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National Gardening Day Gardening for the Military Family article

Gardening For The Military Family

Constance Smith

One of the challenges of living the military lifestyle is pairing that with a love of gardening. They often seem like they might not go well together, but that need not be the case. With a bit of creativity and learning, you can have a very successful garden, even in military housing.

Over the years we have lived in a variety of houses—some houses were off post and gave us the ability to have an in-ground traditional garden; other times we have lived on post which had stricter rules. But no matter where we have lived, I have always found a way to garden.

When we lived in Germany, my balcony was lined with built-in, really deep garden boxes. I filled them with some good soil and grew everything from herbs to potatoes. We later moved to another apartment in another town, and there while we still had a balcony, we didn’t have the built in boxes. I headed over to the PX and bought some big flower boxes and grew peppers, cherry tomatoes, and herbs again.

When we lived at Fort Bragg,,,

…the housing guidelines allowed above ground and potted gardening. I think in all the places we have lived, I probably had the best “temporary” garden there.

Every evening my friend and I would go on a 2-mile walk around the neighborhood. On one of those walks, I noticed that someone had received a shipment and had a pile of crate wood set at the curb for bulk trash pick up the next day.

When I got home, I hopped in the truck and went back over to grab the wood. The next day I recycled those boards and built a raised garden bed. I then headed to the landfill and got a truckload of soil. You see, the landfill there in the area had a section that was just for plant materials – leaves, grass, tree cuttings and such. When those materials decomposed, it left behind beautiful black dirt, rich in nutrients.

You drove in, paid a whopping $10 and then a bulldozer came over and filled the bed of your truck. I threw a tarp over it and drove on home. I filled my new raised bed, all of my pots, my neighbor’s flower pots and had plenty of soil leftover to augment my flower beds and fill bare spots in the yard.

On the topic of compost…

…even though we lived in military housing, that didn’t stop me from composting my kitchen scraps. I had a homemade compost bin that the kids rolled around the yard to mix up. It worked beautifully. I made it out of a pickle barrel for a staggering $12.00. Gardening doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby, you just have to think outside the box.

Maybe having a raised bed and compost bin aren’t in the plans for you. That doesn’t have to stop you from growing some of your own food. You would be amazed at how many things can be grown in potted containers.

If you go to the library or local book store, you can find tons of information about gardening by the square foot, or specifically growing plants in containers. If you go to the container or potted garden route, I highly recommend using self-watering pots.

This allows each plant to absorb just the amount of water that it needs and is a big help to someone that is just learning or starting out. I have grown everything from herbs and peppers to tomatoes and even corn in pots!

The downside to the self-watering pots…

is that you create areas of standing water in your back yard. If you live in a climate that is prone to mosquitos this is not an ideal situation. However, there is a way to prevent your back yard from becoming a mosquito breeding ground. I purchased a package of natural mosquito preventative from an organic gardening catalog.

It is little granules that you add anywhere you have standing water – from the bottom of your pots to a ditch in the yard. The granules are bacillus thuringiensis israelenis, or “BTI.” BTI is a bacteria that the mosquito larvae will feed on and die. It is completely safe however for birds, fish, mammals or other insects.

Speaking of insects, another great and fun way to manage pests in your garden is to introduce “good bugs” to your plants. One year I ordered praying mantis egg cases. The cases came in the mail and we planted them strategically in the garden area.

Every day my kids would go out and see if they had hatched, and one day they had! From that point on, they would go out and search for the little praying mantises and see who could find the most. They had a blast with it, and the praying mantis babies grew and ate all of the bad bugs that wanted to invade my garden.

The great thing about gardening in containers or pots is that they can be moved. Every military family knows that sooner or later you will get that little piece of paper that changes your whole world – orders.

When we left Fort Bragg…

I split my potted garden up between my neighbors who also enjoyed growing things in their back yards. They happily took the pots and looked forward to all of the goodies they would produce. I was sad to say goodbye to the garden, but I knew that my neighbors appreciated them and I had enjoyed growing all of those plants from little seeds. Then we packed up and headed to Alaska.

So don’t let being a military family stop you from the joy and learning experience of growing your own garden. Where there is a will, there is a way!

Constance J Smith is a professional blogger, recipe developer, and “seasoned” army wife. She has maintained an active website since 1998 and has been blogging since 2006. Anywhere Constance goes, she chronicles her journey with her readers – from creating family-friendly recipes to hiking in the wilderness of Alaska. Portions of her content have been published in local and national print.