This spring become more self-reliant and reduce your exposure to chemicals by planting herbs in pots, building raised garden beds, creating a worm composting bin and making your own fence paint.
Herbs can be grown in a large outdoor pot, as long as the pot has good drainage, is at least 14 inches in diameter and 9 inches deep, and is filled with fertile soil. Purchase small plants and position them according to size (about 4 inches apart). Plant and lightly water. Sage, rosemary, thyme, lavender, oregano, chervil, summer savory and lovage are readily available and can be used as single seasonings or in combination with one another. (I recommend using these herbs to create an Herbes De Provence season mix.)
While raised beds are not a new idea, they are still beneficial and very easy to build. Raised beds have been used for more than 2,000 years, ever since the Greeks first noticed plants sprouting in landslide areas where soil was loose and moisture penetrated easily. With this in mind, they started making their own raised beds. As it turns out, adding aerated, turned and amended soil with organic matter to raised beds loosens soil, which improves its texture and nutrient value. Spacing plants close together also creates shade and keeps the moisture in the soil by self-mulching, which helps produce growth.
Constructing a raised bed is simple, as you can make a frame with any solid material that holds soil. Just keep in mind that if you use wood it must be rot-resistant because the frame will be in constant contact with moist soil. Cedar and redwood are two types of wood that are resistant to decay; Douglas fir and pine can be used but may only last five years. Raised beds can extend above the ground from several inches to 12 inches, and the beds can be made to fit any size as long as the middle can be easily accessed for weeding and harvesting. Cut the wood to the size of your planned bed, drill three holes with a #30 bit at the corner boards and insert 4-inch weather-proof drywall screws. For more stability, attach brackets to the inside corners.
When deciding where to place the raised beds, remember that most plants need at least eight hours of sun each day. Turn the soil where the raised bed will be permanently placed. If there are critters underground that may nibble on your vegetables, line the bed with chicken wire. Fill the bed with a combination of soil, compost, peat moss and fertilizer 8–32–16. But the fun part is deciding what seeds to plant. A beginning gardener may want to start with a simple salad bed that consists of lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, radishes and scallions.
Vermiculture, or red wiggler worm composting, is a way to recycle your kitchen scraps, tea and coffee grounds, and turn it into nutritious soil and fertilizer for your plants. Coffee grounds are an excellent addition as they add nitrogen, an element that bacteria needs in order to turn organic matter into compost.
To get started you need a container, soil, bedding and worms. You can use a dark plastic container or purchase one specifically for worm composting. Worms like dark, moist environments—just make sure the environment isn't too wet. Worms can be kept in temperatures of 40 to 80 degrees, but prefer temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees. After three to six months you should see a lot of castings (dark soil) that can be used as fertilizer in your garden beds. Although worms can be purchased online, it is better to buy worms locally so that they are already acclimated to your environment.
Family dogs are sometimes a nuisance when you have a garden. But this problem can be easily remedied by installing a simple picket-type fence. Build your own with recycled wood or install one with panels purchased from a home and garden store. Seal the wood with a paint that protects it from the elements and also adds a fun color to your yard. There are many eco-friendly paints on the market, but they may cost more than the conventional kind. Instead, make your own paint.
The oldest painted surfaces on earth were colored with a form of milk paint. In colonial America, itinerant painters roamed the countryside carrying pigments. To make paint, these pigments were mixed with farmer's or householder’s milk and lime. To make your own milk paint all you need is whole milk, vinegar, borax and a pigment. More information can be found at Milk Paint.
Plan now for the ultimate reward of herbs, vegetables and a yard that will give you a sense of pleasure and sustainability.
Desiree Bell is inspired by botanicals and natural materials. She is a vegetarian who has a certificate in herbal studies and a certificate from Australasian College of Health Sciences in Aromatherapy. Visit her blog Beyond A Garden.