If you have an abandoned, weed-choked bed you’d like to use for growing vegetables, you might consider the technique of planting in hills to return it to productivity.
We have a few unattended beds at the Grace Park Community Garden that we want to get planted quickly for our summer project supplying the CSULB Food Pantry with fresh produce.
Cucumbers and squash, members of the cucurbit family, are great for taming an errant garden patch or breaking in a new one. May through mid-June is the best time to put them in.
They can be planted in “hills,” (groups) which only requires preparing individual patches of soil. In between, we are employing sheet composting and mulch, to give the vines a surface to run on and to enrich the soil for future seasons. As the vines grow they will cover the soil and discourage weeds.
First the weeds and old plants are pulled out, chopped up and laid on the ground. (You may prefer to haul them to the compost pile, but we’re in a hurry.) Regular weeding will be important until the vines cover the bed.
Next, individual holes are dug and enriched with manure. Holes should be three feet apart for zucchini and other summer squash, four feet or more for cucumbers or winter squash*
A basin is formed to hold water. Seeds are planted in a circle in the basin and watered in. (This may seem contrary to the term “hill,” and some seed packets instruct you to plant the seeds in mounds, but creating a basin makes irrigation easier. The resulting clusters of foliage resemble hills.)
A layer of wood chips covers our mess of weeds, and will keep our eventual zucchini and cucumbers dry. The bed may need some liquid fertilizer throughout the season because raw wood chips absorb nitrogen from the soil as they break down. They will release it later, increasing fertility in the long run.
*All squash are grown in summer. “Summer” squash, such as zucchini or patty pan, are picked young and enjoyed in season. “Winter” squash, such as acorn or butternut, are left to mature and stored for the winter.