I'm excited! I've got 60 holes to fill with plants, thanks to concrete blocks that now edge the boring old garden bed at the back of my yard. (Blame JoParrott, it was her inspiring photos that launched me on this path! lol). Someday I hope to make raised beds back there, but for now, I'm concentrating on the holes -- and I figured this is the right forum for help in maximizing small spaces.
Each hole is 4"x4" square and 8" deep. The blocks sit on ground so roots could go deeper than 8", although that dirt is packed hard and only about 3-4" deep before hitting rock.
I've made a start on plantings -- a few each of lettuce, oregano, basil, and one Swiss chard and kohlrabi (that last one may not be a good choice). I've got parsley and dill seeds planted and a few rosemary cuttings I'm rooting right now. I've allowed a few holes for flowers (marigolds and petunias, to keep hubby and the bees happy) and the rest of the holes are still up for grabs. Oh, the choices.
I'm not keen on onions or garlic because I have them planted elsewhere. I do have various seeds (carrots, icicle radishes, chives) that seem like good choices, although it might be getting too hot soon for the radishes (? - need to check on that).
But here's a question - any chance I could successfully put vining veggie into the holes and let them sprawl into the garden bed behind it? I ask because I have a few seedlings started -- cantaloupe, watermelon, acorn squash and cucumber and I need a place to put them. I've already filled the holes with decent soil mixture -- as opposed to the garden bed which has lots of room but miserable soil right now.
Also, I've got a few pepper seedlings. I was thinking about just sinking a couple pots of them into the holes and letting them grow there awhile, until they need more room and until I can find a better place to put them. Any harm in that?
I guess I'm just trying to resolve a small dilemma -- On the one hand, I have a workbench full of transplants (tomatoes, peppers, the aforementioned vining stuff) that are all sitting here looking at me and waiting for me to find them homes; and on the other hand, I have this lovely line-up of concrete homes waiting for occupants.
I think you want to hold your radishes till fall- they always bolt for me and i'm way up here, and have planted already.
I'm thinking the holes may be warmer/ hotter than the regular bed which your vine crops may like, and your baby peppers too. I can't say if the size of the hole will pose any restriction- never tried it!
Thanks, cocoa_lulu (love that name) - I might try a couple strawberries, thanks for the thought. I have a few plants located elsewhere but I could move a couple. I think this will be my year of trying all sorts of different things, just to see what seems to work the best.
sallyg, I was thinking about the concrete getting warmer than the regular bed -- and down here that can be a problem. Since I'm not ready to actually make a raised bed yet, but that is the final goal, I was actually thinking of starting that process by just hilling up soil against the inside of the blocks. It would be a first step toward filling the bed and would also help insulate them some.
I did check my charts and supposedly I'm still okay for planting radishes. We'll see!
Hey, I used to live in Anne Arundel County! But only ever in an apartment so the most I ever grew was a couple tomatoes.
Lise, I would not put Kohlrabi or radishes in cinder blocks- the space is too limited for them. And as I suggested earlier, don't put spreading things next to each other, or their branches will be too crowded. Your blocks look great! You could pop some colorful flowers in here and there- zinnias would be retty.
Yeah, I figured the kohlrabi was a mistake, I'll move it.
Mel's Square Foot Gardening book says he plants radishes in a 3"x3" grid, so I would think I'd be okay. But it's not like it's a favorite vegetable, so it may lose out to something more exciting to me, anyway, like strawberry or lettuce, anyway. I'll put it at the bottom of the priority list!
Thanks for the reminder about the branches. All of my plants are so darn puny right now, it's easy to forget. At least with herbs, I can trim branches some, I would guess.
And I would love zinnias, although when our heat and humidity get going, they can be hard to grow here, I think. They are favorites of mine though. My dad grew them back in the 60s and 70s in Minnesota -- eye-popping hot pinks and oranges. I can't look at a "flower power" fabric or poster without thinking of those glorious zinnias.
If you didn't line the holes with plastic, or paint the inside or outside of the cinder blocks, I would expect them to dry out pretty fast. Do you water often?
Alyssum or Lobelia would be very pretty in one of those holes, but they do spread. Can they sprawl onto the lawn? Maybe flop them back into the bed when you mow, then flop them back.
If you decide that you want something in there that roots deeper than 8-12", consider what we called at Upjohn "freeboard". (The idea is that you can put 5,100 gallons into a 5,000 gallon tank if you surround the tank's opening with boards ... this really only works with foam, not liquids.)
