@story and images CATHERINE FREDERICK
Spring has sprung, the days are longer, everything’s turning greener, and the little hippie gardener in me is screaming to get out! “Work the earth, sow the seeds,” she says. Who am I to ignore her?
I’m using the square foot gardening method I put in place last season (see our May 2011 issue) but this year I’m going with raised beds (also called garden boxes) and an easy-to-install watering system in the hopes of improving my harvest.
Let’s start with the raised bed system. Now, if you’ve got two to three hours on your hands, and have power tools and a little muscle, you can build your own raised bed. YellaWood® has a wonderful step-by-step guide online, and it’s free! Usually, I’m all in when it comes to build-it-yourself projects, but I discovered an inexpensive kit from Greenland Gardener® at Sam’s Club® (under $40) that’s made in the U.S.A., fits my space, is made of composite lumber, and it’s expandable (you know, just in case hubby let’s me till up any more of our yard).
Out of the box, it took me less than ten minutes to put the raised bed materials together. The boards simply slide together, held in place by interlocking corners. An instant benefit to raised bed gardening is weed control, and that’s where a little planning goes a long way.
As a cost-cutting measure, I decided not to use weed block fabric on top of my soil. Instead, I used several layers of wet newspaper as the base, and then placed the raised bed platform on top, making sure that the soil was completely covered by the newspaper. I’ll be tossing in a little mulch along the inside edges, too. The trick is to use a material that will allow your bed to drain. Do not use plywood, plastic or similar materials as weed cover, as the soil will not drain properly.
After the weed barrier is in place and the platform is exactly where you want it, it’s time to fill up your beds. I’m using my version of “Mel’s Mix”. You may be asking, “Who’s mix?” Mel is Mel Bartholemew, author of All New Square Foot Gardening, and the founder of the square foot gardening method. The bagged mixture Mel sells (inquire by calling 801.782.4559) is a combination of vermiculite, compost, and peat moss. While this combination of materials is more expensive, there are benefits to using it instead of a generic garden soil.
- The mix is lighter than dirt and since you won’t be walking on it, it won’t get compacted. The light mix allows seeds to push through easier, allowing you to plant at shallower depths.
- Roots can grow and spread easily.
- If you are careful about the compost you select, you should have minimal, if any, weeds.
- No overwatering. This mix drains so well, even if you use a drip system like mine, there’s no risk.
I’ll be mixing up the materials on my own. If you opt for this route, Mel recommends mixing the vermiculite, peat moss and compost on a tarp. Keep in mind, if you have a lot to mix, it can be heavy! The instructions state to add the compost first, followed by the vermiculite, then peat moss. If the mix is really dry or dusty, you can mist it with a bit of water, but beware, this only adds weight.
To combine, start by pulling one corner to the North, then pull the opposite corner to the South, back and forth, until mixed. Then pull another corner to the East, then a corner to the West, back and forth, until it’s thoroughly combined. Sounds easy enough!
Now, let’s move on to the watering system. When I first researched system options, I was overwhelmed. However, with a little planning and a little patience, I put together a system that is just right for my watering needs. Even though they sell systems in kits, I went for the build-your-own option.
I purchased the pieces I needed at Lowe’s®. I loved that I could purchase each piece separately, from the length of tubing to specific watering heads tailored to each plant in my garden. I ended up with a variety of sprinkler, drip, and mister heads, along with coordinating stakes, risers, and tubes - even stakes with clips attached to hold the master tube securely to the ground. The variety enables me to customize a watering plan for each type of plant, either at the base of the plant, or in a sprinkler pattern for several plants at one time.
Several of the sprinklers have a valve enabling you to shut off water to certain plants, giving you even more options to customize your watering plan. Finally, the system is all interconnected and attaches to a simple garden hose.
In addition to the raised beds and watering system, I’m throwing in a tall wooden trellis onto the back of one of the raised bed sections to give my climbing vegetables room to roam. Last season I purchased the short metal variety and was not happy with the results. The small size did not allow adequate room for my plants to climb, and when it rained it did stand strong in the soil.If I’ve discovered anything from my adventures in gardening, it’s that gardening is a continual learning process. I do a lot of reading and research, and it seems that I’m always discovering something new. I do believe one thing: gardening changes how you see the food you bring to your table. There’s nothing like watching seeds turn into plants, then watch as those plants produce fruits and vegetables. The real payoff comes when you sit down with your family to eat the food you’ve actually grown. If you haven’t tried it, you absolutely should!CALL OUT
My Version of Mel’s Mix
1/3 Peat Moss
1/3 Compost (pay attention to the source to avoid weeds)
To share our love of gardening, we’re giving away one Raised Garden Bed Kit (82” X 42”). NOTE: Due to the size and weight of the kit, we are unable to mail it. The winner will be responsible for picking up the kit from our office within 30 days of notification.
To enter, be sure to like us on Facebook. Then leave a comment telling us why you want to win the kit and you’ll be automatically entered! Want to be entered more than once? Share your post on your Facebook page and you’ll be entered again.
Our lucky winner will be selected on May 1 and notified by email, and on our Facebook page. Good luck!