There are many ways to garden, and none are right or wrong. I use many methods here on the farmstead, including the black plastic method, which is by far one of the quickest and easiest. It has always been successful for me.

I’ve been told many times that it just can’t be done, often while the naysayer was standing in front of a table loaded with luscious tomatoes and crisp cucumbers that were grown in black plastic. Some people just don’t know truth, even when they are munching on it.

The black plastic garden

If you are new to gardening, or don’t own a tiller, have little patience for ripping up sod, or are as lazy as I am, give this method a try. If for no other reason, do it because someone said you can’t.

Black plastic is perfect for heat-loving plants like melons, peppers, and tomatoes. The plants will not overheat, as long as you remember to water them daily until established.

Let’s get started, shall we?

First, you’ll need to purchase the thickest black plastic you can find. This is 4 mil, and the 10 foot by 20 foot piece cost about $12, if I remember correctly. It will last at least three years, depending on quality.

Quality is important

Roll out the plastic on an area that has been mowed. You can do it without mowing, but stomping across oddly shaped mounds of grass and the occasional rabbit just feels wrong.

You’ll need to weight the plastic on the corners and edges. I do not recommend using “staples,” as a strong gust of wind will rip the whole thing loose. Imagine a giant, black kite sailing across your neighborhood.

Sure, it would be an interesting sight and probably great photos for the news, but it’s not something your neighbors are going to love when it plasters itself to their home, car, or face.

You can hold the plastic in place with bricks, cinder blocks, stones, landscape timbers, logs, bored teenagers, or stray cats. The last two may wander off in search of snacks, or if the Wi-Fi dies.

Once the plastic is securely in place, you are ready to plant. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

This piece of plastic is 200 square feet, which is a pretty decent size for the home garden.

Spacing can vary, but I generally leave at least a foot between tomato plants. Peppers, on the other hand, prefer to be planted close together, so feel free to crowd them a bit.

When you cut a hole for the plant, make it slightly larger than your hand to allow water to reach the plant’s roots.

High five for Mother Earth

Dig out the sod and add any soil amendments. I like to add composted manure and wood ash. The wood ash helps prevent blossom end rot.

Plant and repeat.

Diggin' it

My seedlings are still in the hardening-off process, and since plants don’t care if you have a deadline for your column, I picked up a few plants at a local nursery for this project.

Quick and easy

You can mulch with grass clippings around the plants to help hold in moisture and discourage weeds.

If you find the plastic is holding water in certain areas, simply cut a small slit to allow drainage, or leave the puddle as a death trap for slugs. A puddle of water works just as well as a puddle of beer, when it comes to slugs, or maybe the slugs in my yard are all teetotalers.

Now all you have to do is water daily until the plants are well-established, and water during dry spells.

Here’s a watering tip: You know how you’ve often heard not to water your plants in the daytime because it will burn them? Not true!

In fact, it’s best to water well before dark so that the leaves will dry. Wet leaves can be a breeding ground for fungus and bacteria. So don’t be afraid to give thirsty plants a cool drink on a hot day. We all get a little wilty in the sun, you know.

The Life & Culture section is brought to you by Knox Community Hospital.

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