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.