Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Working With Obstacles

So you are creating your garden, planning beds and plants and maybe some decor, a comfy spot to enjoy it... then you come across an Obstacle.  Anything that gets in the way of the flow of your garden space or your enjoyment of it, or blocks light or walkways, is an Obstacle.  My yard is full of them, your yard probably is too.  some Obstacles can be removed, others can be worked around, but even better is turning the Obstacle into a focal point and highlight of the garden.
An ugly shed turned into a pumpkin patch.
The biggest eyesore in my garden, an obstacle that blocks light to the side yard completely, and cramps my garden space is our ugly old shed.  It leaks and is rusty and needs to be replaced, but until I'm ready to take on that task, and expense, it has become my pumpkin patch.  In an earlier post I mentioned that I had grown pumpkins in a 4'x4' bed, 6" deep.  It's true, not only that, but the same space provided a row of runner beans, a HUGE zucchini plant, a few lettuces and some marigolds and calendula. I used some of the techniques found in the Square Foot Garden system to keep the bed small, while filling it with "Mel's Mix" for the best possible combination of moisture retention, nutrition, and drainage.  Lastly I built a trellis system.  The pumpkin bed had two open sides, one side that backed against the fence, and one that backed against the shed.  On the fence side I used lightweight chicken wire and plastic trellis to run the beans up, covering the fence side entirely in a carpet of beans, leaves, and flowers.  The pumpkins were planted on the shed side and trellised up a nylon 7" square net tied to electrical conduit poles.  The entire pumpkin trellis cost me about $25 to build, and while nylon is very strong it will wear out over time; but the frame will never wear out.  I can reuse that trellis frame for years on end, it is easily removed and set back up if needed, I plan to build many more of them in the near future.  (You can find the specific directions for building this trellis in the SFG book by Mel Bartholomew, which I found to be a wealth of great ideas).  The pumpkin trellis supported 3 pumpkin plants that grew up over it and onto the roof of the shed.  From those plants I got a total of 5 pumpkins, with a total weight of about 75 lbs.  The largest was 33 lbs.  More importantly, I was able to grow pumpkins in an area I didn't think was big enough, kept the shed from being an eyesore, and the pumpkins were up off the ground; far from rodents, slugs and other pests, getting great sunlight, away from kids and pets.  I will never grow a pumpkin on the ground again!  The one caution I will offer in regards to this system is that growing large pumpkins like the Cinderella variety I grew you run the risk of the fruit weight breaking the trellis strings and the fruit falling to the ground.  One of my pumpkins did this, luckily it was nearly ripe and I heard it fall so was able to process it immediately and salvage most of the fruit.  It reached 17 lbs. before the string snapped and if it had been on the shed instead of dangling on the side, or supported with something more than the one nylon strand it never would have fallen.  Everyone who saw my garden last summer exclaimed over one of two things: The pumpkins on the shed, and the massive sunflowers.  No one mentioned that the shed could use a paint job. ;)
When working with an obstacle if it can't be removed, or worked around, try finding a way to incorporate it into your design.  Turn a stump into a plant stand for a huge pot of nasturtiums, hang trellis netting on a fence and make it a wall of green, grow pumpkins on top of a broken down car, or if you have a massive patch of empty where no one goes?  Throw a few different packs of squash seeds out there and see what happens.  I actually plan to do the last one with the side yard near our compost pile this year.

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