Pagan Gardening, Part Four-- Garden Structures

Garden Structures

No, I am not referring to the statue, the garden shed, or the lawn furniture. I am referring to the little structures you can make, like protection cages and sun boxes/cold frames. These are simple devices that protect your tender plants from the ravages of insects, animals, and adverse weather. All are portable, easy to use, easy to make, and adaptable to several uses throughout the year as your gardening needs change.

The materials for wire cages, the first we will discuss, are the cheapest. I personally recommend buying all materials at once, because the cages are so versatile you practically need little else!

All you do is buy "hardware cloth" wire fencing at the home center. I paid $8 for a big roll. A pair of tin snips and some bending, and I had three sides of a wire "box". This will form the support frame for a layer of shade cloth, plastic sheeting (for a mini greenhouse) or I can double it up with another wire "box" and give it all four sides to protect against the ravages of bunnies, squirrels, and birds.

The sun box/cold frame (I use both terms interchangeably) is a bit more expensive unless you luck into some old windows at a junkyard or something. It is nothing more than a wooden box with glass windows on top. This has been the dependable workhorse of the winter gardener. It makes having salads in December possible, even in Denver. Here in Florida, it means & could garden all year round.

There is nothing that makes a gardener more smug than having a green harvest ready under the snow and ice of winter. The chore of brooming the snow off your mini-greenhouse/cold frame will be done with a smile. This also gives certain vegetables like carrots a chance to sweeten as their natural starches turn to sugar in the cold. You will never taste anything better than a winter-harvested carrot and a spinach salad on the side.

Personally, I would LOVE to be able to afford to make a greenhouse in my backyard. I could really imagine going out there and starting my seeds or growing tropicals out there.
Greenhouse kits can be as expensive as several hundred dollars, even for the cheap, "build-it-yourself out of plastic, pvc, and clips" kit. Frankly, that is just a bit out of my budget range. (Maybe next year....)

I can imagine the neighbors complaining about my giant pvc and plastic greenhouse, so I think I am going to stick to cages and a cold frame.

The Versatile Cage

Basically, these are three-sided wire mesh cages made from common 4"x4" wire fencing. It is small enough to fit over just one 1' square of your garden.

These can be made to do several jobs with the inclusion of a few inexpensive "accessories", everything from a mini-greenhouse to a mini-shade garden.

You will need for each cage: one 12"x36" sheet of 4"x4" steel mesh fencing (go ahead and buy extra when you make the vertical structure), shade cloth, fine screen (the roll like you use to replace the screening in a screen door will last a long time!), 4- or 6-mil plastic sheeting, and clothespins.

Take the sheet of fencing and bend it every 12" to form a three-sided "box". It will have a front, a top, and a sides needed. Use pliers if you need to, to bend the cut wires in so they won't stab you. That's it! You have a cage.

To keep out birds, rabbits, and harmful insects, cover it with the screening and secure with the clothespins. Cover the sides too. Insects harmful to that plant type have a specific time period to lay eggs or do damage. Research and know when to cover your plants during those dangerous times.

To make a mini-greenhouse, cover with plastic and secure with clothespins. (Yes, the sides too...see the pattern developing here?) Use this to warm the soil a couple of days before planting in the spring, or to get a little jump on the season while there is still danger of a late frost.

The shade cloth cover done the same way protects young transplants and summer-grown lettuce from burning and/or bolting. It is also good to protect the young plants from marauders in the insect world.

Finally, just the wire cage can be used as a support mechanism for a bushy plant that needs just a bit of "staking". It can grow right through the wires. This is great if you accidentally bought a determinate tomato plant, or that bell pepper plant to help support it when it is in fruit. Just make sure to put the cage over the plant when it is very small and young. Don't wait. You want it to grow through the cage on its own.

See how versatile one or two of these cages can be?? And so easy and cheap! Again, make it once, and keep it for years to come. Because they are made of galvanized steel, they won't rust as easily so storage is not an issue. Just stack them over to one side of the garden in the fall and cover with a tarp or sheet of plastic. Use the clothespins to secure it from winter winds.

The Sun Box/Cold Frame

A standard cold frame is a large box made of wood, with "windows" on top. This device is normally used to give tender seedlings a place outside to get used to the more adverse conditions of the outdoors while still giving them a measure of protection.

The standard cold frame is also tilted so that you can get the maximum amount of sun, thereby keeping tender seedlings warm even when it is a bit too chilly for them to go into the soil.

Frankly, I am scared to death of power tools, like the circular saw. The standard cold frame requires two sides to be cut at an angle so that the window is tilted. This made the design too difficult for me to accomplish.

The Sun Box design requires no fancy cuts. A regular old hand saw is the most difficult tool you use. The box is tilted by sloping the dirt beneath it instead. To me, this is an equitable trade.

The sun box has three (or more) parts. The first part is a sheet of Plexiglas. The other parts are frames made out of 2x4's or 2x6's, you stack one on top of another until you have the height inside you want before you put on your storm window "lid". All these materials can usually be found at hardware stores and home centers.

Let us assume your Plexiglas is 2'x2', a nice workable size, so get two of them. This makes your final dimension of Plexiglas 4'x4'. You make your frames the same dimensions, 4'x4'. Let us assume you make two of these frames.

You have spent about $25 for all materials. Some hardware stores even cut the 2x4's for you, so you may have saved yourself that labor. Stack the frames on the sloped soil and lay the Plexiglas on top.

