Turning a Flower Bed Into a Vegetable Garden

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been reluctant to grow anything but flowers in my front bed. Condos have rules about appearance (like, all front doors have to be the same color (black) and all windows have to have mini-blinds). It can sound silly, I know. I also know that there are reasons for the rules. They are trying to preserve the appearance of the complex and its property values.

I’m not sure if they have any rules about what I can grow in my front bed, but I bet that if I put in tall wooden stakes for tomatoes or a couple of trellises for beans and peas, I’d get complaints.


So…how do you go about turning a flower bed into a long, skinny vegetable garden??

Three Requirements

The first consideration is location, more specifically, light. Of all the requirements for gardening, this is the most important. You need a bed that gets at least 5-6 hours of direct sunlight a day. There are ways to work around problems with the other requirements, but if you don’t have enough light, then you probably shouldn’t be trying to grow vegetables. In my case, the front of our condo faces east and the bed gets sun from a little after dawn until just past noon. After that, the building casts solid shade over the bed for the rest of the day.

If you live in the South and have a choice between morning sun and afternoon sun, choose a site that gets sun in the morning. Our afternoon sun is very intense and plants don’t do well going from solid shade to full afternoon sun.

The second consideration is drainage, if the bed is constantly wet,the plant’s roots will rot.

The third consideration is good soil. Clay or hardpan will be difficult for the plant’s roots to penetrate and water will run off rather than soaking in.


So, what do you do if you have poor drainage or poor soil?
Fortunately, these can be worked around. If the soil is good, but the drainage is poor, you can amend the soil by adding sand to improve the drainage. If the soil is poor, it can be improved by adding compost or manure.

Manure? Ewwwww….

Well, this isn’t straight out of the pasture. Products like Black Kow and other commercially available manures are well composted and have no odor. They add much needed organic material and nutrients.


Preparing the Bed

Every few years, I would buy some bags of topsoil and put a layer about an inch thick over the entire bed. Since soil settles over time, it would have been better if I had done it every year. In fact, ideally, I should create a raised bed by building up some kind of edging – bricks, boards, or railroad ties – to a depth of about 6-8 inches and fill it with either topsoil or a mix of soil and compost. That would create a deep rich bed to grow in. Still, my inch of soil every few years has raised the bed by a few inches above the surrounding soil, so that’s some help.


So, what if you don’t have a prepared bed?

If you have an existing flower bed, you can add compost and manure to improve the soil.

If you don’t have a bed, your choices are to grow in containers, create a new in-ground bed, or create raised beds.


Planting

After coming back from the nursery with some plants, I laid them out in the bed where I wanted them to go so that they didn’t crowd or shade each other. Setting them out like this helps you space them correctly. Be sure to check the labels to see how far apart to plant them, because they’ll spread.

I have an old bulb planter that I use to dig holes with, though a trowel would work as well. You want the plant each plant deep enough so that the top of the soil around the roots comes to the same level as the surrounding soil. (Hint: some plants, like tomatoes, will root all up and down the stem. If you have a tall spindly tomato plant, you could plant it deep, leaving just a couple of sets of leaves above the ground.)

Fertilizer

If you’re using compost and manure, you’ve already got plenty of fertilizer. The great thing about using these is that you not only get good nutrients, you improve the quality of your soil.

If you buy chemical fertilizer, look for the formulation, three numbers separated by dashes, for example: 5-10-15 or 10-10-10. (The three numbers tell you what percent of the three main nutrient’s are in each mix. The three are Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and soluble Potash.) I usually go with a “balanced” fertilizer of 10-10-10. Chemical fertilizers are more concentrated and can be harsh. Be sure to follow the instructions on the package. Too much fertilizer and you will burn the roots of your plants.

Aftercare

Mulch is a covering, like straw or wood chips, that you spread over the surface of the bed. Mulch can make a gardener’s life much easier. It serves several purposes. It helps prevent the bed from drying out too quickly, holding moisture in the soil for your plants. This keeps you from having to water as often since bare dirt will dry more quickly causing your plants to go through cycles of wet and dry, alternating between adequate levels of water and being stressed by lack of water. A mulch also helps prevent weeds, and it shades and cools the soil (very important in the South).

Any organic mulch breaks down over time. In our condo complex, they put pine straw on the beds at least once a year. By the next year, it has flattened and decomposed to the point that it’s less than an inch thick. The decomposing mulch helps feed your soil and add organic matter. You should try to keep at least 3-4 inches of mulch on your garden.

Watering – Most gardeners recommend that gardens get an inch to an inch and a half of water a week. If it rains, you may not have to water at all; if it’s bright and sunny, you almost certainly will need to water.

So, how much is an inch when spread over your garden? If you are using a sprinkler, you can put out a rain-gauge and let it run until it reads one inch.

Note: If you’re like me and don’t want to have to go out and BUY another garden gadget, you can set a short wide can with the lid cut off in your flower bed/vegetable garden before watering. I use a tuna or cat-food can with the label removed. Tuna cans are steel and will rust, cat-food are aluminum. Remember to dump the water out after watering.

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  1. […] t&#1211&#1077 original: Rotary a Flower Bed I&#1495t&#959 a Vegetable Garden « Condo Gardening Share and […]

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