Here in my Zone 7b Garden, on the West side of the the Greater Atlanta area, one could almost garden year ’round. In fact, that is my intent. I have no ‘real’ gardening experience. I’ve thrown a couple of seeds in the ground before, and they have grown, but that was mostly mother nature.
My Crops have been burnt, dried, attacked by pests and diseases and have generally died when the squelching summer heat arrives. They say … my average frost date here is March 15th. Only problem, I’ve seen blizzards hit (yes, in Georgia) in April and ice storms in May. I’ve also seen 75F Temps on Christmas Day. In fact the adage here is, “…if you don’t like the weather in Georgia, just give it 10-15 minutes.”
Over the years I have tried various garden methods with mixed success. This year, I am pitting 3 of those methods against one another.
1st, we have the typical garden bed, 2 actually. One is made of cinder blocks, with a pool liner and some soil mixture. It seems kind of sandy, and gets quite packed when wet. The other bed is framed with rocks from an old river bed, and also lined with plastic, though thinner. The Rock garden is maybe 4-6″ deep, whereas the cinder garden is 3 bricks, or about 18″ deep and measures 4’x8′. Also the Rock garden was filled using leaf mold and soil scraped from the ground in a wooded area. This bed is soft and fluffy, and drains a little too well!
2nd, is a wicking bed. It is a 75gal water trough (tub) purchased from the local feed n seed. It also has a pre-installed threaded drain hole. I filled the bottom of the tank with old plastic sports drink bottles with holes drilled in the bottle. I then covered this with some silt fencing, (meshed fabric) and filled with soil. This essentially gives me a water storage reservoir some 5″ deep, then topped with potting soil and sphagnum moss to an additional depth of about 8″. The soil acts as a sponge, wicking the water up towards the roots.
Finally, we have an aquaponics system. (2) 275 gal IBC totes, with the tops cut off and connected by a 3/4″ pipe. Fathead minnows in one tank and catfish fingerlings in the other. I have had these fish since the middle of October last year, (2015). It is something of an accomplishment having kept them alive throughout the winter. Now comes the really tough part, keeping the buggers alive during the summer!
Today, March 17th, 2016, marks the day that I planted the last of this years early crops in the ground. The cinder block garden had some sphagnum moss and (4) 1 cu. yard bags of garden soil added to the sandy soil. A shovel was used to break up the top 4-6″ of sandy soil and then mixed together.
In this bed we planted 6 tomato plants. (2) ea of pink brandywine and a purple heirloom. I also added (1) Red Beefsteak and (1) Better Bunch tomato, which is just a good looking red tomato. I planted seeds for (4) squash, (2) cantaloupe and (2) ‘others’. The tomatoes were planted as deep as their 1st set of leaves, and each has a tomato cage for support. These were starters, picked up at the local home improvement store. After watering in the tomatoes, some Magnesium Sulfate was added to the soil.
The Rock garden, has sweet onions around the edges. I added (2) yellow pepper starters, (4) green bean starters, along with (4) squash seeds and (1) gourd. This was also topped with Magnesium.
Level ground is at a premium here, so the wicking bed is inside a greenhouse in front of the garage. It houses (2) tomato plants, split from one starter, and (2) sets of beans planted in front of each tomato cage. There are also (3) heads of Romaine lettuce starters, along with (1) line each of cabbage / iceberg lettuce and carrot / radish, these last four from seeds. Again, magnesium was added after watering. My wicking bed has a 2″ pipe for adding water directly to the reservoir. To this I also added (1) scoop each of Potassium Sulfate, Chelated Iron and Calcium. As an added note, I also picked up a flat of (6) strawberry plants, and planted these in (2) low planter boxes placed in front of the garage greenhouse.
Finally, the aquaponics system is growing 18 heads of Romaine lettuce in a floating raft system using net pots and hydroton to hold the young plants in place. These are then placed in 2 of the 4 styrofoam boards, each a little over 24″ long. I feel I am ready to expand this system utilizing the other 2 boards. I must admit, however, that I am concerned that the warm weather here may cause them to bolt to seed. I am searching for other plants that will do well in this system and climate. This hoop house was made using 3/4″ pvc piping, various fittings, some plastic sheathing and cinder blocks to hold it all in place. The hoop house shown here was built for less than $100. Hopefully, in the future, I will be adding spec sheets on the greenhouse, wicking beds and floating raft system, as well as specs on the fish tanks and water delivery system.