Friday, June 10, 2011

My Big Project: Raised Vegetable Beds

For quite awhile, I’ve had this idea in my head to do raised beds for my veggie garden. I’ve had a vegetable garden ever since our first spring in this house in 2006. It started in some small raised beds that were built by a previous owner. They were old and didn’t last long. Then I dug out more space along the back of the yard to grow more veggies. It started with tomatoes and squash, and through the years I even tried my hand at potatoes and corn, athough not very successfully.

As mentioned in my “Fence Farce” post, last year the neighbor behind us had said he was going to put up a fence, so we had paid his friend to clear out our old, overgrown hedge. This allowed more room for the vegetable garden and sparked the idea that now was time to plan my formal “kitchen garden.” The fence still isn’t there, but my new kitchen garden is!

I spent a lot of time researching in books and online, drawing on scraps of paper, measuring, and finally drawing some designs on graph paper. Normally I’m not much of a planner when it comes to my garden, but knowing I wanted a formal look I thought I should have the “big picture” of what I wanted to do. You wouldn’t know it looking at my flower garden, but I love formal garden bed design. Let things spill over the edge, but start with a formal plan. I’ve always particularly admired French potagers and formal English kitchen gardens. The most fantastic kitchen garden in America is Thomas Jefferson’s kitchen garden at Monticello in Virginia. It’s massive and gorgeous — beyond what I can do. It’s a true inspiration.

So once I had a design plan I liked, I started to clear out more room in the very back of the yard, digging up sod and all of that. I decided on a basic cedar raised bed design that I got from Sunset’s website: (I followed it pretty closely, except for financial reasons we used 1' x 6' instead of 2' x 6' cedar boards and metal brackets for the inside corner reinforcements.) When I realized I had to do math, I pulled Brian in on my scheme. He helped me figure how much wood, soil and gravel I would need.

The space where the kitchen garden would go, looking from left back corner to right back corner.
Back left corner of the yard that my older sister helped me clear out.
Still gotta get that tree stump out of there.
We built the frames for the beds last October. There’s one 4' x 8' bed, four 3' x 6' beds, and two u-shaped beds. Originally I wanted either four L-shaped or triangular-shaped beds, but they wouldn’t quite fit. So they ended up being two u-shaped ones. I added compost from my compost bin, but that’s as far as I got before it got too cold.

Some supplies: Cedar planks and PVC pipes.
(I know you’re enjoying that view of our neighbor’s lovely car as much as I am.)
All of the raised beds except the other u-shaped one.
This was taken before I leveled off the ground. Fun job.
Early in the spring I got soil delivered. It’s a mix of screened topsoil and leaf compost. I added more of my own compost and Bumper Crop (an organic soil amendment with Mycorrhizae, Worm Castings, Kelp Meal and Dehydrated Poultry Manure – mmmmm, good stuff).

I never had any luck growing from seed in my garden, probably due to the many birds we have living in our birdhouses. So with the new beds, I used a lightweight row cover to start seeds outside. It worked like a charm. I actually was able to grow leafy greens for the first time since we moved into this house. In fact, I think I went a little overboard with the lettuce and romaine. We’ve been eating lots of salads.

In mid-April I planted seeds and put up the row covers. I also started the gravel paths.
Seeds didn’t do so well in the u-shaped beds because they weren't covered.
I used plants here instead.
In early May I still had the row covers on and had done more of the gravel paths.
Later in May I removed the row covers and viola!
I am still working on my gravel paths. It’s been quite a chore digging out sod and weeds, putting down edging and landscape fabric, and hauling the 3/8" Delaware River Stone from the driveway in my front yard to the very back of my back yard. The soil was difficult enough, but gravel is heavier!

So this is where things are at now: It’s all done except for the “entrance” path and the back left corner where I still have a tree stump. We’re thinking a small garden shed might go in that area eventually anyway. It’s been awesome walking to the back of the yard picking fresh greens, herbs and vegetables. I have more herbs right outside the back door and it probably would’ve been better to have the veggie bed there, too. But the best sun is along the back of the yard.

Standing in back left corner looking to the right.
Standing in back right corner looking towards left.
I don’t think I quite realized the scope of what I was getting myself into when I first drew up the plans for my vegetable beds. Overall, with walking paths included, the kitchen garden is about 15' wide x 50' long. However despite all the hard work, it’s looking really great and we’re enjoying the bounty of my labors. I’m thinking it was worth it.

Rainbow swiss chard.
Broccoli and pickle cucumbers (petunias on left, nasturtiums on right).
Now if I could just get Mr. Loud-Talking Friendly Neighbor to put up that fence he’s been promising to do for over a year now. It will make the vegetable garden look SO much better. (Update: He has the fencing, but no posts yet. Too bad it’s an ugly white vinyl fence. Wanna place bets on how long it will take to get the posts and actually put up the fence? I’m guessing another year.)

Zucchini, squash, and eggplant.
Carrots (and some weeds).
Romaine and Buttercrunch lettuce.
Toy Bok Choi.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Merry Month of May – gone but not forgotten

I am behind in posting some pictures of my flower garden from May. May is when things really start to come alive in my garden. In the words of poet John Milton, “The flowery May, who from her green lap throws / The yellow Cowslip, and the pale Primrose...” It’s a wonderful month, with cool spring breezes, that makes you want to work in the garden.

May is when the purple Columbine are at their best. They love to re-seed and pop up in different places each year.

Columbine close-up.
Columbine and my garden statue (we named her Winnie).
(Pretend you don’t see the neighbor’s play-set in the background.)

It is also when the Peonies show their pretty faces. These white ones are actually in my front yard (mixed in with the Azaleas).

We had a lot of rain after this picture was taken.
Unfortunately, the rain spoiled the rest of the buds.
I love the little reddish bits in the white peonies.
The bright magenta Peonies are in the back of my flower garden. This plant used to be in the front yard with the white ones, but seemed like the odd man out, so I moved it to the back yard. It struggled for a couple of years, but looks really healthy now.

Taken from the back of the flower garden, looking towards our shed.
(That’s the neighbor’s big house in the background.)
Other flowers that bloom in May are the climbing Hydrangea and climbing rose on the arbor, some other roses, white Dianthus, the purple spikes of the Catmint, both purple and magenta Clematis, purple Siberian Iris, purple Spiderwort, pink Weigela, purple Bellflowers, and some white flowering shrub (I’ve been trying to figure out what it is). May is a profusion of mostly pinks and purples in my flower garden, with a bit of white and yellow mixed in.

View of the flower garden from the steps of my back porch.
The arbor with climbing Hydrangea, pink climbing roses and purple Clematis.
That’s white Dianthus on the bottom right.
Fine Wine Weigela with roses and Catmint in the background.
Purple Bellflowers.
Purple Spiderwort, Catmint and pink roses.
Siberian Iris and light pink Abraham Darby roses. Yellow roses in background.
I had to include a picture of the Smoke Bush that I planted last year.
I love the changing colors of the leaves as the sun hits them.