April 9, 2015 - Raised Beds
We figured we better discuss the raised garden bed since we discussed the hoop houses in a previous blog. Sometimes we get ahead of ourselves and want to make sure we keep the content coming to you.
A little background about discovering raised bed gardening. I have been gardening now for nearly 50 years. I started when I was pretty small and my earliest memories of gardening was with my grandparents in their back yard garden that was south facing in front of the huge old apple tree. Back then, it was their little garden, but they had decades of turning the soil. Both of my grandparents grew up on farms and lived through the depression years and struggled to make ends meet back then. They were solid individuals that raised their 5 kids, including my Mom, out there in the rolling hills of Southwest Iowa until they hung it up and moved into Council Bluffs.
Now everything they did was always flat plot garden and everything was put in the ground with lots of mulch. I just remember pulling weeds and getting eaten up by the bugs. It wasn’t much fun in my opinion except for the radishes and carrots that I always enjoyed more so than the buckets of tomatoes. I was a pickier eater back then and some would say I still am. Fast forward a few years and my folks always tinkered with gardening as well, but then one year my Dad got this piece of land that was about an acre, and we went from a small backyard hobby to this whole new scale of gardening.
We grew a ton of stuff, but it was again the root till method. Plant, water, pull weeds, mulch, muck your way around, get eaten or stung by the bugs until harvest and then freeze, can, or preserve your way through all the food until it was done. They were and still are industrious using their garden methods. It’s basic and works for them.
Fast forward a few more years and we are in our thirties now and we move into our house out in the “burbs” and leave a small patch of ground that won’t be sodded, because we thought it would be neat to give our boys the same wonderful gardening experience we had. To instill some home grown values into them when they were young. We put the garden in just like my parents, with the aid of the roto-tiller and rowed in the plants just like my parents had done. The rains came and turned everything to muck in the bottom of the rows, so your shows were 3 to 4 times heavier with the crap sticking to your soles. Then, the weeds came and we had no place for the piles of green dying weeds and we still had the muck, and of course it was time to throw down grass clippings to hold the moisture in. But that just made the muck mess even muckier and eventually when the bitting and stinging bugs showed up... well we were getting to the point of asking ourselves, really? Isn’t it just easier to go to the store and get what we need? Who needs this extra work? This was all self-imposed and my neighbor always seemed to have the last laugh as he watched us on his patio with a cold one.
We don’t take defeat very well and are not ones that ever really give up. We see it all the way through. I have to admit, we worked our tails off those first two years and the results were marginal at best. We had some early spring success and then it spiraled out of control around June 15th. You have to remember that we probably planted on Memorial Day weekend up here where we can see frost into late May. (We had that wonderful experience happen to us as well and that is another story.) So for two maybe three weeks, we really enjoyed our garden. Then, the garden seems to morph into a jungle and the fun erodes pretty quickly from there.
Over the winter, we went to a garden show and saw magazines with raised bed gardens, but always struggled coming up with the cash to make the investment in timbers as well as the time. We asked ourselves, are we really into gardening or not, and would we be into gardening more if we had the right system? After talking with others that had raised beds, it seemed like a no-brainer to move ahead. All the challenges that we had experienced seem to evaporate with the enjoyment factor sky rocketing and the level of jungle maintenance declining substantially. The next Spring we put in our very elaborate raised bed timber design. We used 4” X 6” green treat timbers lined on the side with 4 mil poly. We wanted to get a barrier between our soil and the green treatment chemicals that are in the timber.
Results were awesome. Loved gardening. You could go out with a glass of wine or a cold beer and park your butt on the edge of the raise bed and weed the bed in minutes. There was no more muck, the bugs were tolerable until of course the evening mosquitoes show up, and the yield was amazing. We actually had less space planted in crop vs the amount of produce we received. We made gallons of fresh and canned salsa. Endless strawberries through out the growing season. Fresh tender herbs for your meats and fresh cut salad. We stuffed peppers that lasted us well into the next summer from our freezer. Of course we experimented with making jalapena poppers stuffed with cream cheese, ice box garlic pickles, and different methods for putting up all our extra bounty in a canning jar or in the freezer.
Then, we moved out to Bahrstead’s before it was Bahrstead’s and had to ask ourselves...what does this next garden look like to us going forward. Well, that wasn’t as easy as what we thought it was going to be. We wanted to scale it but had the issue of the time and muscle to put in it. So we opted to go a couple of years to see if we could do container gardens. The concept is pretty straight forward. Instead of having a fixed raised bed areua, you have containers you build and place where ever you like. We will post some designs in the future of these self-watering containers and they work pretty slick. My buddy who has a place way up north along the Canadian border would make these self-watering containers for storage bin boxes where he could put his tomatoes and other garden varieties in these boxes and leave for a couple of weeks and he would come back and the plants were fine and thriving.
Now, I am so fortunate to have a clever and innovative friend that I had to borrow his ideas and morph them into mine. This seem to fit our need and our schedule at the time, and we had some modest result. We had so many other things that it was difficult to dedicate more time to our container concept, but we did see the benefit in its design. Again, we will post some designs eventually in the DIY section of the website so you can make what fits your needs. The concept is very straight forward. Build a box or buy a container and make sure we create a water collection storage space at the bottom of your raised bed or container. Come up with a way to separate the water from the soil. Then, develop a wicking method that allows the soil to wick moisture from the water reservoir as the plant roots need it. And you have a self-watering system that really cuts down on your need to water as much. You still need to check soil conditions and all that.
The other thing in the design is that you must make sure you have a pipe to allow water to fill up the reservoir from the top and you also have to have a side drain to allow any excess water to drain out of your box or container. Plants need water, but plants can’t thrive if the soil doesn’t drain very well. Making sure you have the right combination is key.
Our science experiment morphed from plastic tote garden containers to full size 12’ X 3’ X 1.5’ wooden structures that have the self watering feature that our old garden didn’t have. Now did I tell you have been gardening now for almost 50 years? Yes, I think I did. And I can tell you that I have never… I mean never enjoyed the biggest, sweetest, tender and delicious radishes that I have ever had. Never. I mean they were the best radishes ever. How often in life do you get to say that? For me it’s getting rarer. And as far as carrots, same thing. They were phenomenal. The funniest thing, we planted in late July. If we would have had a our raised beds ready to go in May, we could have gotten two crops in.
You don’t need that large of a space to produce some huge results that will take your gardening into orbit. Watch us as we help out someone near and dear to us take their “Backyard Ghetto Garden” (her words) that kind of reminds me of my childhood days into a beautiful, efficient, and productive gardening system over the next couple of months. We are excited and she is too.