Building a Raised Bed Garden

Building a Raised Bed Garden

The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Spring has officially sprung and so therefore, has the motivation to discover my green thumb. With a wide open, south facing backyard that requires constant mowing, the solution seemed obvious >> why spend the time and effort to maintain a lawn when we could instead be growing food? For me, I like to know exactly where my food comes from – so where better than from my own backyard?

Just through talking to different people within my community on the subject, the consensus seems to be that although the learning process to successful gardening is never-ending, there is no better way to learn other than to dig right in and figure out what works best from year to year.

Constructing Raised Beds

In my conversations with a Master Gardener at the Main Street Co-op, the one piece of advice she wished someone had given her when she first started gardening was to build raised beds with various layers in the soil, a method known as “lasagna gardening”. Raised beds are easy to tend, and are a key to success because they are filled with loose, well-amended layers of nutrient-rich soils, composts and mulches that allow for sufficient drainage.

Another advantage to building raised beds is that this method does not require laborious tilling and picking of rock, which is terribly abundant in the soil of our region. Instead, we were simply able to construct the box frames, place them directly onto the lawn and fill them with soil. For our first year, we decided to start with two beds: each 16′ long, 4′ wide and 10″ deep. In total, the lumber we used to construct the bed boxes costed around $65.

To prevent grasses and other weeds from poking though, we simply lined the bottom of each box with a layer of cardboard. This layer kills the grass beneath, and eventually decomposes into the ground over time. I just knew I had been hoarding all those cardboard boxes in the basement for a reason ! 

Raised Beds Lined with Cardboard - www.brittric.com

 

For top quality soil, we chose to bring in some garden soil mixed with organic compost from Peterson lawn care service. Because we had other needs for soil around the perimeter of our house and throughout the yard, we ordered 10 cubic yards for roughly $265 and free delivery. The cost may sound spendy – but that is only because we ordered quite a bit more soil than we needed for our raised bed garden project. 

 

Soil with Compost - www.brittric.com

 

To determine how much soil we would need to fill our raised beds, I found this nifty Soil Calculator online. To use it, simply enter the proper dimensions of your bed (in inches) and the calculator will generate the soil volume required, in both cubic yards or cubic feet. Combined, our two beds called for roughly 4 cubic yards of soil, at a worth of approximately $100 total.

 

Soil Calculator for raised beds - www.brittric.com

 

For the base of our “lasagna’, we added a layer of mulched dead leaves from last fall. After adding a layer of soil with compost over the mulched leaves, we added a layer of grass clippings, and then another layer of soil.

Raised bed lasagna gardening mulched leaves - www.brittric.com

And then finally, before topping everything off with a generous layer of soil, we added a layer of fluffy material known as sphagnum peat moss. Peat moss is important because it allows for proper root growth and drainage by loosening and aerating your soil. I found a large, 3.8 cubic-foot bag at my local garden center for about $12.

Sphagnum Peat Moss - www.brittric.com

Fencing

Since we live in the country with a wooded backyard, fencing was a must. Definitely an added cost that we didn’t consider initially, but at the end of the day, we knew it was deal breaker. With a little additional research, I was able to find some affordable material. Brandon liked the look of square wooden fence posts, so we went with those and stained them for an added aesthetic, however basic metal stakes would have worked just as well.

With deer being the ultimate concern, we wanted high enough fencing that they wouldn’t be tempted to jump. After reading some online gardening forums, it sounded like anywhere between 6 – 8 feet would be high enough to keep the deer out. I found a 7′ x 100′ roll of mesh deer fencing for $58 at Farm & Fleet which turned out to fit perfectly to our dimensions. It was also very easy to work with, and much more affordable than galvanized welded wire fencing. Because the mesh wasn’t really meant for keeping out rabbits and other nibblers, we also reinforced the base perimeter of the mesh fence with chicken wire (about $25 for two 50′ rolls at Farm & Fleet).

Planting

The fun part !  When it came down to deciding what to plant in this garden, I went with the produce items we tend to go through the most in our household — tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, various leafy greens, a few select herbs, as well as some sunflowers and watermelons, just to see what happens =) I only wish we had more room to plant! We did deliberately allow some extra space within the fencing to install additional raised beds, hopefully next summer.

For starter plants and seeds, almost everything was available at my Main Street Market Co-op so I was almost able to completely avoid the big box garden centers. Their “Seed Savers Exchange” brand seeds are certified organic / non-GMO, while the transplants are heirloom (seeds can be harvested from the plant, saved and replanted year after year) and locally grown without the use of pesticides or herbicides. For me, these specifications are an important factor in part of knowing where our food comes from.

