This summer my husband and I joined a community garden in the South Bronx where we have been living for the past several years. Each member is required to commit to a specified amount of community service hours before they can receive a garden bed. Upon completion of those hours and a paying a small annual fee, the garden provides a 4’-0” x 8’-0” wooden raised bed. Each member is required to fill it with soil, plant anything, and tend to the seedlings as required throughout the gardening season.
We spent a lot of time researching and speaking with the veteran gardeners learning their tricks and tips for a successful season. We took a few ideas here and there and created our own little experiment for how to garden.
Initially, we documented how the sun moved across the entire garden and took into account the spacing of individual garden beds. Knowing that the plants have the ability to climb, we factored that into the total amount of daylight our bed would receive. Each gardener is allowed to build a trellis or anything that reaches a maximum of 10’-0”. Our closest neighbor to the east built a 10’-0” trellis for her vines so I was aware that we would need to strategically plant to maximize sunlight on our plot. As the sun moves from east to west our bed could significantly loose sunlight as the season neared completion (September – November).
We used a technique that was mentioned to us by a fellow gardener called “Squarefoot Gardening.”
After understanding the sun patterns around our garden bed, it seemed most reasonable to document the seedlings that I had planned to plant and organize then from east to west, shortest to tallest. Our initial seedlings consisted of chives, thyme, dill, lettuce, rosemary, swiss chard, purple basil, cabbage, bell pepper, kale, jalapeno, broccoli, and various types of tomato plants.
We tied string at 12” increments all the way around the bed creating a grid pattern which allows for 32 different and separated square foot plots. Each plant has its recommended amount of spacing. We unfortunately didn’t research at this point the recommended spacing for each and we assumed each plant would get its own square foot. Throughout the season we learned that each plant requires a different square footage. For example, kale and cabbage require a significant amount of space. Where we used 1sf for each type of plant, kale and cabbage could have used more like 3 – 4sf each. We found that our plants fought each other as they grew to obtain the most sunlight. They often overlapped and weaved around each other.
Overall we found that our gardening technique was a success. We learned a lot of do’s and don’ts for the next planting season which we are starting in April. Due to the fact that we care for our garden bed daily by watering and pruning, we were able to harvest fresh vegetables almost daily throughout the entire season.
As of today, the tomato season has ended and those plants have been removed to make way for the very invasive tomatillo plant. The moral of the story was that no matter how much we planned the tomatillos won this battle. They have officially taken over about 50% of the garden bed but as a result we get to make lots of salsa!
Olga Anaya, Designer