@story Catherine Frederick
Who doesn’t love a fresh, home-grown salad? Not only is it healthier to eat home-grown organic foods, when you’ve put in the time to see the harvest to fruition, it just tastes better.
My ground area for gardening is limited, so in order to include all the herbs and vegetables we like, hubby and I built a garden table. It’s a great, inexpensive way to grow fresh, flavorful salad greens, herbs and shallow-growing fruits and vegetables. You may also enjoy using the table as a means of growing transplants from your garden. It’s not only easy to build (basically a shallow wooden frame with a mesh bottom and legs, or even one without legs and simply set on saw horses), but it also stands waist level so it eliminates bending and kneeling to weed and harvest.
This ingenious table was originally designed in 2006 by University of Maryland gardening expert Jon Traunfeld, who got the idea from a metal version he saw being used on an organic farm. The table takes up little space and it’s a great way to get into gardening at home (shorten the legs and size and the kids have a perfect table to grow their own veggies). Its three-and-a-half inch depth is perfect for salad greens and the special soil mixture (fifty percent soil-less mix and fifty percent high-quality compost) allows for quick growth. There are no weeds and since it’s elevated significantly from the ground, you'll have fewer pest problems. Hoops for cloth covers can be added if the sun brings too much heat or when the weather turns much cooler.
Another great thing about the garden table is the portability. If you place your table on a level surface, you can incorporate rollers so the table is easier to move in and out of the sun, depending on the weather.
A variety of plants can be included in a garden table, whether from seeds or seedlings. Lettuce varieties are typically fast growing and yield the biggest crops (think leaf, romaine, butterhead, etc.) as well as broccoli, arugula, kale, and mustard greens. Chard, spinach, radishes, basil and other herbs will also grow well, but slower. Bush green beans also thrive. Increase the depth of your frame and you can include tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers.
It costs around $35 in materials to build, and around $20 for seeds or seedlings and soil. The tables can also be purchased online and shipped ready to assemble from a variety of sources. I like to create things myself and with a little help from hubby, our table was built in a short amount of time. Following is a list of materials you’ll need to build your own garden table.
Materials Needed (this creates a 33” wide X 58” long table):
Untreated framing lumber:
(2) 10-foot-long 2x4s
(2) 12-foot-long 2x4s
2 1/2-inch galvanized deck screws
1 pound of 1-inch roofing nails
3-by-5-foot roll of aluminum window screening
3-by-5-foot roll of 1/2-inch mesh hardware cloth (galvanized wire mesh; comes in a roll)
(I had the sections cut at the hardware store. It saved time and I was confident they were measured correctly).
Cut (2) 58” sections from a 10’ 2 X 4 (long sides)
Cut (4) 30” sections from the other 10’ 2 X 4 (cross pieces)
Cut (4) 32.5” sections from a 12’ 2 X 4 (inside support legs)
Cut (4) 36” sections from the other 12’ 2 X 4 (outside legs)
Attach the long sides (58”) to the cross sections (30”) using the 3” galvanized screws (2 screws per cross section). The two interior cross sections are attached 18 3/4” from each end of the long section (this creates three roughly equal sections).
NOTE: YOU WILL NEED TWO PEOPLE FOR THIS STEP
Center the window screen on the outside bottom of the frame. Two people are needed in order to stretch the screen taught and adhere it with staples to the frame bottom and sides using a staple gun.
Center the hardware cloth over the window screen, pull it taut, and staple it to the frame bottom. Hammer in rooﬁng nails around the frame for added support. Cut the hardware cloth diagonally at each corner with tin snips. Fold the cloth up and onto the sides of the frame, then staple and nail it in place.
Attach each 32 1/2” leg to a 36” leg using the 3” galvanized wood screws- this will create sturdy support for your table. The table frame will sit on the shorter section of each 2-piece leg. Attach each leg, 4 inches in from the four corners, by placing three 3” screws through the top of each leg and into the long side of the frame. Feel free to paint your garden table (exterior only) with an exterior latex paint. A bottom shelf can also be included for storage.
- Drill pilot holes with a 1/8” drill bit before drilling in the galvanized screws
- Use a wood file to smooth out any rough edges after your wood sections have been cut
Web Exclusive: Your table from start to finish
Your choice of soil mixture is very important to your garden table. Unless you’ve opted to create a deeper table, your table is only 3” deep! Your soil has three main functions: give roots water, air and nutrients; allow roots maximum growth; and support the plant structurally as it grows.
The soil you choose should have large particles with large porous spaces in between. A light and fluffy mixture brings about fast-growing seed, strong root growth, and excellent water drainage.
The above sized vegetable table will hold approximately 22 gallons of soil mixture. The best soil mix is fifty percent soil-less combined with fifty percent high-quality compost. Use your own compost or purchase ready-made mixtures at your local co-op or lawn and garden center.
Soil Do’s and Don’ts
- Animal manures should NOT be used in your vegetable table.
- Soil-less mixes contain peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite (all provide needed aeration). Be sure you add water into the mix before adding compost and filling the frame as peat moss repels water when dry.
- In absence of compost, you may use a one hundred percent soil-less mix.
- Soil-less mixes substitute coir (coconut husk fibers) and rice hulls or peat moss and perlite. All of these retain water very well. Keep in mind that soil-less mixes will settle due to the large pores.
- Garden soil mix should be avoided as it is very dense and typically contains weed seeds.
- Don’t reuse last season’s soil mix. The weather from the previous season will have caused compaction, which leads to poor aeration and poor root growth. But don’t toss out your old soil mix as it can be placed around your garden plants.
What to Plant and When to Harvest
Typically salad-type vegetables are best suited for garden tables due to their shallow root depth (think lettuce, radishes, and onions); however, build a deeper table and enjoy vegetables such as thumb carrots, tomatoes and even bush beans. Any type of salad green will grow well (arugula, kale, spinach, chard, and lettuce) as well as a variety of herbs (parsley, basil and cilantro). You’ll be harvesting greens when they are about four to eight inches tall. When harvesting, cut down to the soil level allowing the root/bottom stalk portion of the plant to remain. New growth will appear, and weather permitting you should have at least one, if not two additional cuttings. Note: Herbs tend to need, and can withstand, a bit more sunlight than your vegetables.
How to Plant Your Table
Fill your table with your soil mixture and make it level, but just as in your garden, you do not want to pack the soil. Plant your seeds in straight rows, about a 1/4” below soil level. You may sprinkle the seeds into the rows, which will need to be thinned later, or plant the seeds about four inches apart. Cover, don’t pack, the seeds with soil from each side of your row. Press down slightly on the row with your fingers so you have good contact between the soil and the seeds. You should start to see germination on most seeds in about a week and a half.
While some wince at the thought of thinning seedlings, it’s a necessity of a successful garden. Seedlings should be spaced to one to two inches. Although the process seems barbaric, simply pull the extra seedlings out by hand. Don’t let those seedlings go to waste. Plant them in another vegetable table, add them to your compost, or if they are mature enough (baby greens), enjoy them for dinner.
After planting your seeds, it’s important to keep the soil mix moist. Watering every day is not crucial until after the seedlings pop through the soil. Make it easy on yourself and purchase an inexpensive watering can or use a pitcher from the kitchen. Your table will usually require about one gallon of water each day.