We've been doing a lot of building and tinkering in our garden - and I thought I'd show a few of our recent additions.
Vertical gardens: Like many people who are "food-scaping" their yards, we are always looking at ways to grow more intensively, in order to maximize our harvest within the limited space of an urban lot. One basic principle of intensive gardening is to go up wherever possible. Tomatoes, beans, peas, squashes - anything with a vining habit - can be made to grow up a fence, trellis, arbour, or other support. This allows for the plants to receive maximum sunlight and air circulation, and it means that you can squeeze more plants into a smaller area.
We recently built this vertical "wall" out of nothing more than a few old 2x4's and some twine, added to the wire mesh fence that we already had in place:
I don't know how you find it, but I think it's really attractive, despite how rudimentary it is. It stands about 7 feet high. There's another photo below showing the garden bed when it's a little farther along in the season: we planted scarlet runner beans and vine tomatoes right below the fence, so they can grow up the supports. In the foreground (above) are some cauliflowers plants, which we planted last July. In this photo they hadn't developed their heads yet - but then, who has?! - but by now, in mid-May, we're harvesting them.
Raised Beds - Alternate Designs
We also went a little crazy with some creative raised-bed-building. Russ - my neighbour and fellow FarmCity carpenter, built these:
This also shows the same vertical supports as above. By now, there are are some tomato & bean seedlings right along the fence - hard to see here - and then further from the fence are baby kale (needing thinning!), several types of lettuce, and arugula. The bed is fairly shallow, and will eventually be shaded by the tomatoes & beans - hence the choice to plant greens (see my shade gardening tips). We also planted some leeks in amongst the greens - and finally, in order to protect against unwanted insects and to attract pollinating ones - there is a line of marigold seedlings following the curve of the bed.
After Russ built the above bed, I built these curved extensions on some existing beds:
The decision to build curving shapes is mostly just for the heck of it: it breaks up the straight lines of most raised beds, and encourages us to think creatively about how we plant the beds (intensive, intensive, intensive!). In the foreground, each of the posts is set beside a tomato seedling, which we will tie up as they grow. Back against the fence is a garlic crop, planted last fall, and then to the left are a few of this winter's kale plants that we're leaving to go to seed - to harvest the seed. Between the tomato plants, we usually direct seed parsley and basil - basil on the sunny side of the tomatoes, parsley in the shade of them - again, to maximize the food grown in a small area. The hay is leftover mulch from the winter. And finally, the plan is to replace the turf between the beds with river rock or gravel, so we don't have to mow there!
We have a corner lot, so we're also slowly developing the side boulevard, which gets good morning sun. Last year we planted some fruit trees - two plums and two apples. FYI, the City of Vancouver does allow residents to build gardens on their adjacent boulevards - but planting fruit trees is not strictly allowed by Vancouver by-laws. We take the risk that a city crew could remove them at any time for their own mysterious reasons - but our gamble is that with Gregor Robertson's "Greenest City" plan as the current policy at City Hall, we will get away with it! Forgive my self-righteousness, but I think we have right-thinking on our side on this one.
In any case, now we've begun to expand the boulevard garden, slowly replacing turf with gardening space. Rereading Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture (Toby Hemenway), we decided to begin with circular gardens around the base of the trees:
These beds will be planted with a combination of plants called an "apple guild." A "guild" is defined by the co-planting of mutually supportive and beneficial plants (the Three Sisters of corn, beans and squash is the classic guild). In other words, within the drip line of the tree, moving in from the outer ring, we will plant successive species of compatible plants, each chosen for their particular features, which together will work to create a whole, complex eco-system of plants centred on the tree itself. I hope that makes sense. Check out Hemenway's book for more details!
Just in case you're wondering, we aren't in the habit of tying our fruit trees down - as if they would run away without it! Rather, we're trying to pull the branches down to get them to grow horizontally - to keep the fruit more accessible as the tree grows larger.