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My 2500 Square Feet

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My 2500 Square Feet




This is a description of a three year old garden full of fruit trees, flowers and vegetables. The space is not too large, but despite the small footprint, there is plenty of abundant work to be done in it. Currently the most fascinating thing about this garden to ponder is envisioning it as a licensed medical marijuana grow under the newly enacted laws signed by Governor Brown in October 2015. The 'specialty garden’ is defined as anything 5000 square feet or less and is the smallest size available with a state certified license. So this fenced garden space is about half the  square footage of the smallest allowed canopy size based upon Senate Bill 643. But this particular garden will never be a medical marijuana garden as it is visible from a roadway, which is not allowed. Any licensed medical marijuana garden would need to be in complete compliance with both local and state regulations to be legal. Besides, this garden is about growing food throughout the year, about being able to always pick and eat something from it any month. It is about supplementing the home menu with hand picked fresh goodies year round. If you want to learn more just keep reading.


The idea for this garden started way back in time with childhood gardening adventures. Skills such as pulling weeds, raking, turning beds, planting and so on were introduced to me almost 40 years ago. The basics were taught to me by my grandmother who was raised on a homestead farm in Northern Montana with no power or running water in the early 1900’s. The love of gardening was gifted to me as a child. Eventually my vision began to manifest, or come to fruition, with some fruit tree plantings and garden beds on the Mendocino coast. This happened after realizing a long term goal to purchase of an off-the-grid property. It truly began in 1998 on a 10 acre parcel consisting of a mix of redwood grove and south facing meadow near Point Arena. That garden is located inland a few miles or so from the the edge of the all too common all day fog belt at the Pacific ocean’s edge. So, morning fog is common until 8 am to 10 am many summer days at this evergreen tree ringed meadow located around 500 feet elevation. 

Numerous fruit trees and some unprotected raised beds were planted. There were many successes and honestly many failures or setbacks. Gophers in particular were brutal on any uncaged bare root fruit tree. Then of course rookie mistakes were made as well. Some mistakes were most subtle. Others like starting with various types of fruit trees and over a dozen different apple varieties were from an certain overzealousness on my part. Since there was no running water for the first few years it is safe to say the trees have not able to reach their maximum potential.  But this is a long term project. Many skills have been learned and built upon with each season, year after year, following the natural rhythms of the changing sunlight.

Next my gardening teeth were really cut renting a cottage in the hills of Soquel in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The garden was at about 800 feet elevation. It was a most unique location with rain water runoff draining from this large parcel to both the San Lorenzo River drainage via Branciforte Creek and to the west fork of the Soquel Creek drainage. It was a lower ridgeline zone with a few notable vineyards nearby. The garden space was about 3000 square feet fenced where around 250 square feet of raised beds, and some unprotected beds were allotted to me. The dirt was really sandy and soft and very quick to dry out, but most fertile. The garden was surrounded by oak trees and meadows in front with manzanita and oaks trees on the hill directly behind it to the north. For five years persistence and consistency was learned here, along with the preliminary adoption of the Alan Chadwick method of biointensive gardening.  It was also the start of a style dependent upon a daily, or near daily, personal meditative presence with the growing plants. 


The evolving story of my 2500 square feet.

Currently the experiment called my 2500 square feet, sized approximately 50’ by 50’, is an exploration of biodynamic gardening set on a southwest facing slope in northern Santa Cruz County under 2000 feet elevation. It is a natural paradise, albeit a bit hot is the direct summer sun, with sandy loam soil adjacent to strong year round springs. The garden itself is properly set back, over the required minimum 100 feet, from the steady flow of water. The water for the garden is pumped from a permitted shared private well. 
Originally the most urgent task was to remove the large woody echium bushes volunteering throughout the interior of the future garden zone and to scout or map out the fence line so the garden could be safely planted by the spring of 2013. This was a solo project labor wise, meaning lots of hard work. Setting posts should have been easy, just digging with a shovel for the most part. But a quarter of the fence line needed to drilled out by a hand auger. It was compacted dirt needing to be removed 1/2 inch at a time for the postholes with the shavings scooped out by hand. It was memorable work. Then hanging the 6’ tall welded wire fencing along the perimeter alone was not easy either. 

