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 !

The Truth About Eggs

The Truth About Eggs

“When chickens get to live like chickens, they will taste like chickens too.”  ~Michael Pollan

BY BRITTRIC

Eggs are truly an ideal food.

Not only are they one of the best sources of protein, but also one of the least expensive. And nearly everyone can tolerate eating them regularly. Many mistakenly believe eggs are bad for your heart due to their cholesterol content, but this is a serious misconception. Aside from being an ideal source of protein, eggs can also provide vital nutrients including vitamin A, vitamin E, omega-3 fats and beta carotene. However, not all eggs are made equal…

Conventional egg production agriculture (also known as a “Confined Animal Feeding Operation” or CAFO) raises hens indoors and in cages. Large commercial egg facilities typically house tens to hundreds of thousands of hens. This has raised concerns about animal welfare, environmental damage and nutritional impacts. Egg-laying hens confined to cages do not have space to move or stretch, becoming prone to skeletal problems and disease. Large numbers of animals confined in small spaces also pollute the air, water and soil with the vast amounts of manure they produce.

True free-range eggs are from hens that roam freely outdoors on a pasture where they can forage for their natural diet including seeds, green plants, insects and worms. According to USDA regulations, free-range, egg-producing hens must be given access to the outdoors. However, many large commercial egg producers get away with allowing their hens access to a tiny, covered outdoor area while still giving the hens conventional feed. The feed is a crucial component, as the main ingredients of commercially raised hens’ diets are genetically modified (GMO) soy and corn. Commercial eggs, even if they state “free-range” on their label, will typically fall into this category.

>> EGGS EXPLAINED

Your best source to buy fresh eggs is a local market or farmer that allows hens to forage freely outdoors. In addition to being more environmentally friendly and humane, free-range eggs are also nutritionally superior. You can tell if the eggs are truly “free-range” by the color of the egg yolk. Foraged hens that are fed a healthy, natural diet produce eggs with bright orange yolks. Dull, pale yellow yolks are a sure sign the eggs came from caged hens that were confined from foraging for their natural diet.

Cage Free Eggs, grain-fed, grass-fed, true forager yolk colors

Ultimately, there is no better way of knowing where your food comes from than to grow it yourself. Raising chickens ensures a steady supply of fresh, nutritious organic eggs free of antibiotics, hormones and other unnatural additives. Next summer, along with a vegetable garden, I am also going to be starting my own backyard chicken coop. For those of you who are interested in becoming more self-sustainable, I will be sharing my research and experience all along the way….stay tuned !

Briar Extended Chicken Coop & Run - Williams SonomaRaising chickens ensures a steady supply of fresh, nutritious organic eggs free of antibiotics, hormones and other unnatural additives.

[Featured photo credit:  Nicole Ricci, Write for You Marketing]

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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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