By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Back in the “early days” of RVing, folks who had “house cars” really did a lot of roughing it. There was no such thing as running water. Furniture was rough. You didn’t just pop something in the microwave when it was time for a meal.
Ah, but primitive man marched forward. Now practically every rig on the road has a home theater system, GPS routing, air conditioning, maybe even a built-in vacuum cleaning system. But one thing the lady-fair missed in our “modern” rig was something she’d left back home: a garden. Sure, you can put a potted flower on the dinette, but it’s just not the same.
“Take me away in the summer, how am I supposed to keep up with the garden?” Flowers are one thing, but vegetables don’t always lend themselves to a little bitty pot. At the urging of a kindly (should I say, “persistent”) gal down at the RV supply store, the hubby was soon at work constructing the ultimate traveling garden: the RV bumper garden. It’s not too difficult, and maybe you can have one too!
When we stay for any length of time, other than an overnight, our awning just naturally seems to want to roll out on its own. The awning makes a good place for some hanging plants – just get yourself a handful of awning accessory grommets. These little fellers look like an inch or two square of fabric, with a metal grommet plastered in the middle of it. The hanger slides into your awning “accessory” track, and from this, you can easily hang a potted plant.
While pots seem to work fairly well for a wide range of flowering plants, there was a deep desire for things like tomatoes, beans and strawberries. Enter the bumper box garden.
The heart and soul of our bumper box garden are a few chunks of cedar fence boards – inexpensive, readily available, and they stand up well to the rigors of being filled with damp soil. In our case, we constructed a box about a foot wide, four feet long, and near a foot deep. To allow for drainage, the box was not built absolutely “tight” at the bottom seams, but rather, we used galvanized metal corner brackets, leaving a slight amount of space available.
Connecting the bumper planter to our “square tube” bumper required a little finesse. Just screwing the planter into the bumper proved too unstable, what with the weight of the soil taken into account. We built a custom bracket to moor the box securely. We laid two strips of “plumber’s tape,” perpendicular to the bumper, one at each end of the planter box. Holes were drilled through the planter box to run appropriately sized carriage bolts through the tape and box bottom, one on each side of the bumper. At the far end of the bolts we put another strap of plumber’s tape and used lock washers and nuts to firmly strap the box to the bumper. Total requirements? Four carriage bolts, washers, and nuts, plus four plumber tape straps.
With the construction work done, it was time for planting.
If you plant it, they will grow
Just to enhance the “drainability” of the bumper planter, the garden expert put down a layer of gravel. Atop that came good quality planting soil. The first subjects of the new planter were tomatoes, both the “cherry” variety and larger slicers, good for use on hamburgers – guess who’s talking here!
As the tomatoes got taller, stakes had to be added to support the vines. With all the bouncing around that our traveling tomatoes take, a simple “stick in the ground” doesn’t have the moxie to hold on. Hence, we added upright stakes, screwed into the planter box, with a network of tough garden twine to help support the plants and their stakes.
The uprights serve a double purpose. Not only do the stakes give support to the plants, when our mobile garden departs the warmer climes and heads into cool country, if frost threatens, we cover the whole works with a sheet of plastic to keep the nip away. If the wind threatens to carry away the frost tent, we simply thumbtack the plastic onto the sides of the planter box.
Caring for your garden
In addition to tomatoes, strawberries and beans, there are other vegetable plans in the works. Of course, a little care has to be taken when mobile gardening. We suspect that taller plants like row corn might not be able to hold their ground as well in the planter box. Our beans are the bush variety, and when they get too tall we may need to relocate the license plate for the sake of visibility. Maybe keeping shorter plants on that side of the planter box would have been wiser.
The “intensive” method of gardening will lend itself well to mobile gardening. You are indeed dealing with a postage-stamp-size bit of soil, and the more you can pack in, the better off you’ll be – done properly. Keeping your plants trimmed will help them bush out at the bottom, which seems to do better.
We find gardening on the bumper has advantages over our old method of carrying pots in the bed of the truck. The aerodynamics of the fifth wheel over the pickup bed can really set up a heavy blast of wind, and tender plants react badly to gusts. The heat in the pickup box on a hot day can be extreme, too. Our bumper box takes surprisingly little wind, and being open, there’s no extreme heat build up.
As boondockers, we appreciate how much our garden benefits us in another way, too. When we wash dishes we don’t run the rinse water down the drain. Rather, we catch and keep our rinse water, and feed it to the thirsty plants in our bumper box. As a result, we have less gray water buildup in our tank, stretching out our time before needing to hit the dump station.
Our traveling garden is a big hit with us – and with others too. We’ve had plenty of conversations with others in campgrounds, RV fuel-up lines, and other places where travelers gather. One bit of attention we haven’t appreciated was when the Arizona ground squirrels discovered our lettuce plants. I wonder if I could rig an electric fence wire to my solar panels?