The layout of our garden was based along two main guidelines: heights and companions. Since the sunflowers could reach anywhere from 5-7 feet high, those were planted farthest back. Then the larger tomato plants, smaller pepper plants, followed by the leafy greens, potatoes and watermelon seedlings. This way, everything will receive optimal sunlight throughout the day.

Raised Bed Garden Layout - www.brittric.com

Companion Planting

Another important factor to consider when determining your layout is “companion planting”, or the planting of different crops in proximity for pest controlpollination, providing habitat for beneficial creatures, maximizing use of space, and to otherwise increase crop productivity. Through my research browsing online forums and talking to experienced gardeners, I was able to determine some companionships to try with my crops this year:

Basil ♡ Tomatoes

Chives ♡ Tomatoes

Tomatoes ♡ Peppers

Potatoes ♡ Lettuces

 

Here is a companion planting chart I found helpful along the way. If this doesn’t happen to reference a certain plant you may be looking for, I came across all kinds of these with a simple Google search.

Companion Planting Chart - www.brittric.com

Organic Gardening Tips

✦ Be mindful not to step in your raised beds. Only reach in from the sides to keep your soils light, aerated and fluffy for adequate drainage. This also eliminates the risk of accidentally stepping on your plants.

✦ Set your transplant tomatoes deeper into the ground than they grew originally, with the lowest leaves just above the soil. The little hairs on the stem will develop into roots in the soil to help strengthen and stabilize the plant once it begins to bear heavy fruit.

✦ As an experiment this year, I surrounded the base of each tomato plant with scraps of newspaper to prevent blight. You could use straw or mulch as well. However, if the moist environment beneath the newspaper ends up attracting slugs, I am scratching this plan…stay tuned.

✦ Trim away any weak or yellowing foliage at the base of the tomato plant. These take energy away from the fruit bearing foliage, reducing yields.

✦ Keep lower lying foliage off the ground, or remove those stems completely to prevent disease, blight, additional gateways for pests, etc.

✦ Save and crush your left over egg shells and occasionally sprinkle them into the soil as an added source of calcium.

✦ Don’t forget to label your rows! I made my own using left over empty seed packets and plastic tags from previous years.

Garden Labels - www.brittric.com

Now that everything is finally in place, we wait. . . keep an eye out for the next part of the ‘Grow Your Own’ Series where I will explore ways to maintain your garden, keep soils nutrient-rich and ward off pests naturally. Stay tuned !

Sea Salt & Coconuts

Sea Salt & Coconuts

The cure for anything is salt water, sweat, tears, or the sea.

~Isak Dinesen

This past year I have been in the process of weeding out the dirty chemicals in my life. The kind of unnecessary chemicals that are found in cleaning products, skin and hair care, non-organic foods, the list goes on and on. I have chosen to do this partially to lessen my carbon footprint, and mostly for my own personal health  – not to mention its cheaper !

Along the way, I have phased out many conventional personal care products including deodorant, moisturizer, hairspray and face cleanser. This may sound weird or even “gross” to some, but I swear to you that it isn’t. I’m excited enough about it that I want to write a post to explain why you might want to give it a try too! There are so many cleaner, safer, natural alternatives available to us, most of which being common household ingredients. My particular favorites? Sea salt and coconuts =)

Deodorant / Antiperspirant   I’ll be frank with you, the fact that I had been using deodorant since I was a pre-teen scares me. Most types of deodorant require the use of parabens to retain their effectiveness over time. These parabens are then absorbed through the skin and mimic estrogen in our bodies, which can disrupt proper hormone function, potentially leading to cancer. And the connection between parabens and breast cancer is hard to deny.

Antiperspirants (found in most deodorants) rely on aluminum chlorohydrate, a hazardous chemical used to block pores from producing sweat which the odor-causing bacteria feed on. Studies show that aluminum exposure is not only related to increased chances of developing breast cancer, but also other diseases such as Alzheimer’s. And while research has only proven these to be “potential connections,” the risk — combined with the danger of parabens — is one that many people aren’t willing to take. I certainly am not! If you aren’t either, here is an effective, much safer alternative to try:

Thai Crystal Deodorant Salt Stone

This mineral salt stone is hypoallergenic, non-scented, chemical-free, residue-free and most importantly, aluminum chlorohydrate free. I paid $3 dollars for it at my local main street co-op, and they are said to last up to one year! This product is effective because it prevents body odor at the source by killing the odor-causing bacteria. Simply moisten the stone and apply generously to clean skin. Rather than a band-aid to cover up odor, I love that the mineral salt stone offers a proactive solution that targets the actual root of the problem. It took a week or two to adjust to my new regimen, but I swear by it now and will never look back!

