Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Building New Raised Garden Beds

After getting my vegetable gardening feet wet this year with three 4 ft x 4 ft square foot gardening beds, I decided that an expansion was in order for next year.

This is the south facing side of the house most suitable for a vegetable garden.  The area is shaped like a long trapezoid.  The side where this picture was taken is 18 feet wide and the side with the open gate is 14 feet wide.  The whole area is 53 feet long.  The existing three 4 ft x 4 ft beds are here, but they will be removed at the end of this growing season.  To maximize the space, I decided to build six raised beds measuring 4 ft x 12 ft each, giving me a total of 288 square feet of growing space.

Each raised bed was built with 2 in x 10 in x 12 ft untreated pine boards and lined with several layers of newspaper to prevent weeds from growing in the raised bed.  We decided to go with 10 inch deep beds because the soil in the backyard is really hard clay soil with tons of rocks and gravel left behind by the developer (whom Keith curses every time he has to do any digging in the backyard), topped with lots of weeds.  To make things worse, this area slopes down southward (from right to left in the top picture).  So Keith had to dig a trench all around the three sides of each box to make sure that they could sit level on the ground.  This digging was very difficult with the rock-hard clay soil, and probably the hardest part of this project.

With my needing almost 9 cubic yards of soil to fill six raised beds, I knew there was no way that I would pay the price of Mel's mix - the cost of filling a third of the boxes with vermiculite would be astronomical.  After some calling around, I found a local vendor selling a special planter's mix consisting of mushroom compost, black top soil and bark fines for $34/cubic yard.  When I saw and felt the soil, I was really pleased with its quality - it was dark, rich, full of organic material and felt perfectly moist for planting.

We transported the soil ourselves, 1.5 cubic yard at a time in the back of a pickup truck.  They would also deliver for a fee, but Keith did not want to deal with so much dirt dumped in the driveway all at once, especially since we knew it was going to take us multiple weekends to finish the whole project.  It turned out to be a great decision on Keith's part, because this project is taking us a lot longer to complete than we had initially thought due to weather, digging problems (we had to let the ground soak in water for hours before digging the trenches for leveling each of the boxes), and a few other errands.

Here is a picture of the first box built, leveled and filled (with a shovel, which was also a long process).

Please excuse the mess in this picture - this building process was definitely not a tidy process.  Pictured above are the first four completed raised beds- three on the left side and one on the right side in the far back.  We will probably wait to build and fill the last two beds after this winter, since we still have a few things left growing in the existing 4 ft x 4 ft raised beds.  The new raised beds were placed end-to-end because I wanted to leave as much room as possible near the gate in case we want the space for something else (more raised beds, staging, etc.) later.  To go from one side to the other, I will either have to walk around, which could be a pain in the butt, or just step on the short part of the bed frame to cross over.

These raised beds are for next year, but I just couldn't wait that long to plant something.  So I sowed some seeds for spinach and a few other hardy greens and covered with a row cover.  The row cover was to provide some protection from the impending cold weather, but it's actually been pretty warm since I sowed the seeds a couple of weeks ago, maybe even too warm under the row cover.  I'll have to wait and see if anything grows at all.  I've read that spinach can survive even in snowy weather, but without a cold frame or a strong hoop cover, I don't think it can survive Indiana winter - the row cover I have is not really strong/sturdy enough to withstand the weight of snow or heavy winds.

This is the basic garden map that I'm using to design and plan my new garden (click to enlarge the picture).  Over the next few months, I will slowly figure out where to plant everything next year.  I'm looking forward to a fun winter of planning and replanning the planting of the new garden.


The Apple Pie Gal said...

I can't convince my hubs that we should do raised beds! How'd ya do it???

thyme2garden said...

Apple Pie Gal - if your husband saw the kind of crappy rocky soil we have in the backyard, he might be convinced, too. It was either raised beds or no vegetable garden at all.

kitsapFG said...

What a great garden expansion project! I am totally excited for you. :D

You might want to consider doing a two tier bed on half of one of the beds - adding another box of 2"X10" boards above the existing framework you have built to create sections that have an even deeper bed (20 inch) for crops that need more root room - such as tomatoes. Since the native soil is such hard pan and not suitable to dig, doing the completely raised bed is smart but I think you might find having some even deeper beds for bigger rooted items even more useful.

You guys have done a ton of work and the results are beautiful! Well done!

