Garden grid of boxes produces high yields
“This is what I love to do,” Jane Jones of Spencerport says of gardening, and one look at the yard of her Coleman Avenue home confirms that.
Forty-three 4’x4’ raised beds made of cedar stand in orderly formation directly behind her home and along the south side of her house.
“I don’t think in rows,” she says, “I do better with squares.”
Jane is entering her third growing season utilizing the squares, which she says make the task of growing vegetables, herbs and even fruit much more convenient. She and her husband constructed the first 25 raised beds which are located adjacent to her deck behind her home in the spot where a pool once stood.
The boxes mean Jane does not have to haul out a rototiller to start her vegetable gardening work this spring. Aside from pulling a few stray weeds, the boxes are ready for planting. Jane gardens organically and to fill the boxes, she brought in leaf compost from the Monroe County Ecopark located at 10 Avion Drive in Chili adjacent to the Greater Rochester Airport.
The Ecopark specializes in collecting recyclable materials from Monroe County residents as well as special collections of items like household hazardous waste, unwanted medications, tires and refrigerant-containing appliances, but also has a seasonal compost give-back program.
Jane filled her boxes with the leaf compost and now grows the bulk of her veggies from seed, including tomatoes and peppers.
“I’m dying to get out and work,” she says of this year’s slowly starting growing season. She says the boxes are kept 4’x4’ so that it is easy to reach to the middle of each box. The soil in the boxes never becomes compacted because Jane does not have to step in them to garden.
Already this spring she has boxes planted with peas, spinach and beets (for greens). A crop of garlic is growing in another raised bed box.
The vegetables do extremely well in the boxes and Jane can plant varieties like spinach, peas, cabbage and kale – which like cooler conditions – in the beds directly behind the house where there is some shade. Vegetables like tomatoes, pepper and basil grow in boxes along the south side of the house which gets full sun and warmer temperatures.
Jane limits herself to one variety of vegetable per box. “I’m still learning,” she says of the process, including “the number of plants and seeds which work best per box.”
Her basil, for example, gets so big, she has only one plant per box.
Jane keeps meticulous plans and records of where she has planted each vegetable and annually rotates her crops. Because the beds are so close to the house, they are easy to water with a hose. Three-year old grandson, Jaxon, loves to help out with the garden, particularly with the watering, Jane says.
The boxes are arranged in neat rows with two feet of space between each box “so I can get my wheelbarrow in there,” Jane says. She uses wood chips to mulch the area around the boxes, suppressing weeds and creating tidy paths.
Flowers are grown in flower boxes on the deck as well as in containers, as are some varieties of herbs. A large Concord grape vine grows with abandon on the southeast corner of the house and there are also berry bushes and even a mulberry tree in her yard.
Strawberries are grown in the boxes and Jane maintains a compost pile.
“This is what I love to do,” she says of working in her garden. “I’m perfecting this as I go along. I’m an out-of-the-box thinker. I learn by doing.”
Last year, Jane says she planted way too many tomatoes. This year she will plant fewer and place them in the back row of beds along the south side of the house because of their height.
“I’m overwhelmed with the productivity,” Jane says of her harvest. “We eat out of this garden.” She shares the abundance with her sister and daughter who live nearby and with her neighbors.
Kale does wonderfully in the boxes, Jane says, as well as cilantro and cabbage. Jane grows bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, cantaloupe, watermelon, lettuces, arugula and celery in her boxes as well as zucchini and yellow squash. She grows potatoes which grandson, Jaxon, enjoys harvesting. She says she loves eating crops like peas, “right in the garden,” and that the boxes help to keep herbs like oregano and mint from taking over.
She notes that root crops like carrots and parsnips are some of the few things which have not done well in the boxes.
Right now, Jane is in the process of transitioning to using all organic seeds. She has been a seed-saver since she was a little girl when she saved grape seeds and other seeds and pits from fruit.
Gardening is a wonderful activity that gets her out of the house, Jane notes.
“When the weather is nice, I have something to do outside,” she explains. “I love to garden, I love to get my hands in the dirt – it’s therapy for me.”
Note: Find out more about Ecopark atwww.monroecounty.gov/ecopark
Photos by Kristina Gabalski