"We may have to learn again the mystery of the garden: how its external characteristics model the heart itself, and how the soul is a garden enclosed, our own perpetual paradise where we can be refreshed and restored."
We constructed a 4' x 8' (32 square feet) raised bed vegetable garden which we call the "GreenzBox". It is a high raised bed covered with shadecloth held up by a PVC frame. The shadecloth can be opened during the day, and closed at night to protect from frost and critters. We filled it with sifted garden compost from years of growing for the local farmers market. We used a method of organic bio-intensive planting which allowed the plants to be closely spaced, using fewer nutrients, less water, and produced six times more food in less space.
The GreenzBox, a culmination of years of gardening trial and error, is proving to be the ultimate fruit of our endeavors, not only for an abundance of our own fresh organic greens, but it is also proving to be a means by which to convey a spirit of fellowship and cooperation - the foundation for real growth - and the realization that self-reliance at the community level strengthens the whole of society.
We planted 5 kinds of lettuce, 4 varieties of chard, 6 varieties of kale, Bloomsdale spinach, salad greens - arugula, cilantro, Mizuna, endive, salad burnet, Italian parsley, snow peas, and cylindra beets - about 250 plants in all. Shorter plants were planted in the front facing the sun, taller ones in the middle, with snow peas and beans climbing up a trellis at the back. The box grew more food than we could eat! The spinach was the most surprising discovery - the leaves were gigantic and the plants never bolted, nor went to seed - they just kept producing right through the summer, until a hard freeze!
If soil is rich and well balanced, an amazing amount of food can be grown in a very small area. Anyone can make compost - this is the secret to a healthy, sustainable soil. Organic matter, if composted correctly can make as much garden soil in a year as nature can make in 100 years. Composting is the key to sustainability. It creates microorganisms for a healthy soil, promotes strong insect and disease resistant plants, and is the ultimate recycling process. Compost improves soil structure, adds humus, increases the soils ability to hold moisture, helps soil aeration, encourages earthworms, and increases the amount of nitrogen in the soil. It buffers pH, slowly releases nutrients, and promotes microbes in the soil.
The sides and the top were covered with shade cloth to protect the leaves from the ultraviolet rays and harsh afternoon sun, and the east side was opened by rolling it up to get the early morning warmth from the sun. The rest of the shade cloth was left on to protect the plants from the heat and ultraviolet rays of the hot mid-day and afternoon sun.
Closing the garden bed at night protected it from nibblers, and helped to retain the heat. When the temperatures drop below freezing, the box could be covered with heavy clear plastic, a 100-watt light bulb placed inside for heat, and the growing season could be extended until a really hard frost. Construction plans for The Greenzbox will soon be available on our website, and a workshop will be given in the early spring.
A garden this size could easily keep a family supplied with lettuce and salad greens for an entire growing season, taking very little time, using a minimum of space, effort, and resources, with a maximum of production, providing a source of safe, healthy, organic food, and security.
(12) 2 x 6 x 8 pine or fir boards @$3.70 ea = $44.00
(2) 1 x 2 x 8 strips for using as battens to fasten the shade cloth to the ends and the west side. @$1.30 ea = $2.60
(36) 3½ inch wood screws
(18) 1½ wood screws for fastening the brackets
(This design is for 1/2" PVC, if you want it to be firmer for more wind protection I would suggest that you use 3/4 or 1 PVC, and cut to fit.)
(8) 10 lengths of ½ Schedule 40 PVC @ $3.80 each x 8 = $24.00
(10 ) PVC ½ Ts (slip/slip)
(4) ½ side outlet 90s (slip/slip/slip) available on line at: Plumbing Warehouse if you cannot find them or order them at your local hardware store. 1-800-581-6162 (Mon-Fri 7:30am till 6:30pm, Mountain Standard Time) @$1.45 each x 4 = $5.80 + shipping = $12.00
(8) ½ PVC brackets for fastening ½ PVC lengths to the wood ends of GreenzBox.
(2) pieces of 28 x 96 stucco lath (if you have gophers or moles) @ $6 each x 2 = $12.00
(1) 20 x 20 piece of 50% density knitted shade cloth. If you can't find any 20' widths at Home Depot, or Wal-Mart in rolls, it is available online at: Shadecloth @$0.20 cents/sq ft. x 400 sq ft = $80.00 + shipping costs. 1-800-895-8307. Hours: Mon-Fri 10 am - 5:30pm, Sat 10 am - 4:30 pm, Pacific Time.
