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 !

DIY | Natural Creamy Peanut Butter

DIY | Natural Creamy Peanut Butter

Ever since I learned how to make natural peanut butter at home it has been one of the main staples in my diet. not only is peanut butter a great source of unsaturated fats and vegetarian protein, it is also an important source of B vitamins, potassium, magnesium and resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant known to have cancer fighting properties.all in one beautiful creamy, dreamy, buttery spread.  friends – i think i’m in love.

this recipe is so easy to throw together. it requires less than 30 minutes and consists of only four basic ingredients.

here’s what you need:
small food processor
1 ½ c. peanuts
virgin coconut oil
raw, unfiltered honey
cracked sea salt
16 oz jar (i just reused an old salsa jar)

here’s what to do:
process peanuts on high for about 1 minute. once they are broken down into smaller bits, add raw honey for sweetness, coconut oil for creaminess, and a pinch of sea salt until desired flavor and consistency. process peanuts for 2-3 minutes or until smooth. you may have to stop a few times to scrape the sides–c’est tout. its that simple !

natural creamy peanut butter | brittric.com

natural creamy peanut butter | brittric.com

beyond being easy to make, this natural peanut butter is incredibly versatile. i lather it on pita bread, serve it alongside carrots, apples or bananas, and sometimes even treat our little pup, “reagan” to a lick of the spoon when i’m done.

a jar of this stuff usually lasts a little over a week in our family =) enjoy.

 

DIY | Almond Milk

DIY | Almond Milk

BY BRITTRIC

I think most of us have been found guilty of buying cheap milk from sad cows on industrial farms. As part of my efforts to achieve a “clean eating” lifestyle, I seek out the best quality milk I can find, from local and organic sources whenever possible. This means milk that is considerably more expensive than the stuff I can buy from the convenience store around the corner, but as with meat and eggs, I think what that extra money buys — better animal welfare, fewer antibiotics, pesticides and growth hormones, support for a more sustainable food system — is well worth it.

Recently, whilst sampling a sip of store-bought Silk almond milk from my parents’ refrigerator, I thought I had discovered the perfect alternative — that is until I read the ingredient label on the back of the carton. There I found industrially-processed thickeners, gums, emulsifiers and stabilizers such as carrageenan, an additive that has been linked to gastrointestinal issues, inflammation, ulcers and colon cancer. So much for being a healthy alternative, huh??

When in doubt, I usually find that DIY is the best alternative. You are in complete control of every ingredient, where those ingredients come from, how much you need and when you need it. It cuts down on packaging waste too. Homemade almond milk is a healthy alternative for those who avoid dairy for personal reasons or lactose intolerance, and is also a clean, smart way to sneak additional nutrients into your diet.

Almonds are a rich source of biotin and vitamin E. Biotin is essential for your body’s energy production, while vitamin E works as an antioxidant to protect your body from free radical damage.

Not only have I found homemade almond milk to be a healthier option, but it is also incredibly easy to make at home — you just need a few basic ingredients, a nut milk bag and a blender.

Here is everything you need >> 1 heaping cup of raw organic almonds, 3-4 cups of water, a high-speed blender, a nut milk bag and a resealable mason jar

1 – First, soak your almonds in a bowl of cold water overnight. Soaking helps soften your almonds, causing the almond to shed its skin and release its nutritional enzymes. Soaking also allows for easier blending and a more velvety milk. ✴ If you don’t have time to soak them overnight, no worries! Just add almonds to a pot of boiling water for 4-5 minutes to achieve a similar effect.

Soaking Almonds

2 – Once your almonds have soaked for approximately 12 hours, drain, remove skins (optional) and rinse.

Rinsed Almonds

3 – Put almonds into your blender with 3-4 cups of water. ✴ For a creamier milk, use 3 cups of water. To get more mileage out of your almonds, use 4 cups. Then, blend at a high speed until smooth, about 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Almond milk blend

4 – Next, set up your mesh nut milk bag over a wide container, pour milk blend into the bag and squeeze, straining out the remaining bits of almond pulp.

nut milk bag

5 – Finally, pour almond milk into a mason jar and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 or 6 days. Et voilà !

DIY Almond Milk

BRITT’S DIY ALMOND MILK TIPS

✧ Try adding a pinch of vanilla extract, cinnamon, sea salt, raw honey or maple syrup for a little extra flavor. Mmmm =)

✧ Since homemade almond milk doesn’t contain any emulsifiers, it has a tendency to separate. Always give it a good shake before using.

✧ What is a nut milk bag, you ask? My first time attempting this, I didn’t know either. However, when I ran my blender on high for nearly 5 minutes but couldn’t break the specks down any further, I quickly realized why a nut milk bag is so important. They are designed to strain out the almond pulp with ease, leaving behind perfectly smooth, creamy almond milk. And they are very affordable. I purchased my reusable nut milk bag from Diana Stobo online, but have also read of people using other creative alternatives such as  pantyhose, cheese cloths, kitchen towels or even teeshirt fabric.

