Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Garden Season 2016: Raised Bed Adventure

I got busy with a new job in 2014 and didn't update the blog.  In 2015, I didn't keep a garden, because of the dry winter and the drought in general.  This year, we've had a wet winter, and I'm back!

Readers familiar with my garden pictures may remember the black plastic 6-inch raised beds that I've had for years.  They were great when I started, but over time the flaws became unignoreable.  Too many of the sides had gone more horizontal than vertical.  The deep grooves in the inner part of the side made great places for snails to hide.   The spacing of the beds was too narrow for a lawnmower between the beds and the back fence, so we had to use a weed whacker to maintain the grass there.  The black plastic got very hot in the sun, a feature in the spring when the beds warmed up for planting, but less welcome in the summer and early fall.   I didn't keep the beds weeded properly during their fallow period in 2015, and thick mats of grass got established in them.  Ugh.  Time to start over!

First to sketch up what I wanted, based on measurements of the width of a lawnmower (I allowed 26") and the room that we had.  I came up with the following placement:

Good, and now for the beds themselves!  I wanted something that will last the next 12 - 15 years we are likely to be living here, be more structural and upright, and not soak up the sun like black plastic. And be taller-- 12" raised beds will make me happier.   I decided to go with make-them-yourself wooden raised beds, using premade and predrilled aluminum corner kits.  The best combination of expense and functionality that I found were the Gardener's Supply raised bed corners (and the corresponding inline middles).

What to use for wood?  I originally thought of using Trex, but it's super duper expensive.   Many gardeners recommend cedar, due to its rot resistant properties.  That was $1.80 a linear foot, and I would have needed about 438 board feet.  Ouch.  To my surprise, "common" (not heartwood) redwood turned out to be surprisingly affordable.  A woodworker friend says that only the heartwood redwood is really rot-resistant, so we'll have to see how that goes.  Nothing else I've read says that.  So we are going with common redwood.

Ignore the sign in the background saying FREE FREE FREE-- the 2"x4"x10' boards were a little under $10 each.   We used the circular saw to cut the first set of bed sides out, and that was irksome and slow.  We'll take the time to set up our fancy chop box and do a bunch of sides at once next time.  The kits, which included aluminum self-tapping wood screws, were easy to assemble on the cement of our carport.  They were structural enough that we could easily carry the bed to where it would live.

Here is the first bed, a 5'x2', assembled.  I found that I'd neglected to allow for the corner units themselves in calculating the width of the bed, so it is about 3 inches wider than I'd planned.  Wups.  Thus I'll be putting it in the corner by the fence and making a narrower bed for my herbs, here behind the shed.   If you notice the wood doesn't come up fully to the height of the corners, you are right-- they are a true 12" and dimensional 2x4s are really 1.75 x 3.75, so three don't fill the space.

Here is the bed filled with Kellogs Organic Potting Soil, three 3-cubic-foot bags.  I'm leaving room for a top mulch of compost.  I planted peas along the fence (long and short sides), and will get some mesh to staple to the fence for them to climb.  I'm planning on putting a pair of winter squashes in that bed, and ditto on having them climb the mesh.  My husband suggested, alas after the bed was filled, that it would make more sense to put the sharp edges of the posts on the ground, and use the wood-level side on the top.  The next 4 beds will certainly use that method!

I'm busy this coming weekend, Mike is away the following weekend, I guess the last weekend in March will be our mad scramble to finish all the beds to start our growing season.  Though I hope we can work on them in the evenings after work instead, and get some of them going.  I'd like to plant cilantro and lettuces now while it's cooler!


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