Big things grow in small beds

Ralph B. Davis rdavis@civitasmedia.com

August 19, 2014

PRESTONSBURG — Carl Wilson sees the future of gardening on an old concrete pad where a garage used to be.

Last year, the Prestonsburg resident raised a garden along the side of his house, plus a separate 10-foot by 10-foot section in the back — about 600 square feet total. This year, he began employing “urban gardening” techniques to confine his garden to two 6-foot by 18-foot raised beds, or less than half the area of last year.

The result? This year’s yield is running ahead of last year’s.

“This is urban gardening,” Wilson said. “This is for the guy who has little soil or no soil.”

Wilson employs organic gardening techniques and says his garden is completely self-contained. He collects rainwater above the garden and adds a little more from the roof of his Arnold Avenue home. Solar lights and heaters complete the garden, which can be converted to greenhouses in the winter with the help of hoops and plastic sheeting.

The beds themselves contain a layer of clay and a layer of gravel, upon which he added a foot of compressed leaves and then topped it off with a mixture of humus and manure. Household waste is periodically added into the mix to help boost the soil’s nutrients, including eggshells for calcium and tea and coffee grounds for nitrogen.

“You’re looking at a garden in 6 inches of dirt, on concrete,” Wilson said. “So, we have disproven the theory you need more than 6 inches of dirt to grow food.”

Wilson says another feature of his garden is one that will appeal to many struggling weekend gardeners — it is practically “zero maintenance.” He said the garden requires not tilling or weeding, and the raised beds keep garden pests to a minimum.

Wilson grows a wide array of vegetables and herbs in his garden and attributes the large bounty he gets from his efforts to make use of every square inch. His 18 tomato plants grow in single vertical stalks to a height of nearly 7 feet. This allows him to plant a secondary crop back at ground level, and he has done so with lettuces, greens, squash and zucchini.

Wilson says his garden is perfect for people who have very little land with which to work, and he happily shows others exactly how he put his garden together and even offers to help some do the same.

The lesson to be derived from urban gardening techniques, Wilson said, is simple: “You can grow a tremendous amount of food on a very small square footage.”