(6- 8) medium size.
ORIENTATION OF THE GREENZBOX
East side of the GreenzBox faces directly east. It is helpful to have trees on the west side behind the GreenzBox for wind and hot afternoon sun protection.
BUILDING THE GREENZBOX
ASSEMBLING THE BOARDS
Use (8) full length 2 x 6 x 8 for the sides, cutting the remaining (4) 2 x 6 x 8 into 4 sections for the ends.
Screw the 2 x 6 x 8 sides overlapping and flush with the 2 x 6 x 4 ends, using 3½ wood screws, making a box.
Place the two sections of stucco lath on the ground under the board edges of the GreenzBox before filling with soil.
FILLING THE GREENZBOX
If you are near a nursery, buy a load of (organic) topsoil, and a soil test kit. Or, if you have fairly decent soil, fill the GreenzBox. You could also add a few of bags of composted manure for moisture retention and nitrogen. Water well, let set for a few days, and test the soil for pH, and N-P-K ratios. (Refer to the soil-building handout for adding other nutrients and conditioning the soil.) Greenhouse and Garden Supply In Albuquerque is a great source for organic soil amendments. http://www.greenhouseandgarden.com 1-800-627-4769. They are at 3820 Midway Pl.NE.
Other resources are listed on our website resource page at http://www.avant-gardening.com/ogardening.htm
ASSEMBLING THE PVC RACK
Using a level, mark a vertical line on the four end boards 1½ from the outside edges. Loosely screw the brackets onto the top and third end boards. Cut (2) of the 10 foot lengths of ½ PVC into 30.5 lengths and insert them into the brackets on the west side and tighten the screws. These brackets will hold the PVC firmly in place. Insert a T on top of each.
BARS AND CROSSBARS
Do not glue PVC parts together, they fit tightly enough, and can later be taken apart for reworking the soil, putting it away for the winter months.
Set Ts on top of each 30.5 piece on the west end, and insert the 7.5 sections with a T on top of each. Insert the lower west 8 side bar between the two PVC Ts.
Cut (3) of the 10 foot lengths of PVC for the 5 crossbars. Measure between the two end Ts for an exact measurement, allowing for the amount inserted into the T. Insert the first crossbar between the two Ts on each end.
Cut the remaining PVC pieces into 4 parts: (2) lengths @14.5 inches, and (4) lengths @ 7.5 inches.
On top of the west Ts insert the 14.5 pieces a side outlet 90 on top.
Cut the last 10 PVC piece into (2) 4 sections. Connect them in the center with one of the Ts and insert them into the side outlet 90s. Insert the crossbars.
Cut the last 10 length into an 8 foot piece. Insert into the side outlet 90s on the east side and into the T in the west center piece. This completes the rack.
Put the shadecloth up and over the rack. When all of the ends are hanging in equal amounts at the sides and ends you are ready for the battens.
On the east side, screw in the 6 cup hooks starting at the edge and place one every 16 inches in the middle of the top board with the last one at the other edge. Turn them so hooks are facing downward. Stretch and evenly place the east bottom end of the shadecloth over the cup hooks, creating a tight seal.
On the west side roll the edge of the shade cloth around the 1 x 2 x 8 batten once or twice and screw down every foot or so with 1½ wood screws.
On the east side pull the shadecloth tight and fasten over the cup hooks (4-6 inches over the side of the board) and cut to desired length.
On each end, place the battens over the shadecloth, fold the extra in toward the east making a corner flap, cut to fit on each end to roll the shadecloth twice around the batten and fasten battens to the sides of the top board with 1½ screws a foot or so apart.
OPENING AND CLOSING THE SHADECLOTH
To open the GreenzBox, unhook the shadecloth from the east end cup hooks and roll it up over the top edge of the rack. The tension will hold it in place on top of the PVC. Leave it rolled up all day, and in the evening, unroll it and fasten it to the cup hooks. Leave the shadecloth on for the entire growing season. It also provides frost protection in the early spring and fall. After a series of really hard frosts, remove and stored it in a dry place for the winter months. When the bed is reworked in the spring, and ready to plant, you can put the shadecloth back on.
