“Let us not forget that the cultivation of the earth is the most important labor of man. When tillage begins, other arts will follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of civilization.’ – Daniel Webster
Previously, I posted about the off-grid shop that I built so that I wouldn’t have to trench my yard to bring power to the shop. Recently, Idaho has taken a page from the California playbook and has been threatening rolling brownouts, so having a source of power, even if only for a small shop, is a nice morale boost. Another morale boost in the journey to withdraw consent is a victory garden.
Victory gardens got their name during the first and second world wars. At that time, the government actively encouraged homeowners and municipalities to plant gardens to supplement their rationed diets with produce. Given our current global economic state, I have encouraged others to do the same. Here is my attempt to supplement our diet with wholesome produce.
I started my victory garden last year, utilizing leftover 2″ x 12″ planks that I purchased from someone who had taken down an old retaining wall. For $100, I was able to acquire approximately 20 sixteen-foot planks, and several 4″ x 4″ post segments. I used a few of them to build a retaining wall of my own, and with what was left over, I built five 3′ x 10′ raised bed garden boxes.
I leveled out the ground with an electric rototiller. I weatherproofed the boxes with surplus stain in my garage. Then I lined the bottoms with old newspapers and filled the boxes with surplus dirt that had been dug out to build the off-grid shop. I supplemented the dirt with store-bought composted manure and garden soil and mixed it with the rototiller.
Here in Idaho, we have a very dry climate. As a result, most residential lawns have irrigation systems. This is the case for our home, and by running a 1/2″ line off of one of the lawn sprinkler zones, I’m able to water the garden on a semi-regular basis. By utilizing a smart sprinkler controller, I can incorporate local weather patterns and adjust watering accordingly.
To do this, I purchased 100 ft. of black 1/2″ supply tube and 100′ of 1/2″ brown irrigation emitter tubing. I ordered this irrigation splitter kit and used various fittings as needed. I added a 1/2″ splitter to one of my lawn sprinklers and ran the 1/2″ black tubing up to my garden boxes. Next, I drilled holes in the garden boxes with a 1″ hole saw and ran rows of brown drip tubing to the ends of the boxes. Since the lawn sprinklers run on a smart timer, I just increased the watering times on this zone in my lawn from 1.5 hrs. three times a week to half an hour every other day. This is what the result looked like last year. I added more drip lines this year.
The first year of the garden was very much a matter of trial and error. My biggest obstacle was keeping critters out of the garden. By mid-July, I had a flourishing garden. As critter deterrents, I utilized a multi-pronged approach that relied on scent deterrents, motion lights, motion sprinklers, and even a three-strand electric fence. I hung blank CDs on tomato cages hoping to create reflections to deter the birds. I put garlic clips throughout the beds. I used repellent granules and sprays on the plants themselves. I also planted marigolds around the perimeter of my plants. Unfortunately, the local deer herd laid waste to the garden while we were out of town, and when I returned, I was largely starting over with many plants.
After losing my garden to the deer in mid-July last year, I decided the only effective deterrent would be a fence and one that the deer couldn’t jump over. That meant that seven feet tall was the minimum height. I priced out materials and found that the cheapest option for me would be to utilize rolls of chicken wire. In my case, it required a 4′ x 150′ roll and a 3′ x 150′ roll. The most expensive part of this project was the weather-treated 4″ x 4″ posts. I started this project in the middle of a lumber and supply shortage, and this part cost about double what it would have a little more than a year prior. I recommend shopping around or, if possible, utilizing salvaged lumber. Utilizing the scrap lumber from an old shelf to the upper right of the picture below, I also built a gate for the garden.
Setting the posts can be a bit much for a one-man job, but tacking up the chicken wire is definitely a two-man job. Do as I did and enlist the help of a few friends in exchange for burgers and beer. I also laid down landscape fabric and brown bark mulch around the beds. I want to spend my time working with the plants and not picking weeds and the bugs and diseases they supply.
Our house is at 4500ft. of elevation, and that means a much shorter growing season but also incredibly intense sunlight. It is a constant battle to maintain a balance of moisture and heat. A friend of ours posted about their success in Wyoming utilizing shade cloth, and so I decided to cover this garden with shade cloth to account for the sun. I chose a 30 percent shade cloth with built-in grommets and connected them to eye bolts on the posts with carabiner-style spring-loaded hooks. Here is the finished product.
Not pictured here, we also grew potatoes in large round planters, root vegetables like carrots, beets, and turnips in a separate bed, and greens such as collards, broccoli, and cauliflower in a separate bed. Next year, I will build potato boxes that can grow vertically to increase the yield.
Every year that you have a garden is a new opportunity to learn, and that was certainly the case for me. Here in Zone 5/6, the climate is such that we still receive snow typically up to and sometimes through Memorial Day. That is the point when most Idaho gardens get planted. Unfortunately, late May frosts and early June snows delayed my garden getting into the ground until early June. After speaking with a local organic farmer, they suggested that they start their seeds indoors in February and get their seedlings in the ground and covered by April.
Though I started my seeds indoors in March, I will move them into the house with more powerful grow lights next year. Additionally, I will focus on getting colder season crops into the ground first, such as cabbages, beans, carrots, lettuce, etc. I started my second planting of cold-season crops in August, and many of them have yet to germinate, given the intense heat of the Summer.
- Gardens are not a one-and-done project. Be patient and get better every year.
- Plan your garden. Group plants according to growing conditions. Stick your heat-loving plants closest to the south to get more sunlight.
- You can maximize your garden production by planting according to seasons and utilizing cut-and-come-again strategies.
- I tried organic fertilizers the first year, and they’re too inefficient for our short growing season. Miracle-Gro worked well.
- Look for bush varieties of plants to save space.
- An organic spinosad powder works wonders for keeping disease and pests off of your plants.
Did you plant a garden this year? If so, how did it go? Is there anything you tried and learned from? Comment below. On to victory!