Friends/enemies/everyone in between has probably heard me mention at some point about how I’ve been working with friends in an area garden over at UCI for some years now — locations have changed on campus a couple of times but the general idea has remained the same. Local organic gardens are fine things in general, I think — they’re not ever going to be full-on agricultural producers at such a small scale, of course, but they’re not intended to be; instead the whole idea is that combination of community, work, being out in nature (or a small, sculpted version of it) and general detox from the day’s work that a visit can provide. For some time now a small bunch of us, mostly consisting of friends Stripey, Y. and Marianne, with myself as general guy-who-helps-out, have worked in a couple of small plots with fun results.
Earlier this year was the most recent move, where we had to leave our old group garden and move to a new location elsewhere. If you start here and scroll forward in the stream a bit, you’ll see some shots of what our old setup was like — a great location in general, though not without problems thanks to a persistent four-o’clock that grew throughout the area, along with a slightly crumbling infrastructure in general. We and all the other gardeners had to leave since the land was due for further campus development — not unexpected, though much sooner than anticipated. After some months of unsureness, a new location was selected and with a lot of prep we were able to make the move in late July — I thought I had some photos of that around but it doesn’t appear to be the case.
The new location, between swathes of graduate/staff housing, is another prime spot — flat and open, thanks to some prep work by the campus — though the soil itself is fairly rocky. But for some time everyone in my group has practiced what is called ‘square foot gardening,’ after the book of the same name by Mel Bartholomew. His own site provides more general information about this approach, which is extremely practical if you’re dealing with tough soil or a limited growing space, and based on my experience I’d highly recommend it.
In brief, the idea is that instead of digging into the ground to plant and grow, you build frames to place on the ground in which you mix and lay down your soil, and then plant what you’d like. It requires a touch of planning and investment, obviously, but no less so than any other garden approach might in the end — in response to a fellow gardener’s question, Marianne mentioned that if you figure out the size of the frames, you can go to Home Depot where once wood has been selected the staff will cut planks three times without charge, saving you the sawing, while deck screws would be the best way to hold it all together since they aren’t prone to rust. Meanwhile, the soil blend we use combines peat moss, compost and vermiculite, the latter being a common plant additive for holding the heat.
Yesterday most of us went out to the garden to further settle things in, since we’ve only all been there for just over a month. But what’s striking is to see how well the garden plots in general have been settled into over that time — far from being a barely weeks-old project, it looks like it’s been around forever, as these shots show:
As for our own plots, a couple of weeks back we laid out the five rose bushes that had been brought from the old garden, along with a couple of other plants. The roses had to be heavily trimmed back for the move so they don’t look like much right now, but they’ve taken to their new locations well and next year they should look grand:
Meanwhile, most of the basic layout of the beds and garden stones had been completed over the past two weeks while I’d been unavailable, so most of the work I did was in helping prepare some more of the beds for planting. There are gophers in the area — a couple of mounds have been spotted — so a necessary step — and an advantage of the square-foot method — was to put heavy-duty chicken wire and/or the equivalents under the beds before filling them up with soil. The weight of the frames holds the wire down, the soil taking care of the rest, and allows some roots to go further through the wire without risking them as a whole to nibbling from below. The end result, along with some further infrastructure improvement:
These are just two of the beds, with others having already been readied, and the idea is to continue preparation as we go; even if the full summer growing season is missed, there’s still fall and winter ones to consider. We had the advantage of bringing over a lot of the soil from the old location as well, so there’s plenty of handy reuse happening, as opposed to starting from scratch.
We also brought over a good amount of the bark used as ground cover for open areas on the old spot, and while it only covered an initial portion of the space here, as you can see in this area near the roses, it’s a start:
And with some further clean-up from there we made plans for more bark and more planting and all, and reflected on a job well done:
While enjoying an overall view of the place on the way out:
And from there it was off to a mutual friend’s place for a group meal of chicken soup made from scratch (right down to the broth), good flatbread and an excellent salad, plus drinks and dessert galore:
There are much worse ways to spend a Tuesday evening!