Dreaming of Warm Days, The Smell of Dirt and Gardening

by admin on January 13, 2010

In the midst of what has to be one of the coldest January in memory, I console myself for the lack of outside time by looking over seed catalogs, reading my gardening magazines and books and planning for next season’s gardening. I took photos of my gardens in their summer prime so I can look back on them longingly, like a lonely woman pining for her distant lover who will return one day.

For well over a decade I have been a fan and advocate of intensive, raised bed gardening, especially raised beds constructed of used truck and car tires. The Piedmont area of North Carolina has some of the worst soil – red clay often mixed with large gravel making it like concrete in the summer heat. Raised beds are tidy, water conserving, efficient, and a lot less work! You use less water, less fertilizer.  Mel Bartholomew’s book, Square Foot Gardening, was the most influential gardening book for me and I still use the principles he espouses.

Used tires became a favorite raised bed material when I had little money to buy the lumber to make a large quantity of beds. I stumbled upon tire recycling and I was hooked! Tires are free because tire sales places must pay a fee to dispose of them and they are quite happy for you to take as many as you wish. Scrub them of road grime, remove the sidewalls and turn them inside out and voila! A longlasting, free raised bed! My largest intensive, raised tire bed garden was 32X64 feet which provided enough produce for me to can tomatoes, salsa, pickles, fresh corn on the cob, herbs and armloads of cut flowers. I got as much out of my 32X64 garden as most people did from their gardens that were four times larger!

Six of the twelve tires at the start of the season.  The peppers are already planted (note:  three plants to a tire) and tomato (1 per tire).

But since moving from the farm five years ago, the space to have a garden that large in this smaller, wooded lot has not been practical so I’ve scaled back to having a much smaller garden for fresh eating.


In 2009 I grew two varieties of corn, cherry and slicing tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, green/jalapeno/banana peppers, lettuce and watermelon all in a space of 12 tires!


The zucchini just starting to form.


Lovely green peppers!


Plenty of jalapeno peppers!


Cute little cucumbers.


Normally I would not put this many corn stalks in one tire but I tried an experiment based on reading about raised beds of very intensively spaced corn. I did not get a good crop of corn in 2009 but that may be because we went on vacation during the week most crucial for kernel development and they did not get enough water. Also, I’m not convinced spacing the corn *this* intensively works. Plus having two different varieties of corn may not help with pollination. Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening spacing for corn would be one stalk every 12 inches so in the past, I’ve put 4 plants per tire with fine results. In 2010 I plan to use one variety of corn and not as close a spacing so we’ll see how that goes. Even though I did not get good results worthy of a corn-centric dinner, I did have the enormous pleasure of walking in amongst stalks that towered over my head and there is just something about vibrantly growing corn in a garden that is very therapeutic. And I got two large bundles of dry corn stalks for Autumn decorating!


This is Boxwood Basil which I planted in 1 gallon pots by the carport. I love this tidy, compact variety of basil.


The watermelons hills were planted in between several landscape plants. They produced small globes of Crimson Sweet melons which I fed as treats to my ponies.


A typical week’s harvest from such a small garden!

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