Eventually, six semi raised beds were built with full caging underground. The beds are made of rough cut 12"x 2” redwood ,10’x5' in dimension lined with 1/2”  galvanized welded wire and are about 2 to 2 1/2 feet deep.  The wire had to be hand stitched together where the two pieces for each bed met. It was a ton of weekend work for an extended pay off. Lets just say lot of great swells were missed that year. But it was worth it, back aches and all. My chiropractor would agree...

The first fruit trees were planted in winter while the fence and beds were being built. Bare root fruit trees are dormant and are just branches at first so I didn’t fear the deer before the first blossoms or leaves. Starting a permanent garden with fruit trees is critical as it takes on average three years being to produce fruit. The first few years it is important to provide proper training and pruning for the trees to assist with developing increased crop yields into the future. The trees planted in the winter of 2013 include: Stella Cherry, Royal Blenheim Apricot, Frost Peach, Fuji Apple, MacIntosh Apple, Bartlett Pear,  and a Comice Pear. The trees are set just inside west, northern and east perimeter of the fence line. The south side fence line has no trees to maximize sunlight exposure. The trees are spaced 8’ apart and their graft union scar faces toward the north on each tree. The trees were organically fertilized and mulched with oak chips. They were hand watered twice monthly during the summer months.

Wow, what a difference attention makes to the trees. There was obviously no fruit the first year, but spectacular growth, minus one deer munch incident before the fence was finished. This made for highly conscious pruning the first winter. The raised beds were exceptionally fertile too benefitting from the double dig method and application of homemade compost comprised of garden waste and kitchen scraps and soil. Compost is an integral part of the garden’s success. Much of the inspiration and gardening knowledge was acquired by reading John Jeavon’s classic book “How to Grow More Vegetables” (but the full title is "How to Grow More Vegetables than you thought possible in less space than you can imagine”).  It is the definitive tutorial for any self sustainable biodynamic gardening approach. Go spend the $20 for the book if this story resonates with you as the text cannot be recommended enough. Since tinkering in the garden from a young age to refining my skills in the Soquel Hills, this 2500 square feet is a dream in process, utilizing all the collectively learned experiences to date. This long term gardening experiment is really a small tribute to the biodynamic process.

The first few beds in the 2500 square feet were square but not level. The sloping hillside has a semi terraced feel with the beds but is very subtle to the eyes. The final beds were square and level but I’m not sure the plants even notice or care. There is room for more raised beds inside the protection of the fence but the configurations of the beds are still a contemplation. With only 300 square feet of raised beds, with one dedicated to roses and tulips, there is still plenty of room to build more beds to grow other goodies.  But really it is better to start small, build the soil properly, then expand the active garden areas once the composting and biointesive planting techniques are understood. This style of gardening is about a self sustaining system with minimal financial output for either fertilizers or seeds.

In addition to growing vegetables seasonally, a cover crop of fava beans is grown in the late fall and winter. A larger space could incorporate crimson clover or mustard. But with just a few beds the fava beans are great for now. Not only do these roots aerate the soil they also fix nitrogen to it and prevent tomato wilt.  Their contribution to the compost pile cannot be ignored either. Also an abundance of flowers planted from seed were sown in the garden. This adds quite a multicolor delight for the eyes. The multitude of flowers attract all sorts of butterflies, bees and other insects, usually the beneficial ones. Calendulas really reseed easily and are really bright. In fact many flowers volunteer through the zone now as the space matures, quite a pleasant discovery indeed. 

So there is an introduction to this experiment called 'My 2500 Square Feet'. Check back over time to read about it’s progression.

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