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New plots for gardens; by cultivating home-computer programs and digging up techniques of ancient Mayan farmers, modern gardeners are getting more fruits for less labor.


"No culture is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth and no culture comparable to that of gardening,' Thomas Jefferson worte. The 40 million Americans who garden would agree, for according to a recent Gallup poll, gardening is more popular than jogging, golfing, or any other outdoor activity.

Jefferson would be amazed, and probably fascinated as well, by recent radical adventures in horticulture. Though there may be nothing new under the sun, some inventive modern gardeners have developed the idea of intensive culture for those who have limited space and little time for garden upkeep.

A Tip from the Mayans

One such gardener, Jack Miles Langston, has developed a method called Lexigrow, which enables gardeners to grow vegetables almost anywhere: in clay, in rock, in sand, or in compacted soil--even right over living turf.

Langston's system is not new--it was used by pre-Columbian Mayan Indians. It is still used by modern-day Mayan farmers in the Yucatan, where Langston got his idea. "They take a planting stick, jab a hole, and stick seeds into the hole,' he says. "After making these individual seed beds, they fertilize them individually, then cover the soil around them with banana leaves to protect them from the sun, to help retain soil moisture, and to keep out competing weeds.'

Where and How to Begin--Transposed to more northern climes, the system works like this: Pick a spot in full sun that you might not ordinarily find suitable for a garden. (My spot was a 25 plot with solidly compacted soil filled with rocks and remnants of an old foundation.) The tools you need are black plastic sheeting, a post-hole digger or a tulip-bulb planter, potting soil, peat moss, coarse gravel, sand, bone meal, a thermometer, and anchor staples.

Dig five-inch-diameter holes ten inches deep at appropriate intervals and fill them with equal parts of potting soil, peat moss, and sand or vermiculite. (Place two inches of coarse gravel in the bottom for drainage.) Add one cup of bone meal to each seed bed, then cover the whole area with black plastic sheeting (available at hardware stores). The sheeting keeps the soil moist, discourages competing weeds, and warms the area for earlier sprouting. Test the soil with the thermometer. When it reaches the appropriate temperature for seed germination, plant the seeds and cut a five-inch-diameter hole in the plastic for the plants to grow through.

My nearly maintenance-free, experimental Lexigrow plot in Indiana was so successful my conventional garden next to it became an unnecessary chore. After I moved to Southern California, I tried the method again in a sandy area bordered by concrete. My herb patches produced more parsley, oregano, basil, rosemary, savory, chives, and peppermint than I could use. Tulips, daffodils, and other bulbs planted in the bare patches early this winter will soon be giving me bouquets for house and garden.

The system works equally well in containers on the patio. I'm currently growing Kalanchoes in containers, and I care for them as I do for my inground seedbeds. And although especially designed for small-space and container gardeners, this system can be as readily applied to large spaces. It gives quick results without overplanting or underplanting, and the gardener need not lose valuable time and funds by experimenting.

Because moisture retention is central to the system's benefits, desert gardeners can use either method--inground or containers. But for better results in the desert, Langston recommends containers.

Photo: With the seed of an idea drawn from early Indian cultures, Jack Langston has learned how to raise garden yields even in poor soil.

Photo: (Above) Spring showers bring flowers earlier when soil is covered in the ancient Mayan way. Vegetables grow, better, too.
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Author:Faris, Charlene
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Mar 1, 1986
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