Turning a shelving unit into planter boxers as we prepare our winter garden

21 Sep

Though I’ve found little time for blogging in the past month, I have found time to dedicate to at least one non-work, non-political activity – gardening.

I’ve been gardening for several years now. First at my wife’s parents house, in their huge back yard (we built many raised beds and a chicken coop – it was a huge undertaking). Then on our apartment’s balcony. And a year and a few months ago we moved our container garden to our new home, with much more space, and we added several larger containers.

But over all of those years, gardening was just another thing I did – something I enjoyed and that kept me busy and sometimes distracted. I can’t explain what happened to me this spring, but something changed and gardening is now a way of life for me. It’s integral to my daily, weekly, and monthly routines.

Whatever happened, I couldn’t be happier about it, and neither could my garden. Caring for it several hours a week has paid off. We haven’t bought lettuce in months. We probably bought about half the tomatoes this summer as we usually do. As of a couple of weeks ago, our radish harvest has become so abundant and regular that we’ll probably never have to buy radishes again (and we eat a lot of radishes). And whenever I’m low on produce, I just go outside and pick some. It’s pretty phenomenal.

With this week of heat, our summer fruits are very happy. These tomatoes have finally started to ripen (I’ll get to pick them this weekend!):

The new fig tree, lemon tree, and raspberry plant that I purchased a couple of months ago are showing signs of producing edible fruits within a few weeks:

(Yes, that is a bunch of lettuce growing in the same container as the Meyer lemon tree – since lettuce has shallow roots and likes shade, they are quite happy together.)

But I know that very soon, the summer plants will either die back or go into hibernation for the winter, and I’m determined to not repeat what happened last year when I neglected our garden entirely for several months in the winter.

So I did the only sensible thing – bought more containers, filled those with onions and beets – and realized we still didn’t have enough growing space for all of the fall and winter vegetables I wanted to plant. What we did have was a shelving unit that we nearly got rid of (it’s ugly and huge, but served us well for the past year as we gathered enough furniture to furnish our much larger home).

But as we dissembled the shelves and they sat on their sides in our living room, I realized that they would make perfect planter boxes and would be much deeper than most of the containers we have. And after my wife and I drilled some holes in the bottom and added a wood plank to each of their sides to cover up a large hole, that’s exactly what we used them for.

It was easy. We turned them upside down and drilled some holes for drainage:

Flipping it back over, it was ready to go:

So I put in a layer of wood chips (I have no idea if this will work, but I hope it will help with drainage and at least for a while prevent dirt from getting lodged in the little holes):

And then I added in some dirt, a couple solar lights, and in this box, a bunch of turnip seeds:

The week before I took these photos, we planted the other three shelve-boxes, and sprouts had already come up in two of them. Radish sprouts, in the box filled with radish and carrot seeds and flowers:

And mustard greens and bok choy:

Not wanting to waste any of the shelving unit, we turned the top of it upside down to make a lettuce planter box:

It might seem like I’m set for my winter garden, but there’s still a ton to do if I want to  avoid a repeat of last year. This set of radishes are nearly ready for harvest (and I need to harvest some soon to make way for the carrots growing with them):

I’m thrilled that the potato plants are finally yellowing and dying because that is the best time to pick potatoes (they last longer when you pick them at this time). So we’ve already begun to sprout potatoes to get them ready to plant here:

And if I want actual beets, and not just beet greens, I’ll probably need to thin them out (the four larger greens on the edges are chard starters, the beets were from seed):

After all of this prep, and harvesting summer fruits, there won’t be as much to do for a while, especially when rain takes over my watering job. And I have to admit, I’m a bit sad thinking that I won’t have to spend hours in the garden every week, as it’s become something I look forward to. That’s ok though – I’ll use some of that extra time to plan our spring and summer garden and to somehow figure out how I’m going to fit ten tomato plants into our relatively small space.

If you’ve thought about starting a winter garden, now’s the time to do it. Though summer plants might seem more enticing, winter in the Bay Area is the easiest time to garden. The rain does half the work and winter vegetables are just easier to grow and need less care. So find yourself some shelves or containers of any kind lying around your house, drill some holes, and get started. This heat won’t last forever and it’s perfect for starting seeds or bringing starters to their new home.

Past posts on our garden:

2 Responses to “Turning a shelving unit into planter boxers as we prepare our winter garden”

  1. lenraphael October 22, 2011 at 9:12 pm #

    any suggestions on particular varieties or space requirements or depth requirements for winter veges? at this point, best to buy seedlings or still time for seeds?

    when the weather gets cold, use plastic pipe hoops and plastic sheeting, or not needed?

    -len raphael

    • Rebecca Saltzman (aka Becks) October 23, 2011 at 11:52 am #

      Luckily, it’s rarely cold enough in Oakland to need to protect plants. As long as your plants aren’t seedlings once the serious (well, serious for here) cold hits in December, they should be fine. If it does get into the low to mid 30s here, it’s best to provide your plants with some protection. I’ve used Christmas lights before to provide some warmth, though plastic would work too.

      I think you still have plenty of time for seeds, as long as you have full sun light, since we should still have at least on and off sun for a while. But plant starters would work too.

      In terms of depth requirements, it depends on what you’re growing and what variety of the vegetable you’re growing. If you don’t have a lot of depth (less than a foot), any kind of greens would work, along with radishes, and there are some shorter carrots that you could grow. Other root vegetables – turnips, parsnips, longer carrots, beets – need more depth, ideally at least a couple of feet.

      And as far as space goes, you can grow almost anything in a small space – you just can’t grow as much of it. Seeds packets should have spacing suggestions, and if you buy plant starters, the nursery or farmer should be able to let you know.

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