Thursday, July 04, 2013

My Journey to Raised Bed Gardens

This picture is of my first garden in the late 1970s in field between Nana's and Uncle Gary Thornburg's houses.  We were successful in our gardening experience.   Gary plowed the garden for us to use. The top picture was shortly after planting and below is the garden at harvest time.
In 1981 I read Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew which encouraged me to start gardening at my house using raised bed.  From that point I never turned back from using raised beds for my gardening method of choice.  I am currently reading the All New Square Foot Gardening e-book on my Kindle.  For a better idea of the square foot gardening technique, view this presentation.   The picture below is my first attempt of gardening in raised beds in the late 1980s. 

Benefits or raised beds include:
  • Better drainage
  • More useable growing space
  • No soil compaction from walking on it
  • Easier to keep weeded since your focus is just one raised bed at a time
  • Soil is warmer than surrounding ground making for a longer season
  • Soil that has basically a neutral pH unless you add something to change it 
  • Less soil erosion
Each year I learn more about how to best garden.  I plan my beds thinking how to go from crop to crop.  You can see in the picture above how I planted the lettuce between my tomato plants that will take over towards the end of the lettuce season. Recently I learned that most of the bulb of the onion needs to be above ground for them to grow large.   I could really tell the difference in the 2012 and 2013 onion crops.
The process is simple...
  • Locate a sunny flat area
  • Secure 2x8 untreated lumber that can form a rectangle, for some of my beds I used concrete blocks
  • Cardboard boxes to cover grass for the bottom of the bed if starting on a lawn
  • Soil mixture consisting of 50% screened topsoil and 50% high-quality compost that are mixed together as you add them to your bed.  For the top 4-6 inches I use Mel's Mix developed by Mel Bartholemew - 1/3 coarse horticultural vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 blended compost.  I have also used Miracle Grow Garden Soil to top the bed off at the start of the season.
  • Composting goes hand-in-hand with gardening.  I have three going all year.  One is a large compost bin 3' x 3' for large yard waste.  I have a tumbler that is making compost right now from Fall 2012 scraps and a large ball tumbler, pictured above, that I am putting kitchen and some small yard scraps in at this time.  Pretty soon the compost from one will be ready for the garden.  Once emptied, I will start filling that one with new kitchen waste and let the ball tumbler finish the composting process.
  • The Internet has a vast collection of raised bed websites and YouTube contains videos that can help you get started!
Here are pictures of my 2013 gardens.

This is my newest raised bed of the dozen I have in my yard.  This one consists of three side-by-side beds.  I have tomatoes on the back row, cucumbers in the middle bed, and pepper in the front bed.

This was the first raised bed after moving and has cinderblocks for the sides.  I normally plant an onion in each opening.  The ones pictured here will provide seeds for next year's crop. Tomatoes are in the background and the small plants between the tomato plants will be late season peppers.

This raised bed was added this year.  It is in the transition period from lettuce to tomatoes, egg plants, and peppers. 

These cucumbers replaced the arugula and mesclun mix that filled this bed during early spring. 

The center bed of this raised bed trio is filled with yellow squash.  You have to be careful to not fill up the beds too much with starter plants.  Always think about the final size they will be when they mature.

In the fall I planted some collards.  My daughter's dog tore up the bed when living with us for two months.  I distributed the plants that survived and the box was filled in the spring.  These were pulled up in April and now is filled with zinnias.  

We even have some raised bed containers on our deck.  These two are filled with herbs and lettuce.  The boxes need to be large and deep.

The ultimate goal is to have some fresh produce year-round for us to eat!  Below is the last bowl of lettuce from the 2013 season that was picked on Father's Day, June 16.  Most of the season we had 2-3 times this amount that was picked daily so we were able to share with family and friends.

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