Anonymous said...

hi!This was a really impressive blog!
I come from milan, I was luck to discover your website in google
Also I get a lot in your blog really thank your very much i will come later

Dan Owen said...

You folks sure have a lot of energy! I can hardly wait to see what kinds of stuff you'll be growing next season!

Robin said...

That's exactly how I started all of my raised beds here! The soil here is solid clay. As time progresses, the beds will get deeper and better. The good soil, addition of compost (on a regualar basis), digging and plants will make the beds deeper every year. I put in my first 10" deep bed five years ago and it is very deep now.

Great Job!! You will have a lot of space next year!!

Annie's Granny said...

Wow! Very impressive. You're going to turn Keith into a farmer yet ;-)

meemsnyc said...

We just built raised beds too! I'm so jealous that you have a local soil vendor! We had to buy bags and bags of soil and compost.

Dirt Lover said...

Yeah for you! I have raised beds, and just LOVE them. I am also a huge fan of lining the bottom of them with cardboard, which is basically the same as newspaper, except we have very little newspaper, and tons of cardboard. Anyway, that has saved my keester many hours and lots of frustration. You will love it. I'm so excited to see you are jumping in with both feet!

Engineeredgarden said...

Oh gosh, that's gonna be a pretty big garden when finished! Mine is only about 235....Don't work Keith too hard!

Angela said...

Yay for garden expansions! I am in the process of planning my expansion too.

Your beds look very nice all filled and new. Is there any ground cover crop that would work during the winter in your area to get the soil food web started in preparation for your spring planting? Maybe I am thinking like a Californian here and this would not be possible in Indiana...

The Idiot Gardener said...

If I was you, I'd raise those bed a little higher, and put removable rooves on them (unless you don't get the cold winters like we do).

Nice job!

thyme2garden said...

kitsapFG - thank you for your excitement! Projects like this are even more exciting when I can share them with others through blogging. Thank you also for the suggestion on making an even deeper bed. I'm sure deeper is always better. But then I would have to make them all deeper to allow for crop rotation in subsequent years. Things to think about...

* * * * *
Anonymous - welcome to my blog, and thank you for your kind comment!

* * * * *

Dan Owen - we didn't have so much energy after this work. :)

* * * * *
Robin - ohh, I sure hope our beds get deeper over time like yours!

* * * * *
Granny - I don't think Keith wants to be a farmer. But I do!

* * * * *
meemsnyc - I want to say that you probably would be able to find one if you called around, but I guess there are no guarantees.

* * * * *
Dirt Lover - I get a daily newspaper at the hotel where I stay at during the week. I saved them and brought them back with me every weekend. Yeah, I'm crazy like that.

* * * * *
EG - You grow so much vegetables to have a garden that's only 235 sf!

* * * * *
Angela - I read up on ground cover crops, and I'm sure there are a few that I can grow here, too, but I wonder if it's too late now, since our first frost is probably just a week or two away. I'll definitely look into it for next year, though.

* * * * *
TIG - Thank you! Our winters do get cold (but definitely not as cold as some REALLY cold places), with daily highs barely above freezing, and average January temperature of around 26 degrees F (-3 degrees C), but it sometimes goes down close to 0F (-18C) during the winter. I would love to build some cold frames on these raised boxes. That's a project for next winter, I hope.

foodgardenkitchen said...

Great expansion project! Our garden also grew as a result of three expansions after the first 4 beds. I still sometimes say we don't have enough growing space... It's the season overlaps that makes me say that though (I'm bad about not ripping out plants that are still producing even when the next season's plants ought to be going in the ground).

foodgardenkitchen said...

Great expansion project! Our garden also grew as a result of three expansions after the first 4 beds. I still sometimes say we don't have enough growing space... It's the season overlaps that makes me say that though (I'm bad about not ripping out plants that are still producing even when the next season's plants ought to be going in the ground).

thyme2garden said...

foodgardenkitchen - thank you! Your garden looks really great and well-established. I also have the same problem disposing of plants that are still producing, even at a reduced rate. I know I would get a better return on my garden space from planting new plants, but it really is difficult to rip out living plants!

Heather@myeverydaygraces said...

Minji, Your new beds look great! You will be able to dive right in come spring.

And, those are some crazy carrots you grew! (last post) You must have terrific soil.

Phoebe said...

The beds are great! I have just built some myself and am looking forward to the future harvests!
Its all very exciting!

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