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Flying Flowers? Traveling Tomatoes? It's the RV Bumper Garden
By Russ and Tiņa De Maris

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When we first started travel writing, the distaff side thought there was too much to be lost from being on the road. Air conditioning. A private bathroom with a shower. A vacuum cleaner. Over the years as we progressed from a tiny, import truck camper to our present-day fifth wheel, some of those problems were resolved. Okay, we boondock a lot, so the air conditioning primarily operates in the cab of the truck, but those other items resolved themselves in a natural sort of way.

Then it was the garden. "Take me away in the summer, how am I supposed to keep up with the garden?" Potted flowers soon joined the assortment of stuff that most RVers have to carry. 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 part's house, 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!

Build It!

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.

Tomato plants put on green fruit in our RV 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 moxy 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 thumb tack 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 panel?

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