Q: I keep hearing about hydroponics. What is it, and is this something I could do at home?
A: Hydroponics is growing plants in water without using any soil. In a small way, we have all practiced hydroponics by taking a stem from a favorite plant, placing it in a glass of water, setting it on the windowsill and, in a few days, had lots of new roots growing in the water and new leaves appearing on top.
In a business situation, hydroponic methods are used in greenhouses to grow some of the produce that we find in our grocery stores throughout the year. This link will take you to a short video that should help explain hydroponics for you: http://tinyurl.com/co2ynul.
Q: What is a high tunnel? I've been hearing how I can grow vegetables during the winter in one of these.
A: “A high tunnel is an unheated, plastic covered structure used to grow and protect plants. They are vented naturally, and there is no 'pumped-in' heat; they allow for passive heat from the sun.
“On a sunny cool spring day, the temperature can easily climb to over 100 degrees inside when the outside temperature is only 40-50 degrees. Unlike most greenhouses, high tunnels have no floor and the crops inside are grown in the ground.” (http://highfarming.blogspot.com/2010/04/what-is-high-tunnel.html).
Q: I'm very busy but would love to begin gardening. What is this “lazy man's garden” I have been hearing about? I thought it was a joke, but evidently it is an easy way to make a garden.
A: You are right; it isn't a joke but a very easy way to begin building a new garden. It has been called lasagna gardening and few other names in the past, but it is now being called “sheet gardening,” which just means a “no till” garden.
Fall is the best time to begin this project so the plot will have composted and be ready for planting in the spring. But you can build it now to be used this fall for cool-weather vegetables.
First, you need to decide where you want the garden to be located and how big you want it to be. It is best to make it so you can comfortably reach into the middle from all sides in order to sow seed or place transplants and care for the finished garden when things begin to grow and produce.
Next, spread a thick layer of manure (3 to 6 inches deep) directly on top of the grass, add sheets of newspaper (at least 5 sheets thick) or cardboard on top of that, then layer more manure, fresh grass clippings or chopped-up leaves, and keep layering using “brown, green, brown, green” as a guide until the bed is at least 12 inches deep.
Water each layer as you add it. When you are done, top it off with straw or compost, and water once more.
The grass under the new planting bed will be smothered and the soil will be improved by this method.
To build a sheet garden and begin planting yet this year, do not use fresh manure — be sure it is well-rotted. You can purchase composted manure in bags at most garden centers.
To sow seed, make shallow trenches for the seeds and cover them with potting soil. If you use transplants, make a trench two or three times the depth of the root ball, then cover with potting soil and water in.