I have very little time, less than enough for dealing with a new garden. Not with breaking the sod and dealing with weeds that always threaten to take over. While growing up, my mother had an enormous garden with asparagus, strawberries, and raspberries, everything else was weeds. Only the durable plants that came back year after year survived. I know that if I tried to maintain an ordinary garden in the ground I wouldn’t have much more luck. I simply don’t have the time. After doing some research I decided to try this raised garden bed trend and started laying plans to build something simple that would provide as much produce as possible.
At first I had decided to build three very large garden beds, something complicated and pretty, until I drew up the blueprints and realized how much wood and soil it would take to make multiple layers. Besides the more expensive side, I realized that I really didn’t need that much space either. My main goal in building a garden was to grow simple veggies that we eat often; tomatoes, bell peppers, peas, etc. I based the size of my gardens off what we would need to grow what we would use.
A local lumberyard dumps all of their un-sellable lumber in a big pile in their parking lot. Most of the wood is split, end pieces, or just not pretty. Some local people even dump their scrap wood there as well instead of taking it to the dump (why throw it away when someone else can use it?). I stop by every few days to see if they have brought more out, since most of their board that they dump are small, I had planned on building multiple beds that were smaller. When a local person dumped a batch of 1×6’s that were over 8 feet long, I made sure to grab as many as I could. I ended up with enough long boards to make one long bed and two smaller beds.
To construct the beds I cut down an old 4×4 down to 12 inch long segments, then screwed the 1×6’s to the 4×4 with 3 inch screws. That’s it. On the long beds I supported the boards by screwing a 2×4 halfway along, but little else was required. I didn’t put any sort of finish on them since I don’t like the thought of those chemicals being so close to the veggies I feed by children.
Fill Em’ Up
I laid down thick cardboard (old diaper boxes) in the bottom and soaked them with water, no weeds get through cardboard. Spreading a layer of leftover mulch I had laying around in the bottom to help preserve moisture (and take up space). Then I layering topsoil and steer manure over it all. The bags or manure and topsoil I bought were ripped and some of them were not completely full (but I will take discount bags any day over paying full price). Each bag averaged $1 and I ended up using 5 bags of topsoil and 3 bags of manure for each small bed. The larger bed took 12 bags of topsoil and 5 bags of manure to filled it to the top. By next year the soil will have settled lower so I will have room for my compost.
Since I am using the square foot method of planting rather than rows (even though my beds aren’t laid out exactly in square feet), I tapped in a few nails to the top to stretch twine for marking the beds. So far I have planted carrots, radishes, and onion sets, and am just waiting for the final frost so I can plant my peas, beans, and all of the seedlings I have started in the house.
Make sure when you are laying out your garden that you are consulting a companion list (it tells you which vegetable do well, or not well, when planted together). Also, keep in mind that some crops do well in the cooler weather, like radishes, onions, and carrots, while some plants prefer the hot summers like tomatoes and pepper plants. I made sure to plant my cool weather veggies early so that they would be ready for harvest before the worst of the summer heat. This fall, once my summer crops are done, I will plant a fall rotation of the cool weather crops to make sure I have fresh veggies to eat, store, and share.
I have been enjoying the fruits of my labor for the last several months. Just this morning I picked carrots, radishes, buttercup squash, and roma tomatoes. By staggering the planting of seeds I will be harvesting fresh produce until frost.