Radical Motherhood by Candyce #69

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This is the first issue that Candyce had in Slug & Lettuce.  This one is about gardening.  Future columns were focused on parenting, hence the column heading. (-ed)


    This fall is a strange one for me. For the first time in my adult life, I can look back upon an entire growing season and insert myself in the scene through every phase. I have moved constantly, sometimes without direction, and always erratically. Sometimes I am somewhere long enough to put down roses in February, but gone in early May-before I could see them bloom. Other times I have moved into a new place/area in the fall and sat around anxious for spring to come so I could start a vegetable garden, only to find myself in an entirely new place in the spring, too busy unpacking and settling in to bother with tilling and planting. Spending the last several months without shuffling around has finally given me the chance to do a lot of the things I have wanted to, and in the process I have learned so much. I know now that even if I do move again, the seasons and timing will not dictate how I garden as before.
    This last spring I set about planting a new plot for vegetables. I dug up the sod, turned over the soil, and brought in some purchased soil and humus and worked that into the ground. As I was waiting for planting time to begin, I found a book at the local library called "Square Foot Gardening" by Mel Bartholomew. The idea behind square foot gardening is that by planting things in close together in compact areas, you can minimize the space required, the work entailed, and the water used. I used this idea and some of the general information from the book for my vegetable plot, and have been very pleased with the results.
    As I was laying down my seeds and seedlings, my mother sent me a book called "Lasagna Gardening" by Patricia Lanza. Lasagna gardening is simply a way of building up fertile beds of soil from organic materials, rather than digging up sod and tilling soil. I decided to use this method for a few small beds in my yard, and again, was very pleased with the results. Because lasagna gardening is very simple and quick to do, you can realistically have a garden bed built and planted in a day. So much for waiting for next Spring, right? As long as there isn't too much snow on the ground, you can even put lasagna beds in during the winter and have them ready for the early spring crop.
     If you've never gardened before and felt overwhelmed by the effort involved, incorporating these two methods may be what you've been needing to simplify the process and make the project a possibility. And if you've already got a garden going, you certainly may want to consider giving these ideas a try in the future. Both of these books are widely available, and can likely be found at your local library. However, the basic ideas are very straight forward and simple, so you don't even need the book to get started with them.

Preparing your garden:
* Begin by deciding what space you have for growing things. It may only be a patch of lawn, a corner of a yard, or large containers. Gather materials such as scavenged wood, bricks, rocks, or even large discarded tires. You will need to build up a sort of container for whatever space you will be planting in. Ideally, the walls of your container should be about 18 inches, but if they are higher or a little lower than that, that will be fine. Stack the bricks or pieces of wood up, making a border for the area. This does not need to be perfect-slight gaps and small holes are fine. If you choose to use a ready made container (such as a large barrel), either knock out the bottom, or make plenty of holes for drainage. If you are using an area that is a cultivated lawn, lay down several layers (at least 8 sheets) of newspaper, overlapping the edges, to cover the entire area you will be containing and growing in to kill off the grass.
* Collect organic materials. You will need a variety of things, and the more variety you have, the better. Look for: Grass clippings, dead leaves, composted soil, wood ashes, sawdust, hay. You will need some good soil, so you may want to purchase that at a lawn and garden center. You may also want to purchase some humus or peat moss, which is very inexpensive.
* Begin layering the materials in the contained area you have made. I personally don't think it matters what order you do this in. For instance, you could begin by laying down some newspaper, spreading a layer of dead leaves, then some organic soil, then a layer of grass clippings, more dead leaves, some hay and then another layer of soil and so on, until it all amounts to about a foot and a half. Try to alternate light materials with heavy materials so there will be gaps for air-this is wear humus and peat moss can be useful. You do always want to have a good thick layer of soil on the topmost layer, as this will help hold any plants you put in, or will make the right bed for seeds you plant.
* Now, depending on the time of year it is, you can plant in your bed right away, or you can let it sit for weeks or even months. While I have planted in a bed like this right away and had great results, the longer you let it sit (especially if it is through a transitional phase of two seasons like winter to spring) the more the layers will have broken down, thereby creating/releasing lots of terrific nutrients.

