Raised Beds for Next Year
This year's garden was laid out rather casually, in what I thought might be 'the right way' but wasn't sure about. So I used inexpensive plastic landscaping edging, secured with small plastic stakes (all from recycled plastic, thanks) to outline quasi-raised beds, where the soil is mounded up about 6 - 8 inches high. I was able to cut it with garden shears, and it was flexible enough that I could cut and stake it where I needed the soaker hose to pass through it to go between beds. Now that I have a better idea where things should be. There are a couple of other factors: reach, and railways.
I have learned the hard way that I personally don't have the reach needed to pick things in a 3x6 garden bed where one side is against a fence. All the raised-bed veggie books will talk about 3x6 raised beds, but the writers are generally guys who are six feet tall or nearly, and have that critical extra reach of 4 - 6 inches. I guess it's a Guy Thing. My husband and I use the same seat and mirror settings for our cars, which is handy. But when I drive the Ford Ranger, I have to disengage the emergency brake before I put on my seatbelt, since I can't reach down below the dash to the release. He can get it with no problem. Part two is railways: we want to lay things out so that we have room for a Garden Railway. Mike is quite the railfan, and while he volunteers at various museums working on track for the 1:1 scale trains (full size!), we think it would be a nice change to do track work with 1 ounce rail, rather than 90-pound rail. I'm quite charmed by the concept of tiny boxcars of cherry tomatoes going 'round the bend when we have folks over for a BBQ. So we need pathway space for that, and for the tracks to loop around garden beds, since even tiny trains need a shallow-radius curve to turn around.
Now, on to raised beds!
My peppers didn't do very well here, from a combination of under-feeding and not being warm enough. I should have been using a foliar fish emulsion spray or seaweed spray once blossoms appeared, or supplemental feeding at the surface. When I grew peppers hydroponically last year in San Jose, they were exploding with fruits, since they were constantly getting all the nutrients they needed. I'll definitely try hydroponics this coming year, and compare results in a test raised bed using black plastic to warm the soil. I found an inexpensive recycled plastic raised bed kit which is black and designed to warm up the soil. I will probably get the drip irrigation kit designed to go with the raised bed, too, rather than mucking about with soaker hoses.
This particular bed is also touted as a potato bed kit, more attractive and easier than raising them in barrels. You just take apart the sides of the bed in the fall, rake out the potatoes, and you're done! Friends of ours raise sweet potatoes, and I'd like to try raising them in a bed like this. Sure, potatoes and sweet potatoes are generally cheap enough that raising them in a small garden doesn't make a ton of sense. However there are some varieties of potato, such as Russian Banana, Ruby, or Princess LaRatte that are expensive or hard to find in stores, and sweet potatoes actually are incredibly attractive plants, related to the morning glory and with stunning flowers.
I'd been looking at some raised bed mini-greenhouse kits, which also can be used with anti-pest mesh. I would still like to get something tidy and kit-like, to minimize the homebrew aspect of all this and stay neat and proper. The first kit mentioned, the black 'hot box' kit, is only available in 3 foot by 3 foot size, which may or may not do well for the space we have. I need to get out there and do some measuring. The mini-greenhouse raised bed kits are available in 2x4, 3x6, and 4x8 sizes. Another set of recycled plastic raised bed kits, from Orcaboard, offers a top-rail add-on, making a small shelf around the top. They say there are 'accessories' available, but I can't find links. They're in 2x4, 4x4, and 4x8. They're white and very nice-looking, so a couple of 2x4 kits might make sense around the side of the house where things are quite visible from the street.
The do it yourself stacking joints and recycled-plastic plus wood-flour timber beds from Scenery Solutions are also fairly affordable, and look like a traditional high-end redwood or cedar raised bed. The lumber is sold in 2x6 thickness, in 8 foot lengths, but clearly one could craft beds of an arbitrary or custom size using the joint kits. Stacking up to a 12-inch high bed gets expensive fast, though one could add on a new layer annually until the ideal 18 - 24 inch 'cadillac of raised beds' height is reached. Decisions, decisions!