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Get creative when garden space runs out

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Posted: Sunday, May 30, 2010 4:20 am | Updated: 1:01 pm, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

FAIRBANKS - Every year I run into someone who asks me how I can possibly limit myself when it comes to gardening. Here is a confession: I always have too many plants for the size of my garden.

And even after I know that, I inevitably still buy a few more or say yes when generous friends offer me extras. This year is worse than usual because we are in a new house and so I have no memories of past over-stocked years to put a damper on my impulses. Last weekend even my non-gardening husband began realized something was seriously amiss.

“Linden,” he said, “I count 50 little cups with a corn stalk in each one. And 24 strawberry plants. There also are eight pumpkins out there, plus some other things I can’t identify. The raised beds, plastic tubs, hanging baskets and five-gallon buckets are full. Where is all this stuff going?”

I had no answer, except that I refused to kill off the excess. We did have a few wheelbarrows that looked like giant colanders because the last time I’d had too many strawberry plants I’d drilled some holes in the bottoms and sides and turned them into planters. I thought they could be pressed into service again this year, but except for them and a wood box that had originally been home to a set of cast iron skillets, I had pretty much used up every available container in our entire house.

I finally suggested that some of our largest cardboard moving boxes could be lined with 33-gallon trash bags and then filled with dirt. I also had some bags of commercial soil that I could lay flat, slit open and stick transplants in — if it was good enough for many British gardeners, it was good enough for me! Ted rolled his eyes; in fact, I believe he rolled his entire head.

It took a few days of discussing various options. We did not have the time to build more permanent raised beds. Tilling up a new plot was not realistic, as the soil here is so compacted and clay-like that when my strong stepson jumped on the shovel to dig a hole for the rhubarb, the shovel gave in and bent before the soil did. We decided on a faster, temporary solution that in the end will benefit the soil: straw bale beds.

We called around for prices and found a sale at Cold Spot Feed — $9.95 per bale, buy two and the third is free. We bought a total of 18 bales, but with the sale paid for only 12. The beds are three bales long on each side, with another bale closing the back and two more forming a V-shape in the front. The prow shaped front gives a bit more space and uses that ninth bale that I was not about to leave behind when it was free.

I had leftover soil, having purchased more than I needed for my permanent raised bed, so this weekend we plan to fill one of the beds full for the corn. The other we will fill half-full, and I will plant potatoes and leeks that will be hilled up with more soil as the season progresses. I am also going to be carving two holes in each of the 18 bales, filling them with dirt and planting one head of lettuce or one stem of kale per hole.

The last time I made straw bale beds, many years ago, I filled them with the compost made by the Golden Heart Utilities Waste Water Treatment Plant at 4247 Peger Road. It was great and cheaper, but, frankly, right now my time is much more limited and it was easier simply to order 10 yards of dirt to be delivered.

These beds will last two to three years, and when they are falling down they can be raked out over the clay soil in the yard. They will finish composting there, making the entire area richer and more hospitable to a lawn or wildflowers. Or, the mix of soil and decomposing straw can be shoveled into new permanent raised beds.

That still left the strawberries and some more greens, and for that Ted built planters that fit right over the porch railings.They are made with 1-by-10-inch planks for the sides, and 1-by-4 boards for the bottoms and sides. The bottoms of the planters are screwed in 3 inches up inside the 1-by-10 sides, so when you set the planters down several inches of wood fits down over the railing and keeps it stable and upright. He drilled a few holes in the sides so that the water drains out the sides rather than onto the railing, then I filled them with dirt and planted.

This is not an original idea, you can find plastic planters that slip over the top of the railing. In fact, last week I saw some wooden ones at a local nursery, but at about six times the price of what it cost Ted to make them. Come winter, I will pick them up and move them to the garage.

And the pumpkins? Well, each is happily living in a dark colored plastic bin that attracts heat. I scavenged those, so it was no extra work for Ted.

So if you have been wanton in your gardening buying habits, all is not lost. Get busy and get creative — surely you must have a wheelbarrow or two!

Linden Staciokas has gardened in the Interior for more than two decades. Send gardening questions to her at dorking@orcasonline.com.

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