Last summer, we asked readers to send us details of unique vegetable gardens, and a bounty of creative and resourceful ideas came in from across the state
From fashioning raised garden beds in recycled tires to reclaiming old cut Christmas trees--yes, Christmas trees--for bean trellises, readers proved that if you've got creativity and a little touch of a green thumb, almost anything goes.
Geneva Rice, 74, of McKee didn't let a little thing like lack of dirt stop her from gardening when she retired from Ford Motor Company in 1988. Rice's property, on top of a cliff, has dirt only about a foot deep--enough to grow grass but not much else, she says.
Rice knew right away she'd need to install raised beds. She considered treated timbers, but feared their chemicals might leach into her garden. She considered cedar timbers, but couldn't find enough. Finally, she settled on old tires: "Tires will never rot, and never go away," she figured.
Rice now has more than 100 tires in her garden filled with peas, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, squash, peppers, and much more. She has nine rows of big tractor tires and 15 rows of smaller car tires, most of which she got for free at a recycling place. Preparing a tire for planting is easy: Rice just cuts out their sidewalls and fills them with a mix of trucked-in dirt, composted cow manure, and sphagnum moss (to help retain moisture).
For her climbing cucumbers and pole beans, Rice has designed a unique trellis system formed from hay baling twine wound on a frame of metal conduit piping. Each spring, she spends about half a day making her straight twine trellis for the beans and another half day on the diamond-pattern twine trellis for the cukes. (The cucumbers won't grow straight up, and need the extra support of something to lie against, she explains.) People sometimes think her trellis system seems labor-intensive, but for Rice it's easy: at the end of the season, to dismantle the trellis, you just "go along with your scissors and clip the top thread, and then pull the twine up from the ground and roll it up in a ball, and you're done," she says.
So far, all of Rice's crops have done well in their tire beds. She has seen just one drawback: the tires do get pretty hot in the sun. So she has to be dutiful in watering her vegetables thoroughly. At the same time, though, the tires help concentrate her watering right where it's needed, so she figures she still comes out ahead. "If you were out there watering a whole row (in a traditional garden) without tires, you would be taking an awfully lot more water," she says.
Young City Gardeners
One look at the lush, tiered, corner backyard garden of brothers Coleman Stivers, 12, and Callaway Stivers, 9, of Lexington proves that with some planning, you can grow a lot of great veggies in relatively little space--without having to give up either too much of your lawn or your yard's visual appeal.
The boys began gardening two years ago with the help of their grandfather, a retired UK agriculture education professor. Last year, their dad, Jeff, an architect, helped them install a series of four raised, v-shaped beds fashioned from wood timbers. The tiered garden design takes advantage of the natural upslope in their suburban yard, maximizing their growing area in the relatively small space. They left a generous walking path between each bed, providing ample room for a wheelbarrow so the boys can tend to the plants and gather up the fruits of their labors without trampling them.
To match the family's creative flair, their garden has what their mom, Melanie, calls a "modern aesthetic," with bright-red metal tomato ladders, and fun, rainbow-colored metal supports for their climbers purchased at Gardener's Supply Company. The boys' own unique homemade vegetable markers, made from clipped-out letters from magazines, are assembled and affixed to spell the plants' names on smooth stones that mark each vegetable's home.
To fill in holes where potatoes or carrots or radishes have been harvested, the boys use their mom's idea of dropping in terra cotta pots of mint and other herbs, which fit snugly into the spots, so their herbs lie level with the rest of the bed.
But make no mistake, this garden belongs to the boys. And they've had amazing success with it. Last summer, they made more than $200 setting up a vegetable stand and even going door-to-door to sell their vegetables. Their neighbors were always amazed at the bounty coming from one corner of their lawn, Coleman says. And it's not just quantity, but quality, too. At last year's Kentucky State Fair, the boys came home with 11 ribbons, including Coleman's first-place win for acorn squash and Callaway's first-place win for Roma tomatoes.
Melanie is proud when people comment on how unique it is, particularly in the city, to see boys her sonsï¿½ ages taking to gardening, rather than holed up inside all day in front of a video game. And when people ask her how the boys keep their garden so beautiful, she tells them the truth: "The old-fashioned way, with a lot of hard work."
A Bushel of Other Ideas
Geneva Rice isnï¿½t the only Kentucky gardener with a unique trellis system or raised garden idea up her sleeve. Here are some more of our favorite reader tips:
Pat Wilkins, 87, and his wife, Evelyn, 84, of Benton, have adopted a unique container garden system over the last two years that allows them to grow beans, tomatoes, and peppers in a very small space. They take four plastic pots, drill a hole in the bottom of each, and run a pole through them all to connect and stack them. Then they connect a watering tube to the top of the pole, so all Wilkins has to do is turn a valve to water the whole thing. The water drains down from pot to pot, watering all the vegetables with very little labor. Wilkins also grows tomatoes on a straw bale soaked with water and fertilizer and two inches of dirt on top, and has found it "works real well," he says.
