Low maintenance gardening

One of the challenges to gardening is first finding the space, but second is finding the time to maintain a garden. At the farm, we've been experimenting with different varieties of fruits and vegetables that do well with very little maintenance - meaning no pruning, once-a-month weeding, no thinning and watering by only turning on the water valve to the sprinkler.

Raising Potatoes:

Adjacent to the blueberry field, we have been raising potatoes. After tilling the patch were the potatoes will be planted, we dig deep rows and pile up the dirt from the ditch above the row. The seed potatoes are planted in the ditches, and the soil is amending with organic fertilizer, dolomite lime (because the blueberry field is naturally acidic), and bone meal (to add phosphorus). As the potato plants grow, soil from the piles of dirt are added around each plant. Eventually the deep ditches are filled with dirt, and the potato plants are still growing above ground with deep roots to allow for more potato formation. When the plants die off in the fall, the potatoes are unearthed. To keep our harvest of potatoes for up to a year, we store the potatoes in a plastic tote, layered and spaced separately in dry wood chips. The totes are then keep in a cool dry place (a shed). Under the dry, dark, and cool conditions, these potatoes can last for almost a year. The variety of potato also matters, as some potatoes will store longer than others.

Potatoes are planted in deep ditches early April
As the potato plants grow, soil is added around each plant. By mid summer, the ditches are filled.

Hillside Gardening:

Above the blueberry field on a hill with good sun exposure, we have tried several variations of using heavy duty black plastic to keep the weeds down and cut holes to plant starts. This has worked well with winter squashes including delicata, spaghetti squash, and buttercup. The squash plants did well growing and sprawling out on top of the warm black plastic. In the fall after the vines have died and dried up, harvesting the squash is easy. It's just a matter of cutting the vine and picking them up off the plastic. To keep the winter squash for long term storage, we clean each squash in a diluted bleach solution and allowed to dry. They are then stored on a wire rack with plenty of air flow in a cool location.

In the fall, winter squash plants like this delicata die back allowing for easy harvesting.
After harvesting, the winter squash (pictured here: butternut, spaghetti, buttercup, hubbards, and delicata) need to be cleaned in a diluted solution of bleach and allowed to dry. They should be stored in a cool area on racks that allow for airflow. This will prolong the shelf life of the squash.

In 2008, we improved our hill growing method, by using black plastic and weed block. A large row of black plastic is laid down at the top of the hill then a narrow row of weed block is added below it, then another wide sheet of black plastic, then weed block, etc. The plant starts are planted in holes, which are cut into the strips of weed block. The plants are spaced well away from each other to reduced competition for nutrients and water. The set up of the plastic with the weed block allows for rain to run down the plastic and drain into the weed block, hence watering the plants. A sprinkler at the top of the hill achieves the same effect, when there is no rain.

With this method of weed block and black plastic, we have had success with beans and melons (such as watermelon, honeydew, casaba, and cantaloupe) in addition to the winter squash.

Roof top planters:

Roofs take up a lot of space and for the most part it is unused. Here's an ingenious way of taking advantage of that unused space to enjoy a low maintenance garden. To eliminate the hazards of having to get on the roof to water the plants weekly, the planters have a self-water or wicking system to supply the plants with water.

This plywood planter holder is designed to keep three 5-gallon buckets horizontally. Plywood is added to the feet of the planter to displace the weight on the roof. To add friction so the planter will will hold on the sloped roof, leftover roofing shingles are attached to the bottom of the planter.
Each planter consists of a 2.5-gallon with the same size lip as a 5-gallon bucket and a 5-gallon bucket. The 2.5-gallon bucket should fit in the 5-gallon bucket without touching the bottom. The 2.5-gallon bucket holds the soil and plants, and the 5-gallon bucket holds the water. In order for the water to reach the soil, two holes are drilled into the bottom of the 2.5 gallon bucket and two thick lengths of sisal rope are threaded through the holes and knotted at the top so that the rope will not slip through the holes.
The 5-gallon bucket is filled with about 2 gallons of water (the water level should not touch the bottom of the 2.5 gallon bucket). When the 2.5-gallon bucket is placed in the 5-gallon bucket, the rope will wick up the water and keep the soil in the 2.5 gallon bucket moist. The soil in the smaller bucket should be well-watered to start the capillary action.
Plants that do not require trellising, pruning, or regular care are planted in the 2.5-gallon bucket. In this case, we have planted summer melons and beans. The only concern about planting canteloupe on the roof is that when canteloupe are ripe they detach from the vine easily - so we will have to keep our eyes up toward the roof to watch out for falling ripe canteloupe!

It's hard to beat the satisfaction that comes with harvesting homegrown food.
Linbo Blueberry Farm
1201 South Fruitland, Puyallup, WA 98371
www.linboblueberries.com

page updated: 7/11/11