Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Raised Bed Garden Overview

One of the best parts about Spring is planning and planting a garden. Home gardens can be all shapes and sizes from something that requires a small tractor to manage to a few containers interspersed around the yard. In that we live in a house that isn't ours on land we don't own I opted for a couple of raised beds in the side yard. One is 5'x10' and the other is a 5'x5' square and they are both 6" deep. I filled these with a really rich mixture of chicken manure and dirt from Andrea's folks' farm. It is about 50% dirt 30% chicken manure and 20% chicken bones.

The Beds

There are a few advantages to the raised bed setup. First, you don't have to worry about tilling the bed. Since you don't really ever step in it and pack it down the soil remains fairly loose and easy to work. Since the beds are contained it also prohibits a significant amount of weed and grass intrusion, not completely mind you, but much. I'm not one who makes a big deal about raised beds versus a traditional in-ground garden. If we lived on our own land I'd probably have some of both so I'm not going to make an issue out of it.

One fascinating method that I have modified to my own usage is the "Square Foot Garden" which was pioneered by Mel Bartholomew. I've read both the first edition of the book and the updated version and they are both fantastic. Bartholomew has done his homework and put together a great resource for the home gardener. You can find out more about SFG here. Below you'll see a picture of how I have most of my beds divided up according to the SFG plan.


If you're at all familiar with SFG you'll look at that and think it's all wrong. What I've done is divide a 3'x5' section of raised bed into fifteen 1 square foot sections using some wire (I tried string and it broke down and came apart). Each square foot will have a prescribed number of plants in it according to what the book recommends. For instance, the three middle sections each have 1 broccoli plant in them and the four corners have/will have 1 cabbage plant in them.

One neat distinctive of Bartholomew's method is the emphasis on vertical gardening when possible. Obviously we are used to going vertical with things like beans and cucumbers but he even grows squash and melons vertically. Now, there is a particular way the book recommends creating your vertical growing trellises but because we like to be frugal and make due with what we can salvage I, once again, modified the plan.



As you  can see from my "tomato net" I used some old T posts that were lying around on the farm. The two vertical pieces are simply driven into the soil of the raised bed and the horizontal bar is lashed on with some wire. It is kind of difficult to see in the top picture but I then wove wire together to create a net that the tomato plants can climb.

Here you can see the three sections with "catwalks" between them and the second bed in the background.
The Plan

This year I have spent more time planning so that - hopefully - it will be easier to plant successive crops in the same spaces. Again, this is a recommendation from Bartholomew. Right now, for instance, I have all of my cool weather, early Spring plants in the ground. These include:

- Broccoli
- Kale
- Cabbage
- Spinach
- Carrots
- Lettuce (in the salad table)

I originally planted some collards but the seeds were three years old and none of them came up so we may wait until fall for the collard crop.

There will almost certainly be some overlap in the garden as a whole (not individual squares) but in a few weeks, after the danger of frost has passed, I'll get these in there as well:

- Tomatoes
- Bell peppers
- Cayenne peppers
- Ancho peppers
- Okra
- Cucumbers
- Squash
- Pole beans
- Pintos (late summer)
- Various flowers
- Various herbs
- Zucchini
- Swiss chard

I'll keep you posted on how things shape up throughout the growing season. Right now the broccoli and cabbage are looking good so I'd like to think that the lessons I've learned over the past two years will make for a superior harvest this year.

Daddy's garden helper

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