How I build a raised bed

on Friday, April 16, 2010

If I'm gonna be providing veggies for more people, I'm gonna need more growing space! Plus, more raised beds equals less lawn to mow...and that's a good thing, right? Since our soil is such heavy clay, I've learned raised beds work wonders! So - here's how I do it.

First I gather a bunch of newspapers (the local recycling drop off, or sometimes the Periodicals dept at work, are both great places!). Toss 'em in a tub, and turn on the hose. I guarantee you, I don't care how still the air is when you start this project - as soon as you start working with newspapers outside, it WILL get windy! Wet papers don't blow around as much!

Start positioning your newspapers within the raised bed you've built. I've found 12'x4'x12" works great for me. A height of 12" seems to be plenty of space for most veggie plants roots (have you ever met a carrot more than a foot tall!?). A width of 4' makes it easy to reach in to the middle of the bed from either side. If your raised bed's going to be up against a wall or cliff or something, I'd recommend going no wider than 3'. Consider your arm length and how much stooping and reaching you want to do - this should help you decide the bed width. And the length - well, that depends on how much yard space you have, and how inconvenient you feel it is to walk AROUND the bed.

Connect the pieces of wood however you like. I just screw 'em together. I've never used brackets. Only one of my beds (which is three years old now) has had the screws on one corner break - which is really odd, and the edge of the bed's only pushed out maybe half an inch. No biggie...the soil's not pouring out all over the place.

You probably don't want to use pressure treated wood - that can have the chemicals used in the pressure treating process leach out into the soil, and then your plants are going to absorb those chemicals. That's a bad thing. You're going to eat those plants. How does arsenic sound to you?

Anyhow, back to the raised bed... Set the wooden frame in place. Get it as level as you can (it'll settle some over time), and start lining the bottom with damp newspapers. I've read "use layers about 6-9 pieces of paper thick" - I guarantee you, you're not going to have an easy time peeling the layers of paper to count them when they're wet. Don't bother. Just find a thickness that you're comfortable with, lift the edge of the frame, tuck them under the edge (I leave about an inch sticking out from under the edge - it'll break down within a couple weeks), and get to work. It's amazing how much newspaper you need for this job. You definitely want to make sure you overlap your clumps of paper - this kills off/composts the grass underneath, and usually stops any weeds from growing up through the paper layer before they're killed off.

BTW - if you have a good fist-sized (or slightly larger) rock lying around, and you're doing this yourself, it can be really handy to prop it under the edge of the bed where you're putting the paper so you don't have to keep lifting it. Move the rock around the edge of the bed as needed.

Here's the hard part. It takes quite a bit of soil/compost to fill a 12'x4'x12" bed!! I had put a bunch of the composted horse manure (three carts worth) into the bottom of this bed. Then I figured I wanted some "real soil" (not just composted manure), ran out to the store, bought five 40lb bags each of top soil and composted peat. That's 400 lbs!!! I dumped them all in this bed and it really only raised the height of the content a couple inches at most! I definitely suggest having some sort of delivery of topsoil, compost, bedding mix etc. There's plenty of online calculators to help you determine how much filler you'll need. You can do the math, and then use Eagle Creek Grower's listing of how much filler you'll need... Here's an calculator where you can enter the dimensions of your bed and it does the math!

That's just one cart load of compost in there...and trust me, my cart holds more than your average wheelbarrow!

At the time I was doing this, I was also dismantling my old compost bin (which was made from old pallets). I'd say the bin was about half full, and I added about half of that to this bed. It's not compact in any way. After this I added 400 lbs of top soil and peat, and then later I added three or four MORE cartloads of bedding mix I had delivered. Trust need a lot of filler!

It's expensive to set up a raised bed this size. You might find you can go with a considerably smaller bed. In a bed this size last year I had 32 pepper plants (each spaced about a foot apart) PLUS I'd guess about 30 leeks... Oh, and I had parsley and marigolds tucked in between the pepper plants!

When you have really good quality soil/bedding mix, and it's not all compacted, plus it's easily amended, I've found the plants are MUCH more productive and healthier. And that means you can actually overcrowd them a little. So it's quite possible a family of four could get away with cramming a LOT of different plant varieties in one bed this size and feed themselves all summer. I've tried growing the same types of plants in my in-ground bed, and they've been no where near as productive as those I've grown in raised beds...

If you think about it, this is the same as three beds if you're using the Square Foot Gardening technique, and the beds using that method of gardening are highly productive.

Happy gardening!

Playing in the dirt

on Thursday, April 15, 2010

I've started posting pictures of how things in the garden are progressing, and yet neglected to get these older pictures posted! Oops! Hey - I've been busy playing in the dirt...

You know I had already started a bunch of leeks and bunching onions/scallions awhile back in the basement....but I wasn't done there. Awhile back I placed an order with Dixondale Farms for Lancelot leeks and Candy onions...and they showed up a couple weeks ago. Here's what it looks like when you get a box of onions and leeks. (Notice the "breathing holes" in the box - boy did it smell strong!)