Planting your garden:
*  You don't have to treat planting in any special way when you use lasagna beds. Seeds will do just fine, and to add small plants, just dig a hole in there and plop it down. This is where you can utilize the theory of "square foot gardening", though.
    The idea behind this is that it makes no sense at all to plant long rows of plants, which only take up space and do not utilize water well at all. By planting things close together in small areas, you will be weeding and watering in a much more contained area, thereby saving yourself time and not wasting water by having to irrigate or let water run idly between rows and just drain away.
    So never mind what the seed packets say. Measure the beds you have created, and mark them into foot square areas with sticks or little rocks to serve as guides. Below is a list of how many plants per variety you can fit in a square foot. However, you don't have to have all one type of plant in any given square foot-you can mix things up and have one lettuce plant with twelve onions, or eight carrots with eight radishes. Plant what you want and what you think you will need, and play around with the idea of how the plants might look (vegetable gardens can be beautiful!) and the heights of plants among the others. Plant tall growing plants towards the back of beds built near walls so they won't block the sun from the little guys, you know? If you are planting a large bed, you may want to allow for a walk way so you can get to all the plants for weeding, watering and picking.

Carrots: 16 plants per square foot
Radish: 16 plants per square foot
Onions: 16 plants per square foot
Lettuce: 4 plants per square foot
Cauliflower: 1 plant per square foot
Broccoli: 1 plant per square foot
Peppers (all varieties): 1 plant per square foot
Cucumber: 2 plants per square
Spinach: 9 plants per square foot
Tomato: 1 plant per 2 square feet
Zucchini and Summer Squash: 1 plant per 4 square feet

* Keep planting. You will find that your spring lettuce is all used up before your broccoli has even finished, so you will want to plant something new in it's place. Maybe more lettuce, or perhaps something else. You can keep beds like these going from early spring through fall by replacing spent plants with new ones.
* After you have set in seedlings, or your seeds have sprouted to a healthy height, you will need to mulch. You can use lawn trimmings, hay or straw, shredded newspaper, sawdust or tree bark. I like to get big bags of pine bark on sale and keep that on hand because it lasts a long time and is attractive. Whatever you decide on, make a layer that is at least 2-3 inches thick around all the plants in your bed. Mulching is the most important thing you can do. It will really help conserve water, and it will keep the weeds down. By laying down a good layer of mulch and maintaining it through the growing season, you will save yourself so much time in the long run. Whenever the layer you put down begins to decompose, just throw on some more to maintain it. I really can't stress how important it is too mulch. Do it
well, and do it often.
* Next season: To maintain your beds for the next planting season, you may want to add more organic materials to build them back up, as they tend to shrink down over time as the contents settle and decompose. Replant them and keep mulching. Be sure to rotate your crops every year-for instance, don't plant broccoli in the same place you did last year. It may be useful to draw a map of your garden and what is planted where for future reference.

    This is a very simple project that is a nice way to personalize and beautify your garden, and would also make a very nice gift, I think.
    Pick up some Quick Dry Cement from your local hardware store or garden center. We bought a 60lb bag for about $6.00. Then gather up some cake pans. I used some cheap biscuit pans that are eleven inches by seven inches, but you can use any shape or size of pan. I've heard of people using carry out pizza boxes instead of cake pans, so that is a possibility, as well. You will also need some non stick cooking spray or cooking oil. And you'll probably want some neat things to decorate with, too. We used polished river rocks to make designs with, but you could also use broken bits of tile or china, coins, beads, or other little trinkets.
- Spray the pans with non stick cooking spray or coat with cooking oil.
- In a large bucket or other container, mix the cement with water according to package directions. Pour the cement into the cake pans about a half inch from the top of the pan. Gently tap the bottom of the pan on a hard flat surface to level out the cement.
- Press rocks or whatever you decide to decorate the stepping stones with into the wet cement. Make sure they are pressed firmly in so they will stay put under foot traffic.
- Allow the cement to dry for at least twenty four hours. To remove the stepping stones from the molds, just turn them over on some grass and tap the backs of the pans.

Candyce does a rad zine called Eat Yer Heart Out, Martha.  Issue #2 is available for $2ppd US to her at 316 S. Willard Ave./ Hampton VA 23663