Micro-gardening made simple with small spaces
MUNCY – Master Gardener Mike Flanagan learned how to grow his own food with very little space and shared numerous ideas for doing so during a presentation last month at the Muncy Public Library. Providing wholesome food does not require a 40 acre homestead, a massive tractor and a life of constant toil, he said, but it just requires some pre-planning, preparation, and a small amount of space.
“No, it’s not labor-free, but it’s also not going to break your back or your wallet. It can actually be fun!” Flanagan remarked. During his slide presentation, the veteran gardener showed examples of growing food on windowsills, balconies, various sized containers, pallet gardens and raised beds. “Whether you just want some fresh herbs for your homemade spaghetti sauce or you want to put up enough produce to feed your family through the winter, this is where to start.”
Flanagan told his audience it is not only best to just survive, but also to thrive, even in less optimal situations. “Start small,” he said, “and work within the limits of your space and means, without all that land and labor.”
For the beginner, he suggested to start with some potted containers in a south window, and to plant some heirloom seeds which can be ordered from Baker’s Seed Company. A window garden is perfect for herbs such as basil, thyme and parsley. One gallon planters are good for vegetables such as cherry tomatoes. He showed a metal bucket filled with soil and growing fingerling carrots. “But you can also grow beets, onions or scallions,” Flanagan said. Radishes or green lettuce can be grown in a plastic tote. In the fall he said he has 5 gallon buckets for harvesting his cucumbers.
Palette gardens work well vertical or horizontal and requires less maintenance for weeding. “They hold moisture nicely,” he said. Whiskey and wine barrels work well and his slide showed a layering system known as “lasagna gardening” for a bountiful garden. He demonstrated this with some small 4×4 raised beds he designed. Starting with layers of cardboard to line the bottom, Flanagan explained that there is no digging, tilling, or weeding. “Raised boxes should be at least ten inches deep.” Known as square foot gardening, add 16 cubic feet of good porous soil with fertilizer such as aged chicken manure to the boxes. “With these boxes, I can reach the middle from every side, and the soil doesn’t get compacted.” Referring to companion planting, he plants the taller tomato plants in the back and puts carrots in front of them for the shade.
Fluorescent lighting is best to use during winter months if growing indoors as plants will need at least 12 to 16 hours of light. For fertilizer he recommends 100 percent cow manure. “Horse manure has surviving seeds,” he added.
Rotate the crops the following year, and there are options to extend the growing season. He mentioned cold frames, row covers, hoop houses and a Wall O Water, a product which can protect plants from colder temperatures.
“Start small, and start where you are able to build a small garden,” he concluded. Flanagan feels it is important to teach our younger generations where food comes from. Many believe it comes from a tractor-trailer or a bag, he said. “Nature hates mono-culture.”
Flanagan lives in Williamsport and teaches biology and life science at St. John Neuman.