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December 27, 2014

Make This: Build a better garden with home improvement hand-me-downs

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Posted: Sunday, March 30, 2014 12:45 am

Space for a garden at our house is limited. It’s a battle I’ve been passively fighting every year since we moved in. First we had a garden in the backyard, but a massive oak tree shades 90 percent of the space back there, so that didn’t work too well. I tried an all-container garden one year, but that didn’t produce much either. Then I dug up the front side yard and filled it all in with a special mix of soil designed for squarefoot gardening. That didn’t work so well either — it was too much garden, and not enough sunlight in some spots.

Last year we moved the majority of the garden to a friend’s land out in Coldwater, but I still had one tomato plant in a landscaped bed I created. The Coldwater garden didn’t do so well, but the one plant at home gave us a steady supply of cherry tomatoes — although one plant doesn’t produce enough to satisfy all of us.

This year will be different. A couple weeks ago I realized that we spend $40-$50 a week in fresh fruit and vegetables. Tomatoes, green peppers, blueberries, strawberries, oranges, bananas, cucumbers — hundreds of dollars a month to feed my family the fresh food we love. That’s why this year I will have a successful garden, and I’m incorporating it into the landscaping.

I’m determined to be as frugal as possible. Much of what I’m using to build landscaping I already had on hand, like the 50 or so cinderblocks that came with the house when we bought it. I have built, planted, dug up and replanted these cinderblocks just about every year, trying to find a proper use for them. This year some are being used as a border/pathway in one garden and I built two planters out of some others (and believe it or not, there are still more left).

Blueberries are a favorite treat in our house, so this year I decided to plant some bushes. Blueberry bushes are well-suited to container planting because they prefer an acidic soil, but need 2-3 feet to spread their roots. Containers that large can be quite expensive, but with the cinder blocks I built them to just the right size. I also put a couple blocks on the ground inside the planter to make it not so deep. Then I lined the planter with landscaping fabric, filled it partway with garden soil and planted the bush. Since I purchased mature bushes (3-4 years old), they should be ready to harvest this year.

Admittedly, the bare cinderblock isn’t the prettiest container for landscaping. I planted some sugar snap peas in the holes of three of the cinder blocks, fashioning planters out of blank newsprint to fit into the holes of the vertical blocks. Once the peas sprout, I plan on training them to grow around the planter, which should help disguise the cinder block.

I also used some bricks leftover from the demolition of our old laundry room to create stairstep planters next to our front steps. While I haven’t planted anything yet, I’ve designated those spots for leafy greens such as spinach and Swiss chard. I also rearranged some landscaping bricks at the top of those steps into a strawberry bed.

I created another landscape bed in front of our house, filling a spot that was once occupied by an overgrown bush and ugly decorative grass. The bush has been trimmed back dramatically to allow more sun to get in, and the grass was removed and replaced with garden soil. Two rows of cinder blocks create a border and pathway at the rear of the bed. The front border of the bed was made from large rocks we found in our backyard. I planted romaine lettuce transplants and impatiens in that bed. The lettuce survived the cold this week — the impatiens did not.

The next step is to fashion some nets to keep out the birds, squirrels and toddlers.

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