Some stiff plastic, or thin boards taped at the edges could be thrust into the cinder block hole, extending upwards another 8 or more inches. Now you have a solidly anchored tube or tower or chimney sticking up. Some thing spreading out up there would look like a tree or a mushroom. Or plant Lobellia and let it dangle.
Ah, excellent ideas. RickCorey_WA, I love the "chimney" idea, to break up the eye-line and provide more soil for a few blocks. I'm going to think on that! Alyssum/lobelia would be pretty. But - mow? Not a worry. We let every bit of backyard grass die, on purpose, 2 years ago, and now a nice ground-hugging clover has pretty much taken over where the lawn used to be. Everything else is gradually getting hardscaped or made into raised beds.
I do intend to coddle the plants and will do my best to keep it all watered (the plants can get all the water the grass used to get, lol). JoParrott, glad to hear it hasn't been a huge problem for you to keep yours watered. I think I'll be okay.
podster, I'll keep an eye out for the narrowleaf zinnias. They sound perfect for me.
sallyg, thanks for the comments on the cukes. On that topic, I've been very cheered to see the 'growingyourgreens' youtubes on growing cukes in a tight space. Of course he's going vertically, but it's still impressive:
Keep in mind that there is about the same amount of room in a cinder block as about a 6" pot. I don't think I would attempt to grow cucumbers in that small an area, even if the roots could grow deeper.
Thank you! That sounds so much better than "Space Cadet, you're a looney!"
>> We let every bit of backyard grass die, on purpose, 2 years ago,
Good plan! I've been trying to start some kinds of Thyme, Catmint, etc to see if they will cover ground where even weeds have a hard time (especially shady and impervious clay). Also, I want them to cover ugly spots where a series of beds are half-done, "shoulders", and cracks in walkways. Some Alysum from a "seed mix" has defied slugs and neglect, and made a home for itself in the tiny crack between a concrete sidewalk and the "paving stone" wall of a raised bed. Boy, it thirves! Kind of covers the sidewalk, but I wade through it or roll over it.
Someone is sending me a cutting of "Walk-On-Me", which sounds promising.
Some day I'll improve every square inch, of my tiny, shady yard, but for now, I make a load of soil, and create a raised bed.
While I love the idea of planting in cinder block holes, My pavers are only 1" thick, as opposed to a 6" concrete block. I thought I couldn't spare the extra square inches of footprint, but your suggestion, plus the two-tier-tower idea, is causing me to re-think that, especially where a "pyramid bed" could use the extra stability on the bottom rung.
Maybe a 2-3" PVC chimney in a 6" cinderblock hole?
Or maybe a 4" or 6" drainage pipe cut lengthwise? Kind of shallow, and not decorative.
Someone used short lengths of really huge concrete pipes (on end) as big planters.
I also saw a plan for taking 5 of the 12"x12"x1" paving stones I use as RB walls, and gluing them together into a 1-cubic-foot-planter that wieghs a ton even BEFORE ading soil.
Back in the '70s and '80s, I thought that huge gutters (like 6" deep and wide), or maybe a watering trough for horses, would make a nice container for a certain indoor crop beginning with "M".
Now I'm thinking that such a thing would make a small portable container / raised bed that could sit on a shared driveway in the sun (if neighbors were sympathetic).
what do you think, what is the distinction between a container and a small RB? Does a raised bed HAVE to have it's bottom open to the soil? Sometimes I put down cardboard if I expect tree roots. Once I put down heavy plastic to slow down the heather that the bed sits on top of.
I measure my created soil in wheelbarrowsfull (? wheelbarrowfulls?) or cubic feet, not cubic yards. Containers that could follow the sun are starting to look better than the remaining locations in my yard for RBs. (What remains is progressively more shady and requiring the removal of ever-more evergreen bushes or even more-desirable bushes).
One neighbor grew up on a farm, but doesn't have the energy to garden herelf. She recently gave me pemission to run a narrow raised bed along HER side of the shared sidewalk. YESSS! Good bye dandlions, clay, and feeble, dying grass!
That took every cubic inch of soil I had, plus a yard of sand and a yard of pine bark mulch I splurged on. (I think Lavatera and salvia need all the drainage I can create, starting with nearly-pure clay.) The chnace to acquire a whole new bed was too good to pass up, and she might have changed her mind.
Next time I can get away with it, I plan to buy two yards of compost.
