On its face, gardening is simple. All you need to make things grow are sun, seeds, soil and water.
But there are other considerations at work when it comes to growing a backyard vegetable garden — especially productivity and convenience.
The Louisiana Master Gardeners group is out in force volunteering its expertise to the Baton Rouge metro area on how residents can grow their own food, year-round, if they choose to.
At a seminar Feb. 5 at the East Baton Rouge Parish Library’s Bluebonnet branch, master gardeners gave a two-hour tutorial on how to set up a garden and the resources available to those who want advice.
Master Gardener Richard Babin gave step-by-step instructions on creating a raised-bed garden to a full room of participants during the free seminar.
Raised beds have a few advantages over traditional row gardens for smaller backyard spaces, Babin said, including improved yield and drainage and easier access for garden maintenance if well planned. They also offer a good solution for areas with poor soil.
Choosing the site is the top priority, Babin said. Look for a spot that will get at least six to eight hours of sunlight per day and has the best drainage, he said, and take into consideration whether power and water sources are nearby.
One of the disadvantages to raised and container gardens, fellow Master Gardener Don Moore said, is that they require more frequent watering than in-ground gardens.
Sketching out the beds in advance and to scale is a great planning tool to head off any potential problems, and Babin advises beds be no more than 4 feet wide — but can be any length — so plants are easily accessible for maintenance and harvest. This allows for two adjacent 24-inch squares on each row.
Extra-large plants like tomatoes will take up one entire 24-inch square; large plants can be planted every 12 inches, or two per square; medium plants need 4 to 6 inches per plant; and smaller crop seeds can be scattered over a square and thinned to every 3 inches. The spacing allows for air flow and room for the plant to grow to its most productive size.
Another helpful consideration is how wide a pathway one needs between beds. Generally 1 to 2 feet is fine, but gardeners who use wheelchairs may need more room to maneuver.
Measure and mark the area with stakes and remove the grass, put down weed-blocking material and create the sides of the bed. Generally, 8 inches is enough room for most vegetable crops, he said, though they can be made as tall as necessary to create ease of use. This is especially helpful to gardeners with mobility issues, he said.
Pretty much any material can be used to construct a raised bed, he said — stacked lumps of broken concrete, concrete blocks and cross ties are all good options, he said, but he showed many examples of creative recycled solutions, including wine bottles, used tires and even a bed frame.
Fill the bed with soil and organic material — composted cow manure is a favorite for Babin — and send a soil sample to the LSU Agricultural Center’s Soil Test and Plant Analysis Lab, Babin said, and amend the soil as instructed.
Not all soil is alike, he said, even commercially available soil.
For more information about the cost of soil testing and where to get kits, visit the lab’s website, tinyurl.com/LSUsoil.
Irrigation also is critical to a successful garden, he said, and raised-bed gardeners may want to look into options for irrigation systems that send water directly to the roots and decrease the amount of labor involved.
The AgCenter also produces a guide to vegetables that do well in Louisiana, he said, which can be viewed or printed at www.tinyurl.com/laplants.