*If you miss having a pleasantly scented underarm, try adding a drop or two of essential oil after applying the salt stone.

Moisturizer   Due to the oily nature of my Italian skin, I have never been an avid moisturizer or lotion user. However in the dead of winter, with the brutally cold temperatures we have been plagued with here in Wisconsin this season, my skin has become exceptionally brittle and dry. So the other day I dug out my minimal stock of drug store aloe vera lotion, and flipped to the back to check out the label.

In gaining more awareness of the increasing amount of hazardous chemicals contained in our everyday products, reading labels has now become an absolute ritual for me before I use or purchase anything.

Here is the ingredient label on the back of my drug store lotion–a lengthy list of all the crap I had been opting to rub deep into the pores of my skin:

Drug Store "Aloe Vera" Lotion Ingredients

The truth is, I cannot pronounce half of these items, nor do I have any idea what they really are or how my body might react to them over time.This is where we make a choice. Do we passively accept that chemical additives like sodium acrylate/acryloyldimethyl taurate copolymer are “probably nothing, otherwise why would they put it in there?” Or do we decide for ourselves that the very bodies in which we rely on to exist simply are not worth the risk?

I choose the latter.

Thankfully, I have discovered an alternative that I am head-over-heels love with! Truly. If I could, I would shout it from the mountain tops. For our purposes here today, may this blog page be my mountain top . . .

C O C O N U T  O I L,  W I L L  Y O U  M A R R Y  M E ?

I think this stuff may have been extracted from heavenly clouds. Although many of us are just learning about it, coconut oil has been a beauty and dietary staple for millennia. I now use it for everything. Literally, from eye makeup remover to the butter on my toast. It has become an absolute necessity in my life — particularly in my daily hair and skin care.

Commercial moisturizers contain lots of water (take note of the very first ingredient listed on the label of my drug store lotion), which makes you feel like your skin is being moisturized. But as soon as that water begins to dry up, so then, does your skin. And while these commercial moisturizers use petroleum-based ingredients that can suffocate skin, coconut oil provides true, deep moisture, nourishing from the inside. It helps strengthen underlying tissues and remove the excess dead cells that make your skin feel rough and flaky. Coconut oil also acts as an antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial agent.

To apply, simply rub a dime-sized amount of coconut oil to dry areas – just keep in mind, a little goes a long way. While it tends to have a greasier consistency at first, coconut oil is fantastic at absorbing quickly into skin. Swap it in for your current lotion to maintain healthy, youthful skin. One spoonful is enough to hydrate your entire body !

*When purchasing your first jar, look for organic extra virgin coconut oil that has not been hydrogenated, bleached, refined or deodorized.

My personal favorite go-to moisturizer is my new coconut oil and sea salt body scrub. It leaves skin feeling soft, smooth and hydrated all day long. Check out my simple do-it-yourself recipe here:

DIY Coconut Sea Salt Scrub Recipe

Hairspray  In efforts to break my dirty Paul Mitchell hairspray addiction, I have been searching for an alternative to give my hair some body, as well as a similar textured feel. Lately, I have been experimenting with a coconut oil / sea salt spray — sea salt for texture, coconut oil for moisture and shine, and a bit of hair gel for hold. To apply, I simply wash my hair as usual, ring it out, spray the solution generously to ends, and let air or blow dry. So far I have been very pleased with the added texture and feel. It smells amazing too!

Try out my new favorite coconut oil & sea salt hair spray formula for natural, beach wavy goodness~

DIY Natural Beach Hair Spray Recipe

Face Cleanser   Daily face cleansers aim to “clean” your skin by stripping away its natural oils. And while none of us want a yucky, greasy face, stripping the oils away completely is actually counter-productive. When your skin recognizes that all the oils are gone (you know that dry, tight feeling?) its starts pumping out extra to compensate. This is why those of you who shower and wash your face every day actually need to — because your skin legitimately gets greasy faster than the skin of those who don’t wash every day. You have trained it to do this.

Recently, I have been experimenting with some natural alternatives that I am pretty excited about. Once a day I have been applying raw, apple cider vinegar (ACV) to my face, followed by a very light application of coconut oil, and I have already begun to see improvements in my skin. The apple cider vinegar does wonders for removing dirt and oil and clearing up acne without drying out your skin. ACV also helps to balance pH levels while tightening and toning your skin’s overall complexion. Coconut oil also works as a gentle makeup remover, fights acne with its antibacterial agents and leaves skin feeling smooth, supple and moisturized–just remember, a little of this stuff goes a long way !

