Got sun?

By Tom Seymour | Apr 22, 2021
Photo by: Tom Seymour Hemlock raised bed, trellis and soil makes an instant cucumber garden.

Sunshine, direct from Sol and free for the taking, is the key essential ingredient for growing a great garden. If you have lots of direct sunshine, you are in business.

But what if you only have limited, direct sun? Not to worry, since there are ways to make the best use of it. My new place has only a small amount of full, direct sun and that means using every means at my disposal to grow as much as possible in that limited space. What pertains to my situation surely pertains to others as well, so the methods I’ll describe here will work anywhere.

As it turns out, the back of my house and attached garage face directly south. But space is limited because of a trout stream (yes, I know, things could be worse), so the most open ground lies between the stream and the back of the garage. It’s pretty much a no-brainer to use the garage wall to the best advantage as well as the available open ground.

A raised bed to begin and perhaps another raised bed later, becomes my first step. After some filling in of rough spots, the riparian habitat next to the brook will accept a long, narrow garden bed. And the walls of the garage have great heat-gathering potential, perfect for trellised vegetables and hanging baskets.

My first step was to locate a source of compost to fill the raised bed. Next, comes building the bed. Sufficient lumber remains from past projects to build a good-sized bed. Were that not the case, I would visit my local lumberyard and order rough-sawn hemlock boards. Hemlock has great water resistance and can easily last for up to 15 years or more before becoming compromised.

When building the bed, it pays to overbuild. That means using lag screws if possible. If your boarding is too thin for lag screws, then use nails and for extra support, use metal angle braces. These alone can suffice, but the combination of nails and nails makes a super-strong frame. If you have thick hemlock boards, then lag screws alone will do the job.

Before setting your raised bed in place, dig the dirt out of the area and remove any weeds, stones or other debris. Then replace the soil. It probably won’t come up to ground level, but that’s okay because whatever you choose to fill your bed, be it compost (recommended) or topsoil, can take up the slack.

So with the soil fully repaired, lay out your boards and assemble. Remember to not make your bed so wide that you can’t reach halfway across from one side. A rectangle is superior to a square.

If your main raised bed is on the smallish side, say 10 x 6, for example, don’t fret. You can grow a whole lot of vegetables in that space. The key to this is to use rich soil, plant far enough apart so as to allow for ample air circulation and be meticulous about removing weeds as they appear. After your seedlings mature, adopt a schedule to fertilize your crops. Organic growers may cringe, but I highly recommend regular foliar feeding with Miracle Gro. Just follow directions on the container and your plants will grow like gangbusters.

Wall space

A south-facing wall, such as at my place, has all kinds of benefits. Garden beds set near a wall will enjoy the extra heat radiated out from the wall. Walls are a kind of heat sink and we gardeners can benefit from that feature in several ways.

First, trellises placed against a wall feature fast plant growth because of increased heat gain. For that reason, I am planting my peas in a 22" x 22" raised bed. The bed is made of hemlock, as is the trellis that will sit in the back of the little bed, firmly affixed to the side of the garage.

When the peas have gone by, the little bed can accept any number of vegetable plants. Given our ever-later frost dates, choices are many. This kind of crop rotation makes the best use of a gardening space.

Next, we have hanging baskets. One of my friends grows everything in hanging baskets, from vegetables to flowers. I plan to follow suit. Besides being functional, plants in hanging baskets just plain look good.

So no excuses. Get out. Get Growing.

Tom Seymour of Frankfort is a homeowner, gardener, forager, naturalist, Registered Maine Guide, amateur astronomer, magazine and newspaper columnist and book author.

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