There is a lot of “new” happening over here this growing season – new zone, new yard, new routines, new plant selections, new places to shop…you get the idea. Among all the newness there are still some constants which help it all flow smoother.
One of the things I have learn while gardening in various ways over the years is that raised beds are my friends. I do not need a tiller to break up the soil each year, weeds are greatly reduced, and I can grow more in a small space than I could traditionally.
From past experience I knew that an 8 foot by 4 foot bed would be a great place to start. Large enough to plant several things, but not too big to become overwhelming. Having paid attention to the sunlight over the past year, I knew where in the yard would get full sun through all seasons, and which areas were in full or partial shade from late fall through late spring. As none of our neighbors have backyard trees to create shade, that was not something I had to contend with.
A few other factors to take into account when deciding on placement were: location to a watering source, distance from fire ring, discharge from rain gutters, and allowing room for the kids to play. I did not want to be carrying heavy buckets of water across the yard all summer or trying to wrangle several lengths of garden hose. I also needed it to be far enough away from our fire ring to not interfere if we happen to be outside after dark. The rain gutters discharge a lot of water during a rain event, even a small one. If the garden was too close the soil would be eroded away.
After settling on where to place the garden bed and carrying the materials to that spot I actually had to move the location over a foot or two. Why? The yard had a slight slope around the edges to it to aide in storm-water run off. What is normally a good thing (good drainage) becomes a not so ideal situation when you are trying to build a level raised bed. Moving the bed over meant it would be level, thereby saving me the effort of having to dig it down on one side or raise it up on the other.
My previous garden beds were made out of wood planks screwed together to create squares or rectangles. While this method was more economical it meant more time in constructing the beds, as well as painting or staining the boards to ensure a longer life. It also made it a lot more difficult to extend the beds as my gardening adventures grew.
I liked the look of raised beds made of decorative stones, but the budget would not permit it at this time. I also felt like that beds were more permanent in nature. At this time I was not ready to commit to a location long term.
Concrete blocks were more economical than decorative border stones, flexible enough to change or move if desired, did not require constructing a frame, and allowed me the option to plant in the open spots of the blocks. While I did not prefer the look of the blocks, the other factors won out.
In two days time I had a bed created in my back yard. A few days later it was planted and seems to be doing well. After two years of not having a vegetable garden, it is nice to be able to look forward to produce from one’s own backyard.
Something to keep in mind when planning on using concrete blocks is their weight. Not only the weight of the finished product, but also the weight in your transportation of choice. I was able to fit 27 blocks in my car without overloading it. 20 of the blocks were for the raised bed, one block high. 7 of the blocks were being used in a flower bed located in a different part of the yard.
At the time of picking up the blocks I also grabbed a bag of peat moss, two bags of top soil, and a bag of perlite (meant to get vermiculite but didn’t want to make an extra trip to exchange bags). A 50 lb bag of manure, 4 more bags of top soil, and 2 large bags of compost were added to it later. As I replant and fertilize more dirt will be added. I will also need to pick up a few bags to finish filling in the open holes of the blocks around the border.
Once home I gathered up cardboard boxes which had been accumulating in our garage. These I laid out in a rough rectangle shape. Where possible I created multiple layers of cardboard, which will kill the grass underneath before breaking down in the soil.
After the first corner was located where I wanted it, I began the place the blocks in a line, measuring from the privacy fence to double check its alignment. Due to the size of the blocks the planting area was not exactly 8 feet by 4 feet, but it is really close. Add in the extra planting squares and I am happy with the result.
After the blocks were squared up as much as possible, the bags of peat moss, soil, and compost were added and mixed in place. This may not be the “correct” way to do it, but without a wheel barrel it was an acceptable alternative. It also created less work than mixing the ingredients on a tarp before adding to the bed.
The soil was watered, allowing me to check for levelness of the new soils and to help the contents settle before planting.
The bed is now ready to be planted!