PLANTING THE GREENZBOX
Visualize the mature plant, and space them that far apart. This is very intensive planting, and why you need to start with rich, balanced soil.
If you are direct seeding, the soil temperature should be a minimum of 50 degrees. You can determine if the soil is warm by digging a small hole a few inches down, or with a soil thermometer.
Plant tall climbing plants on the west side of the GreenzBox. The three PVC sections on the west end may be used for tying up snow peas, sweet peas, and climbing nasturtiums, other climbers. These are direct seeded in mid-march.
In front of the climbers, plant tall plants like kales, chards, mustard greens (Osaka Purple, or green wave), tall Asian greens (Hon Tsai Tai, Suiho, Komatsuna, Mizuna, bronze or green fennel, Mibuna, Shungiku, Shiso), cutting celery (par-cel), dandelion and collard greens.
The next row toward the east will be for spinach, romaine, French sorrel, basils, arugula, chervil, salad burnet, savory, and cilantro.
The last two front rows will be for lettuce, endive, escarole, and shorter Asian greens (corn salad, cress, watercress, mesclun).
The GreenzBox is also perfect for a strawberry bed, since the heat of the southwest will not allow good crops of berries to be produced. If you plant an ever-bearing variety, you can have fresh strawberries all season.
It is always easier to start seeds in at a seed tray and transplant them. This will give them an early start and you can space them well when you transplant them. If you plant the seed tray in succession, when you eat one you can pop in another transplant. This saves weeks of growing time and wasted space in the GreenzBox.
There will be a few weeds until the plants grow large, but they are easily removed. When the GreenzBox is in full production, the plant density usually prevents weeds from growing.
WATERING THE GREENZBOX
PROVIDING GOOD DRAINAGE
Good drainage is essential to soil health. Too little drainage makes a soggy soil which prevents root growth, nutrient absorption, and compacts the soil. A perk test is an easy way to determine water drainage through your soil. Dig a hole six inches across by one foot deep. Fill with water and let drain. As soon as the water has drained, fill it again. Time how long it takes for the water to drain. If it takes more than 8 hours, you have a drainage problem. For more information on organic soil building refer to http://www.avant-gardening.com/ogardening.htm
Water as needed, remembering that it will need much less water, because of the cooling effects of the UV protection. It should be kept moist, but not soggy wet, at all times.
PROMOTING A GARDENING COMMUNITY
A garden is more than just a means of providing food, it is a model of what is possible in your community. Everyone could have a garden using the Greenzbox and produce healthy, nutritious organic food, promoting a more sustainable way of living, one that would encourage a local ecomomy, a farmers market, a place to pass on gardening experience, and a sharing of bounty.
Most of the nation's food is produced by less than 2% of the population. A healthy, fertile soil producing healthy plants can ultimately determine the health of mankind. If each of us could take that first step in creating a sustainable growing environment, creating a pattern for transformation, it could spread worldwide. By using this organic bio-intensive mini-gardening method, everyone can be part of the solution. The community as a whole would gain a renewed sense of empowerment, hope, and optimism for the future. Each garden would be an example of a thriving, simple to maintain eco-system. One picture (each garden) would be worth a thousand words.
We nurture ourselves as we nurture our gardens, renewing our connection with the earth and her beauty, thereby reducing stress on the world's finite resources, and strengthening our community as a whole in the process. Without community we can be overwhelmed by forces that seem outside our control - we can pool our enthusiasm, our resources, our knowledge, and, together, we can grow.
"Go to the people, Live among them, Learn from them, Plan with them, Work with them, Start with what they know, Build on what they have, Teach by showing, Learn by doing, Not a showcase, But a pattern, Not odds and ends but a system, Not to conform but to transform, Not relief but release."
The Credo of Rural Reconstruction, developed by Dr. Y.C. James Yen
Watch Bjorn Lomborg's - Our priorities for saving the world
TED - Technology, Entertainment, Design - an annual conference bringing together the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives - watch the best talks and performances, for free! Join TED - create a profile page, contact other members, comment on the individual talks, save items to your favorites, and more.
Website designed and maintained by Vicky Giannangelo