Posts tagged raised bed garden

The Raised Bed Project

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Just kidding, not that kind of raised bed.  Rather, a raised garden bed to avoid some of the pitfalls and nuisances that I experienced last year (weed creep, bad soil, insects, deer, myself, etc.).  I decided on a simple 4’x8′ raised bed for 3 reasons.

1) 4′ seems to be the internet-agreed-upon width that allows you to easily reach into the center from either side.

2) Most 2×6 or 2×8 boards come in 8 or 12 foot lengths, making less waste in the end.  (Note:  I did get stuck with 10′ boards for one of the beds because that’s all they had, so I had some 2′ sections left over, still looking for something to do with them.  I did eventually find 8′ boards at the other home improvement store.)

3) They looked good in my “raised bed master plan”, meaning, inline with my usual “Go big or go home” mentality.  More to come on that later.

I decided on Douglas fir as my wood because it was cheap and readily available in 2″x8″x12′ sections.  The 2″x12″ boards were very much more expensive, relative to the 2×6 and 2×8’s, but I wanted my beds a little deeper than 12″.  Two 2×8’s stacked would get me about 16 inches, which I thought would be good enough.  I wanted to go with cedar or redwood, since I heard they were rot and pest resistant, but the cost in the end helped me decide.  They weren’t available in the local home improvement chains, and the lumber yards wanted one of my arms along with my credit card.  I figure I could replace the beds every 3 years (if I even needed to that early), and it would still be cheaper than cedar or redwood in the long term.

Eco Wood TreatmentI did splurge on some wood treatment, and I came across this stuff, which is pretty highly rated.  It’s called Eco wood treatment, and it’s supposed to protect against mildew, rot, and pests.  From what I researched online, it contains iron oxide and “other proprietary” ingredients, all of which is supposed to be environmentally and human friendly.  That was the main reason why I avoided pressure treated wood.  Even though they stopped using arsenic in the chemical treating process, they still use copper, and I’d rather not have those chemicals leaching into the soil of plants that I will be eating.  I’ve read that pressure treated wood is generally safe, but I’d rather go with something that says it’s definitely non-toxic.  It is expensive, but it’s supposed to protect the wood for years, it’s made in the USA, and it stained the cheapy-looking Douglas fir boards to a nice aged look.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take pictures all through the process, but I did take the pictures of the final beds.  I decided towards the end that I wanted a little ledge on the beds to rest tools or whatnot, so I nailed some 2×4’s on the sides.  I used pressure treated wood for that, since they don’t directly touch the soil. I also added 1/4″ hardware cloth under the beds to keep groundhogs from burrowing up under my bed. They’re a problem where I live, so I figured the extra measure of protection was warranted.

IMAG0957Here’s the picture of the stained wood after the Eco treatment.  It looks rather dull and splotchy, but the color evened out and looks really good.  Much better than the bleached framing boards that I started with.IMAG1001

I started off with two beds for this growing season, but never fear, I have big plans for my suburban farm.  The white PVC pipes you see on the inside of the bed is for adding floating row covers.  If I need to add a frost cover or insect barrier, I just insert a long length of 1/2″ PVC pipe into the 1″ sections to form a loop over the bed. I can then attach the covers to those loops. I didn’t use it this year, but I figured I might as well install them now in case I need them.

IMAG1038IMAG1043 …and here is the first bed with my sad looking plants. That’s a story for my next post, but I didn’t really do a good job in raising those little seedlings on account of not setting up my indoor greenhouse in time this year. They didn’t get enough sun and were stunted for at least a month (hence why I just started getting tomatoes in late July) I planted 5 tomatoes, 5 bell peppers, and there are two eggplants in the middle of the bed. Once everything started growing, I also tossed in a packet of basil, since all of the plants in this bed are complementary. It worked out great, since the tomato and basil are great with some mozzarella cheese.  For my lessons learned post, you’ll learn why square foot gardening might be a better idea to follow.  I might have packed the plants in a little too tight.  You can’t tell from these pictures, but it became more evident as the summer went on.

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For anyone that’s curious on what I have planned for my suburban raised-bed farm. Here is the master plan. I hope to add 2-4 beds per year, that way I can stagger the replacement of them when the time comes, which will spread out the time and cost associated with that.

Garden layout designs
Why the weird design? Well, I’m glad you asked. Because I now have the opportunity to think about that. I’m not sure. I didn’t want just a bunch of raised beds in a row. I wanted something to be visually pleasing to look at. …and I wanted a dwarf fir in the middle that I can decorate with lights every Christmas, hence why I labeled it a “Christmas tree”. Maybe I’ll get bored this winter and build more than two. It’s a long winter, and I prefer the cold anyways.

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First harvest!

Well, more like unintentional harvest.  I finally got around to weeding this weekend, with a HUGE thanks to a good friend that was able to help me.  We worked for about 2 hours, which was all we could really do in the heat and with all the labor involved.  We intended to weed on Saturday, but the ground was so hard that it made it more or less impossible to dig up anything.  I put the sprinkler on for about an hour or two to soak and soften the ground and we went out to Bass Pro to look for some things before my reward certificates expired.  I’m told that they don’t really expire, and you can have customer service reactivate them, but I just wanted to use them so I don’t forget or lose them.  I got a really nice fire pit, which I obviously don’t have plans on using for at least a few more months.  However, with bullets still in short supply, and nothing else on my wish list at the moment, I figured it would be a good time to buy it.  Well, we wandered around a little too long, so by the time we got back it was too late to weed that night.

