Pros and Cons of Setting up a Deck Garden

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Pros and Cons of Setting up a Deck Garden

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It is no secret that droughts, fires, floods and soil depletion are going to create increasing problems in the farm areas of our nation and abroad.  On the other side of the equation, municipalities that are hungry for tax money will do everything they know how to force you to pay inflated taxes on high priced foods as well as do what they can to prevent you from having a garden.  No matter whether your yard is too small, or you have other limitations, there is a chance that you can grow at least some food using a deck garden.  For example, this summer I increased my own experiments in this field and was surprised at just how many plants I could grow successfully in an 8′ x 8′ area.  While not all of my experiments were successful, I came away from the experience with the following pros and cons to consider before approaching the next growing season.  

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Thieves Can Still Get to It


It is no secret that in a time of need, people will steal anything they can find that is edible. Even though people may not seem to pay much attention to plants growing on your back deck, rest assured they will attempt to steal it if other food sources become unavailable.  Interestingly enough, if you do some research in your local area, you may find that thieves routinely ransack gardens even in the best of times.  No matter whether the problem is people that want to sell stolen fresh foods at a local market, or they don’t want to pay for good quality organic food, your deck garden can easily become a target.


There are two ways to deal with this problem:


  • make sure you can easily close off your deck garden and prevent thieves from getting in. Use surveillance cameras, alarms, and anything else you might use to secure your own home or other property.  If you build up your deck the right way, closing it off may be as simple as closing glass windows on the upper portion of the deck.  
  • If you don’t want to enclose the deck or make it easy to close off, then grow all of your plants in buckets that can be moved indoors just before harvest.  Just remember thieves that suspect you will do this may vandalize your plants before they reach any kind of maturity.  


Limited Space


Limited space can pose a major problem if you want to grow vine plants or ones that will be more than 3 – 4 feet tall.  Since many heirloom plants are larger than their hybrid counterparts, you may find that you will have to use alternative methods to create enough room. For example, this summer I explored using wood terraces so that my vine plants could grow in the lower layer, peppers and slightly taller plants in the mid layer, and then root veggies on top.   Here are some things I found useful as I was building mine:


  • make sure the terrace has good drainage.  Use tarp or some other waterproof material at the bottom so  you don’t destroy your deck surface.  It also helps to take a piece of wood and slant it in the direction where you want the water to flow out.  Next, just cut some slits in the material so that drainage is fast and efficient.
  • Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to walk all the away around a deck terrace garden. I put one of mine in a corner, and then just set each level of the terrace in the back corner, which still left me two perfectly good sides for planting.  
  • It  is much better to make a series of smaller terraces rather than one large terrace unit.  This is especially important if you want to plant squash or other vine plants that will need a lot of room to spread.  If you plant them in separate terraces, their roots have less of a chance of interfering with each other.
  • Do not try to put too many plants in the terrace. Three or four plants with plenty of room will produce far more than six or ten that are cramped and unable to get at sufficient resources. While you can compensate to some extent with fertilizer and mulch, the plants still won’t do as well if they are packed too tightly.


Legacy Food Storage

Your other option is to use a vertical planter design.  These work well for lettuce, spinach,  herbs, and smaller plants. Do not forget they need to be in a place where they will get enough sun.  You must also be careful about the angle of each planter so that the plants do not wind up crowding each other for light and water.


Less Work to Manage and Maintain


If you are looking for a garden option that requires little or no weeding, then a terrace garden will be perfect.  No matter whether you use soil direct from your yard or buy a few hundred pounds of garden soil, weeds will not take root easily.  If they do, you can pull them out quickly without having to worry about disturbing your plants.  While it may take a bit of work to start up a deck garden, the soil can be kept on site for years on end with no problem.  Just remember to add compost at the appropriate time and keep track of the pH and rotations for each area of the deck.  In most cases you won’t need much more than a hand trowel to break up the soil and aerate as needed.  


Requires Less Water and Resources


In a time when municipal water bills continue to climb, it is  more important than ever to be able to grow plants using just local rainfall or a minimum of water from the garden hose.  There are several ways to achieve this goal:


  • deck gardens make it very easy to control soil additives. In this case, I highly recommend vermiculite and moisture control granules that will help soil retain its moisture and aeration.  
  • Regardless of how you structure the growing area, enclose the drainage runoff and feed them into a barrel. Later on, you can reuse the rainwater when the plants need it.  Never forget that rainwater does wonders for the garden and municipal or well water will never be as good.
  • If you enclose the deck, you can partially close the upper areas at certain times of the day so that less moisture escapes. Just remember to adjust the openings so that you do not wind up with fungus or other problems caused by reduced air flow.


When you plant a conventional garden, it will also take more compost and other resources.  By contrast, you may only need to feed a deck garden once a month, or even every two weeks during heavy production periods.  It is also possible to use soaker hoses and DIY soaker tubes to distribute fertilizer directly to the roots.  This saves time as well as money and effort.  If you build your garden with reuse of basic materials and tools in mind, you will find that some of the simplest and useful items will last for years on end.


Extended Growing Season


It is no secret that temperature changes and rainfall amounts are becoming increasingly erratic.  You can easily shelter plants and start them up to a month or more early depending on how you enclose the deck.  No matter whether you are concerned about temperatures, rainfall, or wind damage to plants, it is easy enough to control these factors by enclosing the deck. In addition, if you set a little bit of room aside, you can use solar can heaters and other passive methods to keep an enclosed deck garden warm during the winter months.  Do not forget to use good quality insulation and leave some room for a radiator to pump the heat around the garden area.


As you can see in the news, you will see that droughts and floods have been hitting critical areas either just after the spring planting season, or just before the harvest.  This timing means that even local gardens will fail to produce anything of value.  On the other hand, with a deck garden, you will have sufficient control of the environment within the area to take advantage of the proper growing season and ensure the harvest.  If you also need to extend the growing season or want to grow shorter term crops, this will also be much easier with a deck garden.


From the Chinese buying up our farms to soil depletion and natural disaster, the fact is food shortages may be coming to our nation very soon.  A well managed deck garden can provide a good bit of food for you and your family as long as you get started as quickly as possible.  Take the time now to look at different container, terrace, and vertical gardening methods as well as ways to control moisture, lighting, and temperature.  Once you have the basics, you will be well on your way to food independence in a time when it will be impossible to stockpile or gather food on your own.

**A Scott Hughes Original for Freedom Prepper!

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