Instead of going to the fridge to grab the tired salad fixings you bought a few days ago, wouldn’t it be great if you could step outside your kitchen door and pick fresh, organic ingredients instead? Anyone, with just a small amount of space available, can do exactly that with a raised-bed planter. A unit like the one shown (available from Amazon) could even be placed on a balcony.
In the planter shown, with the correct nutrient rich soil and proper drainage, its possible to plant 2 Bell Peppers, 6 Lettuce, 4 Cherry (Patio) Tomatoes, 2 Basil, 1 Chives, 1 Curled and 1 Italian Parsley, 12 Spinach and 1 large Marigold (or 4 small) – the marigolds are to keep the bugs away and to look pretty.
When I was working, the garden was my husband’s responsibility and he had an amazing one – at least a quarter of an acre in size complete with teepees, trellises, etc. However, a few years after I had retired, I decided I wanted to do a bit of gardening, but there was no way I wanted all that work. I just wanted something easy and fun – hence the raised beds.
My first raised bed measured 4’x4′ by 10 inches deep, which was enough to keep us in lettuce, green onions and cherry tomatoes all summer long. If I knew then what I know now, I could have produced much more, but I was still spacing for row-crop gardening.
I did, however, find raised bed gardening to be such a nice, enjoyable way to spend time that I’ve been expanding every year since. I now have gardens for strawberries, salads, herbs, lavender and a whatever garden (this year, spinach, kale, beets and leeks). A potato garden is already being planned for next year.
I’ve often thought that all nursing/retirement homes should have these raised beds available. It would be very therapeutic for their residents and give them purpose, exercise, and fresh air, plus some nice organic produce and flowers to enjoy.
BUILDING THE GARDENS.
While not everyone feels its necessary to build a raised frame to hold the beds and that its simpler to just place the boxes on the ground, I find the raised frame provides a lot of benefits. First of all, the frame can be built to the height best suited to the gardener, which means no bending. This makes gardening easy, especially when you get older or have limited mobility. Second, you will never have mice, mole or rabbit problems. Third, weeds blow into the ground level beds a lot faster than into the raised frame beds. Finally, I think it gives the gardener greater control over the watering and feeding.
BUILDING THE FRAME:
Building the frame is the first step and this can be as simple or elaborate as desired. In my country backyard where convenience is the important factor, and since I’m constantly changing and expanding my gardens, the quick frame method of upended concrete blocks works best. A row of upended blocks is also placed underneath the centre of the large boxes, from side to side, for increased support and to avoid sagging. If I lived in suburbia, I might – or not – have a more elaborate framework of wood or even bricks.
Although the boxes can be made any size they should be no wider than 4 feet. Its important to be able to reach the centre without leaning on and compacting the soil. Our boxes are various depths, depending on use. Strawberries are shallow-rooted so don’t need a lot of depth.
The lavender bed -10″ deep – shown below, is really the lavender nursery. Some of the plants will soon grow too large for the box and will have to be transplanted to a permanent location. This box is 10″ deep, as lavender plants need more depth. I want to expand the lavender so am planning a 4′ x 12′ by 14″ deep box for lavender plants for next year. In a box that size they’ll live happily for quite some time.
The salad and herb gardens, since they contain many different plants, including fair-sized root vegetables, are both 4’x8′ by one foot deep.
We started with untreated pine, 2″ wide, 8 feet long, cut to length and whatever depth we wanted – 8, 10 or 12″. We nailed them together, using spiral nails, rather than screw-nails which tend to loosen.
1″ plywood was used for the bottom, cut to size, with 1/2″ holes drilled ten inches apart in all directions, to allow for proper drainage. This sheet was then nailed to the pine frame.
Next, you find a strong son to help you put the concrete blocks in place and to help set the box on top of the blocks.
In order to have organic produce, you need to start with good quality organic soil, which is something you actually build yourself. This part can be a bit costly, but as it is a one-time cost, its well worth it. And, since the boxes can be made any size, its easy too start with a small one, then slowly expand as the budget permits.
To build the soil:
- First, a good layer of manure and/or compost is dumped into the box;
- A heavy layer of peat moss is added, and with a rake or similar tool, this is mixed with the manure/compost;
- A layer of vermiculite is added and the raking repeated, until everything is well mixed;
- A heavy layer of top soil is added;
- The soil is watered thoroughly.
The garden is now ready for planting. Give it a try – you’ll be so happy you did when you pop that first home-grown, freshly picked, cherry tomato into your mouth – I guarantee that will prompt a “wow, that tastes amazing”.
Talk to you again next week,