Here's how things were looking in the garden last week, after I tilled in all that composted horse manure, but before I received 4 yds of "bedding mix" (a combination of top soil, compost and sand) from Eagle Creek Growers to add to the soil and top off the raised beds. Why the extra additions? Our yard is heeeeavy clay, and when I tilled in the garden bed, I basically made a giant bowl that holds water really well. Only that's the equivalent of drowning the plants that are trying to grow in it. So over time I'm working to improve the soil in this bed AND to actually raise it up a little higher (to improve drainage).

A couple days ago I posted a picture of the lettuce and radish seedlings. Here's what they looked like on April 2....not much to look at, eh?

And here's where the peas were planted on April 2. Don't ask about the odd spacing - I meant to leave the same amount between rows, but was working backwards, and kinda goofed.

Here's the two varieties (one hard-neck, one soft-neck) of garlic I planted last fall. You can still see some of the holes the voles left over winter. Looks like only a few heads of garlic didn't survive winter - and I don't know if that was from the cold, from too thick a layer of leaves/mulch piled on, or if the voles ate them.

This doesn't look like your normal gardening, does it? Just a bunch of holes? Actually, each of those holes is about 8" deep, and has a baby leek plant dropped down into it. You don't fill the hole back in with soil - instead you let it slowly fill in over time, just from waterings, rain and the wind. This lets the leeks slowly grow up out of the holes, and creates a longer blanched area, which is the more desirable white area of the leek.

Loooots of onions here, plus some lettuce seedlings I grew in the basement. The lettuce look like they had it really rough, but trust me, they're already perking up. I don't normally grow my veggies from end-to-end in these raised beds, but I'm trying something different here. I need lots of space for the onions, so I gave them about 2/3 the length of the bed. The peppers will need to go in in about a month, and when they do, they'll need about 2/3 of the bed. So my plan is to start harvesting onions from the "pepper end" of the bed when it's time to put the peppers in. Let's hope they grow enough in that time to make this experiment worthwhile.

That's all for today's garden update!

We have peas!

on Wednesday, April 14, 2010

After last week's heat wave, things have seriously cooled down around here. Our highs last week? Mid-to-upper 80s!! Now? We're lucky to get out of the 50s some days! And here's what we've woken up to more than once in the last week:

You can see the frost retreating from the backyard as the sun comes up over the house. To be honest, we can't really gripe about the frost because, hey, it's April in Ohio!! Our last average frost date is still something like 6 wks away. But the recent high temps really got us all feeling like we were going into summer. Only, if we rush summer, we miss out on the good cool-weather spring crops like peas. You like peas, right? Well then, feast your eyes on THIS:

I know, I know, it's not much to look at (especially since it's out of focus). That's a sugar snap pea juuust starting to peek out of the ground. That pea was planted on April 2nd, and the picture was taken April 12, so you can see they're taking their precious time in sprouting.

Now what I'm working really hard at this year is succession planting. That means I don't plant all my ______ (fill in the blank) seeds at one time, NOR to I fill in all the space designated for ______ (fill it in again) all at once. Instead I've planted a single row for each of the pea varieties, and gave LOTS of space between each row planted. Then I'll wait a few weeks, and plant another row next to the first. Wait a couple more weeks, and move over to the remaining space to plant the last of the peas. Peas don't like hot weather, so my plan is to hopefully go through three overlapping cycles of peas (of different varieties) to ensure a constant supply of sugar snap and snow peas. I don't deal with shelling peas - I'm not all that fond of them, and really, aren't they alot of work for how little you get out of them!? I know people say they're amazing fresh, but I say buy 'em in the freezer section!

And just so you know, I haven't been doing all this gardening alone... I've had help. Here's one of my garden helpers, overseeing my work.


on Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I took these pics back on the 7th...and promptly forgot to post them so you can see how things are progressing. Here we have a radish on the left, and lettuce on the right.

More mixed radish and a few lettuce seedlings, plus a weed over on the right (it's the one with the grayish tinge). If you garden, you'll see lots of these...they just have a knack for showing up.

Things are looking a little crowded here. I'll probably need to do something thinning out before the radishes are really big enough to pick.

More lettuce. Really, really small lettuce!

Here's a horse hair from the composted horse manure I worked in awhile back... While everything else from the horse barn breaks down and greatly improves the soil, horse hairs seem to just linger...and boy are they tough!


on Friday, April 2, 2010

This should make for a great day-off-from-work to get some serious garden work accomplished!

Commitment scares me!

on Thursday, April 1, 2010

Is this the final garden plan? I just don't know! And how much of the over-cramming and succession planting will really work out!?

Take note, some of those beds will have multiple things rotating in them at various times during the spring/summer/fall growing period...