Class: Getting the Most Out of Your Home Garden

I spent this afternoon at a class up at the Denver Botanic Gardens. This was the first of what I expect will be many classes up there.

The class was taught by Sundari Kraft. I haven’t had a chance to review her Web site or her book, but after the class, I’m quite sure both will prove to be fascinating. I can tell you that in person, she’s very interesting and engaging, and she’s very willing to answer questions. It’s clear that she wants to spread this information. There was a lot of information that she shared, and anyone who happens to be in the Denver area should consider signing up for one of the classes that is being offered later. The information wasn’t at all season-specific, so I can’t imagine it will change much, if at all, between this class and the ones later in the year.

Obviously, I can only share some of what she taught us, but there were a lot of interesting pieces of information that will be helpful in steering my own learning. Like, we have the same hardiness or growing zone as south-eastern Maine. Despite the differences in weather patterns, it looks like Denver and Colorado Springs share zone 5a. Our growing season, fortunately, is longer than Maine’s, with the last frosts being around the beginning of May and the first to be expected around the beginning of October, giving us about 150-160 days. It’s not a long season, but it could be shorter.

When she was discussing where to plant, obviously there are a lot of factors to consider, but two jumped out at me. You should start small and you should plant the garden where it’s both visible and convenient to you. Starting small might be hard for the ambitious beginning gardener. I know I’ve bitten off more than I could chew more than once. But she made a very good point. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not that hard to add more space later, but starting too big might overwhelm you. The other point is that it needs to be visible and convenient. At one point in time, kitchen gardens were all but actually in the kitchen of the house in question. The mother or cook had to take all of three or four steps to get to it. That makes it easy to monitor and easy to pop into to pull this weed or hill up that potato plant that you happen to see needs care. We’re busy, so making it something that we see on a regular basis will, hopefully, keep us from forgetting about it.

Sundari works in an urban setting, so small spaces are what she knows best. The class started, however, when she realized how many people had really limited space, but didn’t know how to utilize it for the most effective yields. What she finds to work is a variety of techniques. She prefers a version of companion planting rather than monocropping, beds rather than the standard rows. She also uses biointensive planting techniques to both make the most of the space and make the most of the water and natural weed control along with succession planting. One of her other gardening techniques is that instead of bare, dirt paths, she grows clover. She stressed several times that it needs to be seeded lightly, but the clover both crowds out the weeds that would grow in the path and it fixes nitrogen into the soil. The following year, the beds will be dug so that each path is now part of a bed, giving that bed nitrogen-rich soil without having to add anything.

She gave us the example of a 256 square-foot garden. That is 16X16 feet. Not small, but not outlandish by any means. Excluding the necessary paths, she had 192 square feet of growing space. That space could potentially yield: 10 tomato plants, 25 pepper plants,12 eggplants, 10 summer squash, 6 winter squash, 172 peaplants, 108 kale, 208 lettuce, 263 arugula, 526 spinach, 172 beets, 86 turnips, 490 turnip sprouts/greens, 150 carrots, 383 radishes, 483 radish sprouts, 416 scallions, and 38 perennial herbs. That is a lot of food. I know it’s going to make me re-think my little 4X8 foot bed to see how much more I can fit in.

The rest of the class discussed preparing the space, starting seeds, composting, and so on. All of which I will cover in more detail as I learn more about them. One of the last things we went over, however, were resources. She provided Web sites, books, and local resources. I was very happy to see that a book I picked up today at a book sale for all of $2 was on the list. Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. So far my reading has been eclectic as I have a lot of just the basics to really understand, so I have been picking up books almost randomly at thrift stores and book sales. However, this list will help me narrow down my selections to the more pertinent ones. I expect to be doing reviews of the ones I find the most useful in the future.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Sounds very cool, getting a class on gardening! That sounds like something I could use someday, when I can hopefully start my own garden (at the very least, I want some fresh carrots!), and I won’t lie, having chickens would be awesome (imagine getting to control what they are fed?!?!). The budget precludes any of this for now, and it’s not as if I have any sunlight indoors or space outdoors to try growing heh.

    Reply

    • Have you looked at urban gardening in your area? The urban gardeners around here have classes, too- and most of them are cheaper than the Botanic Gardens ones. Sadly, I missed their “getting started” class because I was off at another voluteer orientation. It was $5 as opposed to $32. This one was worth every penny that I paid, but I’d be curious about the $5 version, too.

      Reply

  2. […] Meetup Group is an extension of Sundari Kraft’s Heirloom Gardens. It is to help with those times when she needs more hands than Garden […]

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  3. […] plotting the long beds. Sundari plants in beds rather than individual rows, as it is a much more efficient use of space. That meant that each section was four feet wide, with two-foot paths between them. […]

    Reply

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