You can use a rock, a brick, or a bag of soil to hold the Plexiglas topper down, or if you want to get fancy, use hooks and eyes.

I admit, the author of my book recommended a storm window instead of Plexiglas. But those things are heavy!! I am trying to keep it simple, easy for one person to do alone, and cheap. (After all, I want to be able to AFFORD to garden!)

If you have any questions about constructing these sun boxes, consult the book.

Support Frame walls and Arbors

Your support frames, while extremely functional in the vegetable garden supporting tomatoes, can also serve as garden architecture.

Remember my mentioning garden "rooms"? Each room has a different purpose, and needs "walls" or some sort of way to delineate between one room and the next. What better wall in a garden than a living wall?

Imagine, if you will, you have important guests over for dinner, and cocktails are to be served on the patio. Instead of a simple concrete slab off the dining room with a view of your compost heap, they are treated to the sight of living walls of greenery covered in huge red blossoms!

Yes, the concrete slab is still there. Those walls of greenery are your scarlet emperor runner beans in bloom. But, you have visually altered that little slab by extending the walls out a few feet in all directions, creating a cosy, visually cool room for your guests to sit in.

Your guests grow curious as they sit walls with a small walk off to one side draw them...finally, they can't stand it and ask to explore. As they pass the walls of the patio garden, they find themselves in your flower garden, again surrounded by living walls, but this time of roses!

In the center of the flower garden, the path beckons them further...(my how large this little 1/4 acre seems!)...and the path leads them to where they must turn right or left, just as they leave the flower garden...they choose left...

They go beneath an arbor of ivy with a little bench that invites them to sit for a moment, but they press on...and find themselves on a tiny lawn with only a circle of paving stones in the center, with a simple column at the very center of the stones...a few chairs outside the circle invite them to meditate and feel at peace...

But your guest's curiosity is further piqued...they turn and go back through the arbor and go the opposite way...and find themselves looking at your neat little vegetable garden...only two 4'x4' plots, with fine walls of tomatoes, cucumbers, and other greenery not identifiable..even the path has some tiny little plant that smells delightful as they step on it....

Please remember that such a garden cannot happen in one season. This type of yard would take a few years of patient work and investment to bring to fruition. But, even on 1/4 acre, imagine the satisfaction! Who says you have to be a millionaire on 17 acres to have such things?

You have your map of your yard I made you imagine that walk through it, and start making a little each year. Okay, so the veggie/herb garden is first...then the sanctuary garden...then...think it all through...and begin to set your priorities...

I am sure there are those who are moaning quietly to themselves, "But I live in an apartment! All I have is that concrete slab for EVERYTHING!"

Don't worry, your little patio or balcony has great potential too. The vertical "walls" can come from planter boxes you can make to fit your needs.

Let us assume you have a balcony on the third floor. The railing is standard wrought iron. To the right, you have arranged a tier of container plantings including a large strawberry jar with your herbs. Your guest may not notice that the tiers are created out of stacked concrete blocks and some wooden planks.

To the left, there is a box on the floor, 4'x1'x1'. Behind it is a vertical frame, and planted within is a tomato, a cucumber, and some summer squash. In front of the box is a half-whiskey barrel, seemingly loaded with what looks like chives, and some sort of leafy greens.

If your guests looked up, they might notice that there is a florescent lighting fixture attached to the balcony ceiling to provide extra "grow lights", but they do not. (Most folks don't look up...)

If you are lucky enough to have florescent lighting in your kitchen, then there too can be plants on the counter and table. Use what you have! Did you know that there are florescent bulbs that can replace regular incandescent bulbs, screwing into the same socket just as the regular bulb will?

Grow light tables are, frankly, expensive. But, if you don't have to invest in the outdoor garden supplies, then you can save up for the table. It takes up about the same amount of room as a good easy chair.

We are nearly at the end of this dissertation series. There is much more I could go into, if need be, but some things are just not feasible in this dissertation. I hope I have inspired you to go out there and try, no matter what your circumstances.

You are not alone out there!! There are books and magazines specifically for the home gardener. I have gotten much inspiration from my personal favorite, "Organic Gardening" magazine.

As a special note, once you subscribe to a gardening magazine, they sell your name to other periodicals and seed catalogue companies! Your mailbox in January will become stuffed with seed companies, sending you their catalogues in hopes you will buy something from them.

I highly recommend taking advantage of the services of one good gardening magazine. The benefits will far outweigh the cost of a subscription, and you will be given tips, the latest gardening news, reviews of the latest gardening books, and even software for your computer to help you is available!

Got a VCR? Do you have cable or satellite services? Gardening shows on TV abound during the day, and even the "Suzy Homemaker" type shows have gardening segments. Tape the shows, if they come on at a time inconvenient to you. Check your local listings for times and days.

My first inspirations to garden came from one of these shows, the no-longer-available "Gardening Naturally". Rarely was I able to watch this show when it came on, so I began taping. Four VCR tapes later, I now have a visual library I can watch when I please for references, all free, save for the cost of the blank tapes. Johnny's Seeds have some of the books written by the hosts of that show, Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch, if you are interested.

Thank you for reading this series. I've made personal recommendations throughout this series, but please do not take my word as gospel! Research for yourself as to what works in your area and fits your lifestyle.


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