Belatedly trying to get back on topic, maybe I will locate some TINY spots with a little sun, and use concrete block holes AS the bed, without using the blocks to CREATE a bed.
sallyg, I was trying to read up on that very thing. Didn't find a lot, most people said it wasn't a particular concern. One person said that all the moisture would be predominantly IN the blocks, so any leaching would be to the outside. (Of course, when you're using blocks to line a bed, you need to worry about both the inside and the outside of the block -- but then one would think it would be equally moist on both sides, so maybe there would be no leaching at all?)
Thinking further about this...assuming there were some deposits of something like lime, maybe it could be mitigated by a little soil acidifier? (sulphur). Just guessing here. I do have one of those little pH meters, so I can at least keep an eye on it. I also just bought a bag of soil acidifier for other reasons, but haven't opened it yet.
Our area's soil is alkaline already, so I am using commerical garden bed soil mixed with pine bark, perlite, peat and my own compost in the blocks, so they will at least start off with a good pH.
JoParrott, your concrete block plants look good. Do you do anything special? What kind of soil do you have in the blocks?
Lise, I don't do anything except paint a watered down latex paint on the outside-just because I don't like the dull grey color! One time it was brown- this year it's sage green. I have not noticed about any "leaching" I guess I have too many things to worry about to think of that! LOL All I know is that I have always had good harvests- at this moment there are 12 heads of Caraflex Cabbage which survived out terrible winter, and are now growing since the temps have gone up some. I expect you will have a successful season- just don't plant bushy things side by side, and don't try hrowing Cucumbers! They wouldn't be able to get a good root system, and you would be very disappointed with the results. Happy diggin! Oh, and I just put whatever soil I have on hand.
Why do you water it down? I didn't even know you could add water to any kind of piant!
Doesn't that make even more of it sink into the concrete?
Do you only use one coat of paint?
I thought that painting required a primer coat or coats.
I've been re-thinking my belief that "cinder blocks are too expensive", and like your idea of painting them.
My,my, Rick- this old lady has always done things my way! The reason I water the paint down is because I don't want to see strong color- The way I do it it's more like a tint than paint- you must not be a "honey-do" guy! If you have ever painted a room with latex paint you discover that it gets thick as you use it. The only paint that can't be thinned with water is oil based paint, and I never use it.Certainly cinderblocks don't need priming! Keep it simple- The sun will fade it- then put another coat on. I have also used latex wood stains the same way. Nothing "leaches" through. Although concrete is porous, you have nearly a 2" wall- it ain't going through it. Enjoy growing in the blocks, and try not to get complicated!
>> I don't want to see strong color
>> it gets thick as you use it.
>> cinderblocks don't need priming!
Cool! The only time I painted cinderblocks was at work, and the guy in charge had DEFINITE ideas: we had to "sand" the wall by hand with bricks or fragments of cinderblocks to "smooth it", then there was priming, then multiple coats. Obviously HE was not the one paying our salries! But I guess the rooms were part of his department, so he wanted "nice at any cost".
Mainly I want to keep the nieghborhs happy, plus prefer some color other than "concrete".
Water bleeds fast right through the 1" pavers I use for RB walls, so that corners dry out instantly and edges soon after. That may happen less as I improve the soil and make it wick better.
>> try not to get complicated
Unfortunately, that's beyond my ability. Too me, nothing is simple, and if it IS simple, I can make it complex! I've been trying to avoid "too much detail" all my life, and have yet to succeed. Verbose, too!
We have decided to paint our blocks too. I was thinking that sallyg's terra cotta suggestion sounded nice, so that was the color I had in mind when I went over to Lowe's. However, I decided to check out the "mistake paint" that they keep near the paint counter, and found a gallon of a tan/sand color. Close enough! I liked the $5 (instead of $23.98) price tag.
I've enjoyed having the spinach and lettuce too -- just pulled most of it this morning since it has started to bolt here in zone 8b.
As long as I'm posting, here's a little update on the holes:
Oregano, basil, Swiss chard, petunias, marigolds all doing fine. I'm hoping for a little more pizzazz out of the petunias but the season is young.
Kohlrabi is lacking (as JoParrott predicted). It only produced a pingpong sized fruit (or stem, or whatever you call it).
Rosemary is lagging - taking awhile for cuttings to take hold, but they're hanging in there.
Dill died -- it was so tiny, something ate it, I think. One day it was just not there. Will try again.