Susan Peek of Eighty Eight makes the most of her limited garden space by companion planting in what she likes to call the "buddy system." She pairs peppers with an herb like basil, sunflowers with pole beans, and cherry tomatoes with grape hyacinth beans. The system not only doubles her harvest, but also cuts down on her composting and water use, she says. Near each of her paired plantings, Peek places a 2-foot-long piece of 2-inch PVC pipe that has been capped at the bottom, then the bottom foot drilled with several 3/8-inch holes. She buries the pipe to a depth of one foot and stuffs the pipe with alpaca manure from her farm. During dry spells, she fills each pipe with water, "and it automatically dispenses the compost nutrients directly to the roots of the plants, further conserving on water usage," she says. As the season progresses, Peek places a tobacco stake in each PVC pipe and ties the larger plants to it for support.
Mildred Drake of the Alum Springs community in Boyle County and owner of WDFB Christian radio station discovered almost by accident how to grow huge sweet potatoes. After sprouting the cut end of a store-bought sweet potato in her window, as she'd seen her mother do for its pretty vine, she decided to plant the sprouts outside. She plopped four or five sprouts in hills along the edge of a large mulch pile of wood chips. The potatoes multiplied and grew many 5-pound sweet potatoes that first year. "The city of Danville mulches leaves and offers it to the public each spring, so I had some of the leaf mulch mixed in with it too last year," says Drake. She then planted more sprouted sweet potato pieces. In October when she started pulling up the vines, she was astounded. After much tugging and wiggling back and forth, up came a huge sweet potato that weighed 15 pounds, measuring 24 inches in circumference and 14 inches long. The vines produced many 5- and 8-pound potatoes, which she stores in her cellar and garage. "We eat sweet potatoes almost every day. One potato alone fed five of us from the radio station, and then I canned the other two quarts that were left over." She says the best way to cook the giants is in the microwave in 10-minute increments, and says they are moist and delicious. Drake planted tomatoes and beets along hills near the mulch pile this year with similar success.
Eunice Johnson of Hopkinsville opts for rotation planting to maximize the harvest from her small garden plot. She'll begin with green onions in the spring, and once those are done, puts peppers in their spot, and so on with the rest of her vegetables, she says.
In Hartford, James R. Parks makes the most of his limited garden space by using 3.5-gallon plastic buckets to grow vegetables in mid-air. He puts 2-inch holes in the bottom of the bucket, and inserts eggplant starters from the bottom so they grow upside down, out of the bottom of the bucket. On top of the bucket, filled with his own composted dirt, he plants beets. The buckets are then strung and hung from a metal support beam above his traditional garden. That way, any excess water from the buckets drips down and waters his other plants. Parks hopes next year to try the system with cucumbers, he says.
Hardinsburg resident Elizabeth Parks fashions her own cucumber trellis system, to "save backs and space" in her small garden, by stapling 3-foot chicken wire at 4-foot intervals to stakes driven into the soil at a 45-degree angle. The result has been the "most beautiful, long cucumbers I've ever had in my life," she says. This year, she says, she's going to drive the stakes deeper, lessen the angle, and prune the vines shorter. "You learn by doing," says Parks.
No chicken wire on hand? Consider trying some of these other unique trellis ideas with whatever you've got around:
Carlos McClure of Clinton uses his old, cut Christmas trees as trellises for his climbing Kentucky Wonder green beans. Wayne and Ella Terry of Jeffersonville let their greasy grits beans and goose beans climb up and vine in the row of 17-foot-tall castor bean bushes (also known as dog tick bushes) they have on their farm. The second year she tried it, Ella Terry had to "pick her beans with a ladder" they got so tall, she says. Mike and Alma Duffy are sometimes teased by their neighbors in Russell Springs about their choice of bean supports: blue metal poles they got as scrap from a local company. But they're convinced that "in Wildcat country, beans do grow bigger on blue poles," Alma Duffy says.
And several readers' tips prove any space is potential garden space: Lyndall Furlong of Arlington used an empty dog pen to grow a small garden--and the fencing helped keep the deer out. In Nicholasville, Albert C. Savage Jr. reclaimed the ground below his walnut tree grove as a garden plot, in what he calls his "gardening in the trees project." Brownsville native Mike Norman plants his potatoes in an old feed bag filled with dirt. To harvest the potatoes, he simply cuts the bag and pulls them out, without disturbing the roots. And rather than throwing it out as trash, Emma Louise Fred of Elizabethtown repurposed an old shop vacuum cleaner as a pot for planting onions, lettuce, zucchini, and cucumber.
Just goes to show, with a little ingenuity, anyone can carve out a unique garden space to call their own.
MORE VEGETABLE GARDENING TIPS
For more information about vegetable gardening, check out the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service's helpful, 55-page publication Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky, which details ideas for "Growing More with Less Space," tips for caring for your garden, and even planting schedules for a three-season garden in one garden space.
The Extension Service's Vegetable Cultivars for Kentucky Gardens publication offers suggestions for ideal vegetable varieties to try.
These publications can be read online or you can download an electronic pdf file by going to www.ca.uky.edu. Use the ï¿½searchï¿½ box and type in the publication title to find the link.
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: NEW SEED VARIETIES FROM FERRY-MORSE
Ferry-Morse Seed Company of Fulton, Kentucky, debuts the "Health Kick Tomato" this year, bred to provide higher levels of anti-cancer agent lycopene and vitamin C. To learn more about this and other new vegetable varieties the company is developing, go to: Ferry-Morse.