"Creating Places Where People Meet to Grow"
Pikes Peak Urban Gardens
is a proud program of the Pikes Peak Community Foundation
Our mission is to:"cultivate, educate, and serve the community throughurban garden projects in the Pikes Peak region".
Use scrap lumber for this project. Even pine boards will last many years and it is available and cheap. We try to stay away from any treated lumber products due to the controversy surrounding it. If you can afford it redwood is great. Make your beds no wider than 4 feet and any length you desire. The width is important. Any wider and you would have to step into your planting beds to work and harvest (this would cause compaction of the soil). Larry likes to have most of his beds 4 feet wide by 8 feet long. This is perfect for his paths and his plastic tunnel construction.
With raised beds you can plant right up to the edge of your planting bed. No waste of space! This really benefits the gardeners with limited space. You can also improve just the soil area where you intend to plant. If Larry is planting beans or corn in one of his beds, he will cover just that area with black porous cloth two weeks prior to planting. This will deep warm the soil to get his seeds off to a good start.
Add Organic Matter
The above picture is Larry's compost bins. He makes about 3 cubic yards of compost annually. The picture below is manure tea (more on this later).
You need to add compost or well rotted cow, horse or alpaca manure to your soil. All right so you have a problem with cow manure. Get over it! This is great for the garden. Too often we gardeners go for the quick fix and add chemical fertilizers to our soil. Sure it will boost production over the short term but it will do nothing to build up your soil. Start off by adding about a two to three inch layer of well rotted manure over the area to be planted (this is about 1 1/2 cubic yards for a 20 ft X 20 ft garden plot) . Work it into the soil in the late fall or early spring. Larry likes to use alpaca manure (available from "Pikes Peak Alpacas" at 719-481-4946 for $20 a pick up truck load ...bring your own truck).
Around Colorado Springs we have lots of horses. So how about horse manure? Horse manure has mixed reviews from our gardeners. Some say if it is not well rotted and composted you get lots and lots of weeds. Larry uses horse manure in building his compost piles. If horse manure is available to you, use it, but add it in the fall or VERY early spring. It needs time to "cool down". Fresh manure will burn many seedlings. A rule of thumb is to use manures from animals with more than one stomach (cows, bison, alpaca, llamas etc.). The more stomachs the more the plant matter gets worked and digested. Never use manures from any animal that eats meat (this includes humans). And never use sewage sludge or milorganite (human waste from sewage treatment plants). This stuff can contain a lot of unknown chemicals, heavy metals, maybe some remnants of pharmaceuticals.
The manure tea (shown above) is made by filling a bucket or garbage pail 1/3 full of cow or horse manure and the rest with water. Let it sit and ferment for about two weeks or more and skim off the water, dilute with an equal amount of tap water and water your garden plants. Use this tea after your plants are up and growing. Pour about a cup of this manure tea around your plants every two weeks.
What else can a gardener add to soil to make it "just right"? We have started using organic cotton burr mulch to break up the heavy soils or add structure to sandy soils. In a 4 ft by 8 ft bed we use 6 cubic feet and mix it into the top 8 inches of soil. We also use blood and bone meal. Add about 1 cup of each for every 10 square feet of planting. Mix it into the soil.
At the end of the year take your shovel and scoop out a big chunk of soil. If you have 10 earthworms or more in that chunk you have done a great job!
Remember if you keep your garden soil evenly moist (not damp or soggy!) throughout the growing season your plants and earthworms will do their best.
This has been talked about in the raised bed section above. Planting in single rows then a row for walking then a single row then a row for walking etc. is a waste of precious garden space. We plant in either raised beds or wide rows (3 to 4 feet then a row for walking). This increases our harvest many times over the conventional method.
Rototill Once Then Never Again
Larry used to rototill twice a year. Never again! The only time that you should rototill is when you are first starting your garden. This is the time to really work all that organic matter into the soil as deeply as you can. Then "never again". From that point on work the organic matter into the top 3 inches of soil using a broadfork (lift and "tease" the soil) as shown below and let the earthworms and soil microbes do the rest.
Nature does not rototill the fields and the forests. You shouldn't either. Rototilling breaks up the earthworm tunnels and the micro-habitats for all other soil microbes. These organisms work the soil, break down the organic matter into a usable form and provide the porosity that is so much needed. Air and water can penetrate better when not tilled. It is always best to add your organic matter to your soil in the fall, cover with a blanket of leaf and straw mulch to keep moist and let nature do its thing.
If you have some methods that have worked for you, please share.
What is Compost?
The three reasons that many of our gardeners compost are:
How do I Start?
First construct a structure to hold your piles. You can spend hundreds of dollars on fancy tumble bins or wooden kits but it is just as easy to make your own. Above is pictured a single bin composter. Below is a diagram of the multi-bin system. This three compartment design works great.
The multi-bin system is great. It allows the gardener to start the layers of manures, straw, leaves etc. in the first bin. When this bin is full and has set for about a month, the pile is turned and mixed into the middle bin. Again in about a month the finished compost is turned into the third bin and is stored there for immediate or future use. The advantage of three bins is that you can have three piles in different stages at the same time and always have finished compost on hand. The wire bin arrangement is quick and inexpensive. Most hardware stores stock wire sheets that have 2 inch to 4 inch squares. The sheet has to be at least 3 feet tall and 8 feet long. When made into a cylindrical cage it should have a diameter no less than three feet. Keep this pile moist (as moist as a wrung out sponge). Turn the pile over about once a month and in two to four months you will have rich compost!
How do I start building the compost pile?
The 3-1-3-1 Layering Method
(three inches of browns, one inch of soil, three inches of green...repeat until pile is three to four feet high)
This is the fun part. Basically your pile will be alternating layers of browns (finely crumbled leaves with straw, just straw or a mix of crumbled leaves, straw and aged manure) three inches thick, a one inch of soil or soil/manure mix, and then three inches of chopped-up greens (grass clippings, kitchen scraps and perhaps some re-hydrated alfalfa pellets). The finer you chop or shred your ingredients that faster you will get finished compost.
NOTE: To make the re-hydrated alfalfa fill a five gallon bucket 1/4 full of dried alfalfa pellets (this is rabbit food available in 50 lb. bags at any feed store) and fill to top with water. In one day this will form a green mush that is rich in nutrients. Pour this mush on top of the pile.
It seems to work best when the bottom layer is dried browns such as straw or a finely crumbled leaf/straw mix. Make this layer about 3 inches deep. Next add one inch of garden soil or better yet, garden soil/manure mix, then add three inches of chopped greens such as kitchen scraps or grass clippings. It is best to mix the grass clippings with other things in this layer as the grass tends to clump into clods if not. Keep repeating these layers until your compost pile is about 3 to 4 feet high.
If you have enough material to build your pile up to three feet it will start to "cook". In one day come back to your pile and stick your hand down about 6 inches. You should feel quite a bit of heat generated as your pile "cooks".
Now you should check on your pile weekly to make sure it is moist but not soggy. Add water if it is too dry. In one month you should mix up your pile. Yes, mix it up good. A garden "pitch" fork works for this or there are compost turning sticks found in most seed catalogs. In two to four months your pile is done.
Most gardener's that compost have their own methods that work. Be creative but a rule of thumb is never add meat, bones, carnivore feces or human feces to your pile. You will find out that orange peels take forever to break down so keep citrus peels out as well. Also only add grass clippings that have NOT had herbicides (you know the "weed and feed" fertilizers) applied to them.
Hint: Starbucks is happy to give you their coffee grounds. Add them to your pile in either your brown or green layer.