Pepper has stalled. I probably won't repeat this one.
Nasturitium has sprouted from seed and is a few inches high
Best surprise has been cucumber, which so far is doing surprisingly well. It currently has 4 baby cukes on it.
I've been sprouting mustard greens, kale, parsley and thyme in six-packs so now that the spinach and lettuce are out of there, some of those things can go in.
I'm really enjoying these holes! Pull something out, pop something in.
A Note to share. I have noticed that most of my plants that are planted in the concrete block hole eventually have roots that find their way into the grow bed full of good soil.
And my radishes do great in the block holes. They do have a short life there==30 days. Then I sow more. Short carrots did great in the block holes too. I grew 3 carrots per hole.
I have tomatoes growing in the block holes too but= the blocks are 3 high and a bed full of soil for them to roam their roots in... At first I had to water them every day until they took a deeper root. It has been very windy this month.
For those who use chemical granular fertilizer like 13-13-13====use less when applying to the holes. Because the holes are so small of an area , it can burn the plants. (been there, done that) What I ended up doing was making a 55 gallon drum of fertilizer mix- diluted- and I water each hole with a watering canister. A hose end sprayer would work great too with the water soluble.
1-2 miles from the Pacific, "heat" is what we don't get much of. Dry summers, yes, for a few months, but the nights are usually cold or cool, and people start fianing in the streets if there's a forcast over 85 or 90.
(OK, I'm exagerating, but only a little.)
I'm sure either would be cool enough, especially in the deep shade out back. But I think they would both wnat more sun. Well, the thing to do would be to try several varieties of each. maybe establish them in contianers out front where the'd be happy, and then try moving them into shade. If something thrives, that would be a motiviator to start terracing that yhill with cinder blocks.
Once I thoguht about it, I realized I don;t even want a big, slopping retaining wall out there.
Instead, a few "terraces" footed with cinder blocks would be better. The image of Lobelia trailing down over several rows of blocks was appealing, but plantable terraces would be much better.
A "holes" update: Will be picking the first hole-grown cucumber today or tomorrow.
One problem -- ants! They seem to love the long concrete path and are using it as their personal highway. I don't mind a few, but man, there are a lot. I sprayed garlic stuff, but it only worked as long as the concrete was wet. Once dry, they are back.
Anyone have any words of wisdom about this? They are little red ants. (Are they fire ants? I have no idea). I know I just don't like them.
I'm growing pole beans, cantaloupe and cucumbers in cinder block holes up a trellis. For the pole beans I built a trellis to bridge two parallel rows of cinder blocks so I could grow up both sides of the trellis. Someone suggested laying a soaker hose along the tops of the cinder blocks to help overcome the absorption of water by the porous blocks which I plan on trying.
Oh I like that hrp50 -- it looks good and the plants look happy. I've got sun problems if I go back toward my fence much, so I'll probably have to stick to the single row of blocks.
But I may think about some sort of trellis. I do have a cucumber and some other sort of vining plant -- (acorn squash, I think) in the holes but they are sprawling out along the ground.
My petunias and marigolds are not looking so good in the holes right now though. I'm trying to figure out what's gone wrong -- could be ants or slugs, I suppose. Might also be the fertilizer burn CricketsGarden was talking about.
sallyg, forgot to say thanks for your tips on ant control. I read up on ants on another forum too, although I have already misplaced it. I remember that someone said boiling water down the anthill will take care of heaps of them (if they're not too near a wanted plant!), and also just disrupting the ant hill with a shovel or hoe or something will encourage the ants to move elsewhere. I have already done that trick and have seen a lessening of traffic along the "ant highway". I will pick up the Terro ant bait too though. Thanks.
I am learning what I can and cannot grow in the block holes. I personally don't like growing tomatoes in the block holes.
It stunts their growth. The tomato plants are growing==slowly= and healthy= but I much rather give them more space.
The tomato plants in my four gallon pots are doing much better than the ones in my block holes.
My blocks are beds that you can walk all the way around and I am thinking about using some 2x6s to frame in the top side of the beds for next year. This would also help me plant by the whole square foot
I don't try to grow things in holes that will have big top growth- Mints, to control their spreading habit, are good- Lettuce does very well, as do chives cilantro, parsley, cutting celery,etc. I had success with Caraflex cabbage last year. I just removed the large lower leaves to prevent crowding. I certainly would not recommend tomatoes, cucumbers, or any large veggie.