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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Where There's Dirt, There's a Way!

World War I poster by James Montgomery Flagg, 1918.

Gardening is the new old trend.  With the economy being what it is, the return of consumers to real food, which we now call "organic", and the green push to eat locally harvested produce, more and more people are making the attempt to grow their own food.  This is leading to some new and inventive ways of doing it.

World War II poster from the U.S. GPO,
by artist Morley, 1945. 

In the 1940s, "victory" gardens were planted to help with war rations.  Recent figures I read claim that nine million tons were produced in the U.S., and the efforts produced 40% of the veggies consumed nationally.  In Great Britain, it is estimated that $1.2 billion worth of produce was grown by the end of the WWI, in five million gardens.  When people grew their own produce, it freed the produce on the market to be purchased by the military to feed the troops, and it was available at lower costs.

Handbook from April, 1944, image courtesy of this site

The postwar boom had housing being built with yards big enough for gardens, but most people went for lawns - the greener and more weed-free the better.  Some people grew their own produce still, but until recent years it wasn't a trend. Container gardening did become popular, both for homeowners and apartment dwellers, especially when people found they could grow some produce in containers.  Herbs were commonly grown in pots, but soon people found they could grow tomatoes, lettuce, and other veggies.

Various containers are used here - from wooden boxes to tires.

One type of container that is becoming popular to use is plastic swimming pools. They can be placed on the ground, patio or pavement, or even rooftops.  They are great for sites with poor or contaminated soil, and even in harsh climates can last 5-6 years.  Drain holes are made about 2" from the bottom to drain off too much water, while still keeping a small reservoir.

Here pools are used to create little mini-gardens.  This image and the one
above courtesy of this site, which has lots of good info.

In the 70s, community gardens started flourishing.  Today they are an important part of urban renewal in some areas, and make use of vacant land that would be wasted otherwise.  It also is less time-consuming, as the labor and costs are shared. Some are parceled off in allotments, each participant receiving their own little portion of land to grow what they wish.

A community garden in D.C. in 2006.

One of the coolest techniques is rooftop gardening.  This method uses the otherwise unused space on top of a structure's roof, which receives the sun, and provides insulation to the structure, significantly cooling it in hot months.  Roof load capacity is a critical determinant of whether this type of gardening is applicable to any structure.  Hydroponics, where plants are grown in a soilless medium and fed a special nutrient solution is the lightest option.  Accessibility and water supply are two other concerns, but if it can be done not only does it benefit the gardeners, but also birds, butterflies, and other creatures we share the earth with.

This is the rooftop garden of Eagle Street, over a warehouse in Brooklyn.

Vertical gardens were first planted by architects in the 80s to help cool buildings. Also called green walls, they are being employed to grow vegetables now.  Some have plants rooted into the soil and growing up onto a supporting structure.  Others have soil packed into a bag or shelf, then are hung on a supporting structure. These have to be replenished every year, and are not suitable in areas with seismic activities or high winds.  Access to the plants and water is also a concern.  Mat or coir fibers are often used, and new systems are being developed for consumers all the time.

I recently read of "pocket" gardens being planted in France.  These make use of posts in an urban setting, where vegetables and flowers are planted.  A Parisian artist, Paule Kingleur, worked with 600 Parisian schoolchildren to plant them and tend to them.  The planters are made of discarded milk cartons wrapped in fabric from recycled tents.  Let's see if this trend catches on!

Unless otherwise noted, images courtesy of Wikipedia.


  1. Wow Linda, a topic so close to my heart and you've illustrated it beautifully. I was just wondering yesterday what the actual dollar value or trade difference individual or community gardens are having on the grocery store volume. Bill and I haven't purchased any produce but a head of lettuce or a sack of potatoes at the beginning of summer since the garden started producing in June. We still buy bread, cereal, coffee, meat and seasonings but have probably saved a couple hundred dollars already this year and froze enough produce to last us at least until January. I haven't even dug the spuds yet because I'm waiting for the first hard freeze to sweeten them up a bit. I'm still getting a lot of vegetables and hopefully can squeeze two more weeks out of the season to give the tomatoes a little much needed time to ripen.

    I'll have to send some pictures of the new raised beds I'm making from re-used tin panels that I salvaged from our shed when it collapsed in a snow storm. I was a bit ambitious making them 18" tall and they're a lot to fill but will certainly make it nice to weed and care for them. I have tons of yard debris so I fill them 3/4 with loose gangly stuff and keep the soil just in the top 4-6 inches.

    Most of my garden is raised beds and I'm going to plant in old tube socks next spring for some hanging garden items like seen in the Paris Pole gardens.

    Your articles are wonderful and informative. I'm so glad you invited me.

  2. Thanks, ID! I enjoyed researching this post. I think everyone should have the pleasure of growing something, even if it's only herbs in pots. I didn't cover straw bales, which I may do in the future. I look forward to seeing your pix!

  3. I'm 3/4 done with the second one of a series of eight experimental bins. They're really a chore to set up but once done will be done forever (or till I sell this place or die). I replanted the first one with the iris, daisy, violet and hyacinth stuff I'd salvaged from that flower garden spot and it was so much easier to plant and move things around now that it's out of the hard packed dirt and a little higher so I don't have to get down on my knees. The soil stays much looser and the moisture isn't wasted or run off into places it doesn't need to go. I'm mostly pleased with it. It's a little misshapen but in a year when all the stuff flows over the edges you won't even notice the crooked walls.

    The second one is going much better. I'm working my way around the learning curve. By the eighth one I'll have it down to a science and can legitimately post a how to series on making raised beds from salvaged tin. Right now I wish I had a big Samoan Masseuse to beat my muscles to oblivion. I hurt from head to toe.