Tuesday, April 3, 2007

DIY - Building a Raised Bed

My introduction to our land was almost comical. Not truly knowing its history, I set out during my first spring in Sugar Hollow with great hopes. I arose with the sun - with a naive plan to create my little bit of heaven. All 5' 1" one of me.

I stretched in the sunlight, took in a deep breath of mountain air, put my shovel over my shoulder and headed out back with a spring in my step. I readied myself and went to dig my first patch of land. Then, in an almost Wile E. Coyote-moment, the shovel hit the compacted clay - making my arms, and then whole body, vibrate with the impact.

Disappointed and immediately overwhelmed, I went back to the drawing board. Clay compacted by cattle for decades was not going to be moved by the likes of me. Then, an idea - The Raised Bed.

Lumber. We are trying to do things as organically as possible. When we built these beds a few years back, we used borate-treated pine. Be forewarned, it is expensive and heavy. You could also use composite decking material. Some people just use downed trees. Or, if you do the lasagna bed method, you don't even need lumber.

From the Ground Up. We put chicken wire as the base layer (to foil little diggers and voles). Then, I would recommend you lay cardboard down. It will suppress weeds (but does eventually break down). Follow that with a mixture of compost, shredded leaves, grass clippings, coco-peat (a.k.a. coir) - to create your soil. If you have access to nice topsoil, that'll certainly do, as well. Then, top it off with a generous helping of mulch. Make sure to replenish the soil with either compost throughout the season or cover crops.

Pathways. This turned out to be one of the more time-consuming aspects of our raised bed area. First year - we went with grass pathways that were tricky to keep up with . . . and I mean tricky in that we'd-rather-sit-on-the-deck-and-drink-a-beer-vs.-mow-the-pathways-kinda way. The second year - I tried landscape fabric. Um. Landscape fabric is a ruse. A scam. Useless. It was complete mayhem out there last summer. This year, I'm thinking that I have it in the bag (as I thought I did last year. A-hem.). I put layers of cardboard down and covered it with a thick layer of straw. Fingers crossed.

Fencing. I have found that there are certain crops our local deer enjoy more than others (i.e. tomatoes). So, to help safeguard those plants, Corey attached posts to one of our larger raised beds. Then, depending on my energy level, I either staple deer fencing to the posts - or just wrap fishing line around the posts at several levels (the deer walk into the 'invisible' line as they go for a nibble and get spooked).

The Goods. I have had great luck growing tomatoes, greens (kale, swiss chard), lettuce, spinach, radishes, peas, beans, zucchini, herbs, annuals and potatoes in these raised beds. I am testing out rhubarb, onions and asparagus this year. Corn and pumpkins will go in the ground - in a small plot next to the beds.


Steph said...

How did you know I wanted to build a raised bed, but wasn't sure where to start?!

Wear Your Wild said...

I can relate to cattle-packed clay soil! That's what we had. John bought a dumptruck (one of the big trucks) load of sand for starters. Then came the years of hauling bags of leaves from town and picking up grass clipping when we mowed, mixed with compost and the occasional truckload of manure and we finally have soil!

Tracey said...

Steph - So cool to hear - they can be a lot of work but very rewarding!