Well, anyways, while we were weeding, he accidentally stabbed one of the eggplants with the weeder, and I accidentally pulled up an entire Eggplant plant with a handful of weeds.  So 1 Eggplant down, only 5 more now 😦  I’m hoping the plant that had the stabbed eggplant will start growing a new one since I took the damaged one off.  The plant I accidentally pulled up, I didn’t try to replant, since the roots looked really damaged.  I took the eggplant off of it and will try to make something with it.  They’re still immature, so it might taste a little bitter.  The mature ones are a little soft when you press on them, and the one I harvested is still pretty hard.  So that’s my first harvest of the summer!  Well, technically I’ve been harvesting the cherry tomatoes for a while.  They were container planted, so they get plenty of water and had fantastic soil to start with, and they’re just growing like crazy.  I’m getting about a handful of tomatoes every few days.  But for The Farm specifically, this is the first thing to come out of it.  I also harvested a sunflower head.  I didn’t really read up about harvesting them until AFTER I cut the head off (typical of me), so I didn’t realize you’re supposed to leave them be until after they turn brown.  You don’t have to, but drying them on the stalk is supposed to be the preferred method, provided you put a paper bag (not plastic, since that won’t let the seeds dry and could cause mold/rot) over the head to keep birds away and catch any falling seeds.  I could tell after cutting the head off that the seeds weren’t quite ready, but I still have several more left, including one massive one that will probably yield at least a pound of seeds or more, though I’m not a good judge of yield or weight.  The seeds are still a little grey and are pretty damp, so I’ll have to see if they are mature enough to eat.  I’m going to try to air dry them inside, and then see how they taste.  I have pictures of both the eggplant and sunflower below, plus The Farm that is now looking more like a legitimate garden.  For those that just starting reading this blog from the top-down or just came across this page, I call my current garden “The Farm” since I need to differentiate my future garden which will have herbs and flowers growing in it from my vegetable garden that is much larger.  I know I could just call one “the herb garden” or “the apothecary garden” (the latter because I will be growing herbs that have health benefits in it, such as milk thistle, apothecary rose, stevia, and many other herbs used in cooking.  The other being called “the vegetable garden”.  Having just now thought of that, I think my main reason prior to this moment was laziness, and having to type that extra word each time made my lazy gland really hurt.  In case you’re wondering what a lazy gland is, it’s a small organ at the base of your brain that causes your limbs to suddenly feel really tired or your head to hurt whenever the prospect of work, physical or mental, is introduced to your environment.  It senses work by detecting slight changes in your chemical balance, and then seeks to further unbalance your bodily chemicals by making whatever you need to do suddenly seem much more lame and impossible.

So, considering I don’t have an herb garden yet, maybe I’ll just call “The Farm” a garden for now.  Especially since it’s really not much of a farm, and I shudder to think what a real farmer would think of what is essentially a weed patch with some tomatoes growing in it.  …and a turtle.  I didn’t get a picture of it, but I had that little guest in the garden when I was weeding it.  I figure it couldn’t do much damage, so I let the little guy hang out in there.

I may end up calling the two gardens the herb garden and the raised bed garden, since I am getting more serious about making the veggie garden in raised beds next year.  I at least need SOMETHING to keep out the grass from creeping in.  My uncle told me I could partially bury cinder blocks into the perimeter, since they’re cheap, they keep out grass, and you can even grow flowers in the holes in the blocks.  It sounds like a great idea, and it’s not totally out of the question, but I’m starting to think I might need to improve the aesthetics a little.  Not just for my soon-to-be new neighbors sake, but also so I don’t feel embarrassed whenever I post pictures here.  Raised beds will hold in top soil and composted soil better, and it would also be easier to put in floating row covers so I could keep out bugs and warm up the plants in early spring.   Plus, and most importantly, it would have predefined dimensions which would prevent me from getting overly ambitious in the future and attempting to sow half an acre of corn or something.  I would only grow in the raised beds, so I would have to plan out my veggies and it would allow me to set goals that are achievable and realistic.  Since I wouldn’t be walking all over the soil, I wouldn’t need to till the soil as much, or maybe at all.  A minor turning of the soil in the spring may be all that’s needed, but I’ll have to wait and see.  Another plan of mine, which does sound like it’s getting into the “overly ambitious” category, is to make raised beds that are around 4 feet high.  That in itself isn’t the ambitious part.  They would have a false bottom on them, so I wouldn’t need to back-fill 4 feet of soil, they would only go down at most 1 foot, and the empty space in them would have daisy-chained 55-gallon plastic barrels.  The rain water coming into the beds would fill the barrels via a filter and tubing, and then I could have a pump that would water the plants in times of no rain.  I would really have to sit down and work out the logistics of it, with the pump and the plumbing that would be needed but I have plenty of time to do that before next spring.  I will, of course, keep you all informed and educated every step of the way, so that I can create a road map if anyone wants to follow after I’ve completed the project.  This will be a great record of the progress, and I know some people like watching a project progress from conception to completion.  When I think more about possible layouts for a raised bed garden, I’ll post them up here.  While I think about that, I may try making a test bed, since next spring seems so far away, and I don’t have enough things going on in my life right now so what’s one more project (*SARCASM*).  I do want to know what I’m getting myself into, and a test bed would be a good way to see what’s involved.  Plus if I like how it looks, I can slowly start buying the materials over the winter, so the costs aren’t so painful if I waited for the spring to buy everything.  I could even slowly build the beds over the winter months after I harvest and clear out the garden, provided it’s not too cold for construction.

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