Saturday, October 8, 2011

raised garden bed

i have always wanted a garden, and having grown up in the deserts of the southwest, i never really had the opportunity to try.  i moved to the florida panhandle 5 years ago, but i've been too chicken to pull the trigger and risk failing miserably.  the closest i came was two years ago when i threw some tomato plants into pots and enjoyed a summer's worth of fresh cherry tomatoes in my salads.

well here we go...

i just finished my second grad degree in august (i am SO sick of school right now), and now i have free time to research and give gardening a proper try.  i'd planned on waiting until next spring, since in my ignorance i assumed nothing would grow until spring.  some friends who garden in this area set me straight.  apparently plenty of veggies will grow through the winter in this region.

i googled the heck out of winter gardening, and i decided to build a raised garden bed and composed a list of winter vegetables to try.  the raised garden bed is apparently preferable for two reasons: 1.) you have 100% control of the soil composition, so if you have crap dirt, it's definitely the way to go, and 2.) it heats up better in the sun than an in ground garden, so your plants will grow better in colder months.  my gardening friends all have raised garden beds, too, and agreed with my decision to go this way.

one thing i learned is that a raised garden bed for edible plants should be made of cedar.  cedar is naturally bug and rot resistant, whereas other types of wood need to be treated with chemicals to hold up as well.  chemical treated wood isn't the best thing to use to enclose a patch of dirt for growing food. 

i started with a hodge podge design based on the wood widths and lengths available at my local home depot.  i did the math and came up with a 4' x 5' bed with a depth of 8 inches.  i wish i knew a good local shop to buy wood from, because having these big chains cut your wood for you is almost always an exercise in frustration/hilarity.  this trip was no exception.  i'll spare you the details, but i ended up having to go get more wood for him to cut because part of the first batch was wrecked.  he was obviously trying to get it right, and he apologized for the screw ups.  he finally admitted that he'd been working there for less than two weeks.  two weeks and he's already cutting wood for customers with no help?  poor guy.

i also grabbed a box of galvanized nails (they won't rust) to hammer this rig together.  my home depot bill totaled $35.

this is what i ended up starting with:

after hammering it into a square, this is what i ended up with:

next, i pulled all the weeds and grass tidbits out of the space, buried the studs, and leveled the bed.  some websites recommended putting down weed cloth, but i decided not to.  my soil is actually kind of decent, which is odd for being so close to the coast, and i figured if i ever decide to try root plants like carrots and potatoes i'll need the depth.  also, leveling the bed is apparently very important to make sure your water runoff doesn't screw up your bed.  that was a pain in the butt for me, since this bed is on a very slight slope.  i had to dig one edge into the ground a bit.

another trip to home depot was in order to buy stuff to fill it up with.  as far as dirt composition, i read about a hundred different recommendations.  almost all are some combo of topsoil and fertilizer type material.  i found a combo bag of organic compost and manure, and ended up settling on a 2:1 ratio of topsoil to the compost/manure.  for my bed, that added up to 10 forty lb. bags of topsoil and 5 forty lb. bags of compost/manure.  about $20 worth of dirt.

i also bought some plants and seeds.  i don't know what the heck the deal is, but lowe's didn't have any winter veggie plants at all, and home depot's selection was quite slim.  my gardening friend, chris, said he'd been all over town looking for stuff, but could only find seeds.  so, since this whole project is an experiment and an adventure anyway, i bought some plants and some seeds.  this is what i ended up with:

plants - romaine, butter lettuce, red leaf lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts
seeds - arugula, spinach, sweet pepper medley, radish, green onion, red onion

about $20 worth of plants and seeds.

i threw in the topsoil and manure/compost and made sure it was mixed well.  then i planted plants and seeds, and voila!

my dog approves.  she had great fun shredding the little plastic containers the plants went in while i wasn't looking.

i watered everything before i came in and washed the grime off, and now it's raining.  not sure if that's a good thing or not, but at least i'm certain it will be watered well tonight!

definitely not the most frugal outdoor project i've ever attempted.  i sure did have fun with it though!  i don't know how successful i'll be this first year, but i'm hopeful.  the idea of walking outside and picking myself a salad is so appealing to me.  and i've started making my own compost, so in the future i'll just have the expense of the plants and seeds in the spring/fall.

wish me luck!