Monday, April 2, 2012

Garden Party - Building your Raised Beds

So you've started your seeds, and double-dug your bed area.  Now what?

Now you build a raised bed.  I know it sounds really scary, but actually it's not.  There are lots of how-to's online, including this one.

So, here's my personal opinion on this matter.  You can build a basic raised bed garden, and fill it with amended soil, or Mel's Mix from All New Square Foot Gardening.  You will get vegetables to grow, and they will do pretty well.


By double digging under the bed space, you create a pathway for worms to migrate.  These unsung heroes of the gardening world digest organic matter and give you worm castings (aka worm poop) which is AWESOME fertilizer.  The spaces they create within the soil as they move around also allows the passage of water and nutrients through the soil, which makes these more accessible to your plants.  Worms - they're not just the breakfast of champion birds!

By building a raised bed, you can also control the environment in which your plants grow.  This will allow you to get in the dirt sooner in the Spring, and play in the dirt later in the fall.  Raised beds provide better drainage if you have a "wet" year.  By filling the bed with amended soil or Mel's Mix, the soil in a raised bed generally retains moisture better in a "dry" year.  A raised bed makes it so you can add hoops, and cages, and trellises, and all easier than if you had a flat, on-the-ground bed.  And hey, it's easier on your back, too!

I'll get off my raised bed, I mean soap box, now.

To build our beds, we used leftover lumber from a neighbor.  It cost us nothing.  We also used posts and pipe from other friends.  Also $0.  If you need to purchase lumber, be sure it is exterior grade.  Also, be sure it is not treated.  This is especially true if you are upcycling scrap.  Pressure treated wood, until fairly recently, had been treated with all sorts of interesting things.  Like arsenic.  That's the last thing you want in your carrots!

So here's what makes our beds really unique.  As you can see from the photo above, our garden is on a slope.  Our house is built into a hill, and we have a goofy patch of yard that gets full sun.  The flat part of our yard doesn't.  So guess where the garden went?!  They are also about 4 feet wide and 16 feet long.  That's 4 SFG beds side-by-side.  And we have 3 of them.  If you are doing the math, that's 192 square feet of garden.  If you were to plant that all in beets, think how many beets that could be using SFG!

If you have level ground, the raised bed is a piece of cake.  Really simple construction.  But, I want to share with you about how to compensate for the slope.  And this is a "do as I say, not as I did" life lesson type moment.

Here's why - and honest, I held the camera perfectly straight up and down.  To account for the weight of the soil as gravity pulls it down hill, our beds should be wider at the bottom.  We're fixing that issue over the summer as we can.  You can also see in this photo how we started our framing.  Just 2 x 4's, staked into the ground every few feet.  Then, flat boards were nailed to the stakes, with metal stakes on the outside for reinforcement.

This year, we are leveling out one bed with the curvy steps, and the center bed is being raised to a full 2 feet in height.  We had all the beds tilled this year (I don't normally like to do that, and I'll explain why another time).  Here you can see what they look like now.

On top of this tilled soil, I will generously sprinkle "bunny beans" (aka litter box leftovers from our pet rabbits), along with the newspaper from one of the rabbits' cages.  The newspapers will help suppress any weeds that got tilled in (and trust me, there were plenty), as well as serve as food for my worms.  The new composted mix (which comes this week) will be dumped and spread on top.

Once that's done, I'll top the new compost with more newspapers and a thick layer of straw mulch.  I'll poke holes through the straw and newspapers to transplant seedlings.

The bed you see on the left will be mostly potatoes, and geraniums as soon as it's safe for them.  The bed on the right will be in Princess' hands this year to grow her prize-winning flowers.

So that's what's next for now - stay tuned for transplanting and direct seeding!



Christine said...

hehe Funny that you use your ''bunny beans''... I'm trying to keep rabbits OUT of my garden. They keep eating my vegetable garden. :(

Ann @ Suburban Prairie Homemaker said...

Here's an interesting side note:
Rabbits are very territorial. Because both of our bunnies are males, their litterbox leftovers act like a marker as well as fertilizer. We have given extra to friends with rabbit problems, and it works like a charm to keep wild rabbits away.

Tiffany @ No Ordinary Homestead said...

We built raised beds a couple of years ago and really love them. I also think that you'll be a lot better off if loosen up the soil as you suggest with SFG -- but I do love his planting in quadrants system. I've been trying SFG for the first time this year and it's so useful for really maximizing your bed space.

I host the Garden Life weekly garden linky on Fridays and would love to have you stop by some time.

Alecia @ ChickenScratch NY said...

I'm with you on the bunny beans, we use recycled newspaper pellets in his litter box so I dump the whole thing in the garden/flower bed when ever it needs a cleaning. We're in the process of putting in raised beds but don't have free lumber available and it's not cheap!

Be Colorful Coastal said...

I have such a brown thumb but I am so impressed by people like you that make it look so tempting. :D Thanks for sharing this week at BeColorful

Jacqueline @ said...

What an informative post. the pictures help so much! Thank you for sharing on "EOA' Wednesday. I hope you will continue to share your gardening adventures and what-ever-else with us! Blessings!