✧ Instead of discarding the left over almond pulp, save it in the freezer for a later use. Add some to your next smoothie or mix into your baked goods to add an extra punch of fiber. You can use it to make granola bars, cookies, I even saw a recipe for pizza crust! As always, there are tons of ideas on Pinterest. Cheers !

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

DIY | Natural Beach Hair Spray

DIY | Natural Beach Hair Spray

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. 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. I first discovered the idea for this DIY beach hair spray on Pinterest, and finally decided to give it a try. The recipe is super simple, and requires very few ingredients – many of which can be found either at home or your local health foods store. All it requires is sea salt for texture, coconut oil for moisture and shine, and a bit of hair gel for hold !

Here’s everything you need >> Sea salt, Coconut oil, Hair gel, Coconut scented oil (optional), warm water and an empty spray bottle

To make your own beach spray, simply add 1 tbsp sea salt, 1 tbsp coconut oil and 1 tbsp hair gel to 1 cup of warm water. Through experimenting, I have found that if your hair tends to be more oily like mine, you can add extra sea salt to your formula to balance things out. If you have drier hair, try adding more coconut oil until you find the right consistency that works best for you =) Then finally, add 3-4 drops of coconut scented oil for a little extra beachy goodness (optional), and shake it all up!

To apply for a beach wavy look, wash your hair as usual, ring it out, spray the solution generously to ends and let air or blow dry (since I have dreads, I do a combination of both air and blow drying, otherwise my hair would be wet for days). So far I have been very pleased with the added texture and overall feel of my hair. It smells absolutely amazing too !

Natural Beach Hair Style

Embrace Messy Hair - DIY Natural Beach Hair Spray Recipe

For more ways to incorporate coconut oil and sea salt into your personal care regimen, check out my blog post >> Sea Salt & Coconuts <<

Join the Conversation.  Please feel free to leave any questions or comments you may have in the discussion section below !

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BrittRic - Lifestyle & Awareness BlogBrittRic is a lifestyle blogger, landscape photographer and environmental conservationist.

::Feel free:: to follow her on FacebookInstagramPinterest and Twitter. Contact: bsricci@gmail.com 

DIY | Coconut Sea Salt Scrub

DIY | Coconut Sea Salt Scrub

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, rather than turning to my stash of drug store “aloe vera” lotion, which I found to contain a dirty laundry list of unnecessary additives and chemicals, I decided to take measures into my own hands (literally).

I discovered the idea for this DIY body scrub when I first started Pinterest, and have been dying to try it ever since. I only wish I had gotten around to it sooner! It has quickly become my favorite go-to moisturizer, leaving my skin feeling soft, smooth and hydrated all day long. The recipe is super simple, and requires very few ingredients – many of which can be found either at home or your local health foods store. Then, its just a matter of deciding whether you want a salt or sugar scrub and what type of essential oil and scent you prefer.

I went with a sea salt & coconut oil scrub — perhaps reminiscent of the oceanside tropical beach I have been longing for this dreadfully cold winter season . . .

DIY Coconut Sea Salt Scrub Recipe Ingredients

Here’s everything you need >> Course sea salt, organic unrefined virgin coconut oil, organic jojoba essential oil, coconut scented oil (optional) and a glass jar with lid   *I recycled an old hummus jar

If you can get your hands on some organic jojoba essential oil, I would highly recommended adding some to your scrub. Albeit a tad pricey (mine costed $10), jojoba oil is said to be an incredible moisturizing treatment for your skin, offering natural anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.

DIY Coconut Sea Salt Scrub - Jojoba Essential Oil

*I was able to have my local main street co-op order me a bottle at wholesale price.

To make the scrub, simply mix your course sea salt with your oils at a 2:1 ratio. For example, I combined one heaping cup of salt with 1/2 cup of melted coconut oil and 1 tbsp of jojoba oil. Then I added 3-4 drops of coconut scented oil for a little extra beachy goodness, and stirred it all up!

Coconut Sea Salt Scrub

Pretty simple, right? It also makes a quick and affordable gift. Store bought scrubs can cost ten to twenty dollars or more. This DIY alternative comes out to about two or three bucks (depending on the ingredients you choose).

Mix it up in a recycled jar, tie a string around it, attach a label and you have a fancy, luxurious gift !

Sea Salt Scrub Gift

For more ways to incorporate coconut oil and sea salt into your personal care regimen, check out my blog post >> Sea Salt & Coconuts <<

Join the Conversation.  Please feel free to leave any questions or comments you may have in the discussion section below !

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BrittRic - Lifestyle & Awareness BlogBrittRic 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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