In addition to preventing breakouts, I am finding this treatment evens out my skin tone, tightens and softens my overall complexion… happy skin =)

Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) Coconut Oil Facial Treatment

To learn more on the ACV / Coconut Oil facial treatment as well as other great natural health and beauty tips, check out my sister Ella’s health and wellness Facebook page ✼ Personalize your Health and Wellness !

Share your thoughts with us!  Do you have questions, comments or concerns about transitioning to a new personal care regimen? Have you been experimenting with natural alternatives? Feel free to join the conversation in the comments section below.

“BrittRic – Lifestyle & Awareness Blog” width=”86″ height=”86″>BrittRic is a lifestyle blogger, landscape photographer and environmental conservationist. ::Feel free:: to follow her on FacebookInstagramPinterest and Twitter. Contact: bsricci@gmail.com

The Choice to Be Child-Free

The Choice to Be Child-Free

BY BRITTRIC

 

Yes, we do know what we’re missing.

I have made the decision not to have kids. No, I am not a child-hater. I have just always known, deep in my soul, that raising children was never destined to be my path. Now well into my mid-twenties, I am growing rather tired of having to justify my decision. Gritting my teeth through the usual “but you don’t know what you’re missing” or “just wait, you’ll change your mind” conversation over and over again…I find it terribly uncomfortable. As if my chosen lifestyle couldn’t otherwise possibly be as fulfilling as yours.

Why is it that people just assume all women aspire to be mothers? The fact of the matter is, having (or not having) children is an extremely personal decision that we should never have to justify to anyone. Ever. Somewhere along the way, we have forgotten that the choices we make for ourselves are simply that – choices.

Recently, a dear friend of mine sent me this enlightening bit written byAbby Rosmarin. Immediately I felt inspired to pass along her sentiment, validating the counterculture choice not to have kids. It is so refreshing and rare to hear someone not only accept, but appreciate this decision for what it truly is.

To the Women Who Choose Not to Have Kids

To the women who choose not to have kids, I have one thing to say:   thank you.

You probably don’t hear it enough. In fact, you probably don’t hear it at all. What you do hear is an array of pro-childbearing responses, such as, “You’ll change your mind someday,” or, “Doesn’t your mother want grandkids?” or, “You’ll never find a husband if you never want to have kids.”

All things considered, “thank you” is probably on the opposite end of what you hear.

But seriously: thank you. Thank you for recognizing that childrearing isn’t for you and being true to who you are. It doesn’t mean you hate kids. It just means that raising one is not part of your path in life.

Thank you for not succumbing to the societal pressures. I’ve known far too many parents who had kids because that’s what was expected of them. Working in childcare, you see more of this type than you wish to see. The resentment is almost palpable. They love their children — at least, they have no choice but to love their children — but every single movement seems to scream, “I wasn’t meant for this.” I’ve known too many people who grew up with at least one parent who harbored that resentment, who let that resentment dictate how they parented. I’ve seen how that influenced the way these former children are now as adults, or even as parents themselves.

Thank you for not trying to compromise who you are in an effort to keep a partner around. Thank you for being honest and open and refusing to apologize for who you are. Everyone has different values. Everyone wants something different in life. It takes a lot of guts and confidence to say,

This is what I want in life. It’s not the orthodox way, but it’s my way.

Thank you for not trying to silence that feeling in your gut as a means to validate your life. There are too many people in this world who cannot figure out their path — or have stumbled while walking down said path — and decided that maybe having a child could provide that meaning and definition instead. You understand that down this path lies vicarious living and hurt emotions and you recognize that there are so many other ways to find love and meaning and joy in your life.

Raising children is a difficult, onerous, frustrating, and disappointing gig. It’s tough enough for those who want it. It is a rewarding and loving gig as well, but it’s not something one should go into while focusing only on reward and love and societal acceptance. In this day and age, with a booming population in almost every country, it makes no sense to pressure every person to have a baby. But we’re sticklers to tradition, ritualistic to a fault.

So thank you. It’s not easy to stand firm with your belief. Honestly, truly, and genuinely: thank you. ✦

To see more from Abby, you can check her out here >> Thought Catalog

You have a voice.  Please feel free to share your thoughts with us and join the conversation in the comments section below.

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BrittRic is a lifestyle blogger, landscape photographer and environmental conservationist. ::Feel free:: to follow her on FacebookInstagramPinterest and Twitter. Contact: bsricci@gmail.com

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