant the longest season at the bottom and the shortest near the top.

It is important to monitor your container garden and water frequently, well before discoloration, or drooping leaves will indicate high levels of “stress.” With numerous containers, group the same “material” type together. Based on the material, some pots may cause dryness and will require additional attention. Checking the health and growth of each plant daily is a must!

Assisting Soil Rejuvenation

One of the biggest challenges in a container garden is determining how to enrich soil levels easily. If you have space, you can create a small boxed area with or without a lid for compost. If managed properly, it will not smell poorly. Toss in crushed egg shells, banana and potato peels, coffee grounds, shredded newspaper, and leaves. In maintaining a damp environment and turning the compost frequently, you will discover a beautifully enriched soil. As long as the soil is not diseased, you can mix one part old and used potting soil with two parts revitalized soil.

Tip: Unlike most fruits and vegetables, soil containing tomatoes should not be placed in the same pot two years in a row. Crop rotation of tomatoes applies both to gardens and containers. If you are revitalizing the soil of tomatoes, you may want to separate it to ensure it is not used for new tomato seedlings.

Yes, anyone can be a gardener with enough determination, creativity, and spirit!