Dirty Little Secret Garden

My new raised bed organic garden has a secret, and I’m here to spill the beans:

It’s going to be a bountiful harvest!

How do I know that? Well, I don’t. But after spending a significant portion of my annual food budget on this dirty little project, I’m trying to stay positive.

I tried a raised bed garden once, with poor quality soil that was only about 4 inches deep. The birds loved my arugula. My carrots grew sideways.

But I wasn’t ready to give up. Now that I’ve put down new roots here in Rochester, where I’ve got a new backyard to play in, I’ve decided to dig deep into gardening one more time.

Growing a few tomatoes and peppers is simple, right? You just turn over some dirt, plant, weed, and harvest. But because I’m me, I had to watch a video, buy a book, and spend countless hours agonizing over every tiny detail, even including the garden’s eventual location (which I’ve changed three times).

The book I bought, “All New Square Foot Gardening” by Mel Bartholomew, is great. It explains, in simple language and with pictures, how to build 6-inch deep raised bed garden boxes, what to fill them with, what to plant, and when to plant. I’m trying to follow Mel’s instructions step by step, and so far things are going according to plan – albeit slowly.

The first thing I did after buying Mel’s book was to start some seeds indoors. That was the easy part.

The hardest part, for me, was calculating the amount of dirt (a combination of peat moss, vermiculite, and compost, which the book calls “Mel’s Mix”) needed to fill my 4 x 4-foot boxes to a depth of 6 inches. The math shouldn’t have been that hard, but I tied myself up in knots trying to convert pounds of compost to cubic feet. Oh well, we can’t all be Einsteins when it comes to measuring shit!

And did you know that, according to gardentabs.com, there are at least six different types of compost? You can probably tell I’ve developed a bad case of OCD (Obsessing on Compost Details).

In case you’re brave enough to try this at home, here are a few photos, and what I’ve done after reading the book and planting seeds indoors.

  • Drew garden designs (at least five different versions). Settled on one version, a design using four 4 x 4-foot boxes.
  • Calculated the amount of lumber and type of fencing needed. (My yard is frequently visited by birds and rabbits, and sometimes even deer).
  • Ordered fence materials from Gardener’s Supply Company. Also ordered a smaller fence and gate contraption from them. This was an impulse buy, for an additional garden next to the house, where I hope to plant lots of tomatoes. (I hope I’m not overdoing it, folks).
  • Shopped for cedar boards at Home Depot, Lowe’s, and two local lumber yards.
  • Realized I can’t afford cedar. It’s $30 for an 8-foot board, and I needed 8 of them. New pine was out of the question, too, since all I could find was pressure-treated and could leach chemicals into the soil.
  • Continued my search for lumber on Craigslist and found a supply of new, untreated larch. Granted, it was in Buffalo (75 miles away), but it looked good in the photo and was only $10 a board. Plus, the guy selling it had made his own raised bed gardens with it and said the wood had lasted 13 years so far. Drove to Buffalo, bought the wood. The seller advised me to wear gloves to avoid splinters. Good guy!
  • Carried the boards into my basement, one at a time. Wore gloves. No splinters.
  • Called Home Depot; they said they’d cut the boards in half for me. Lugged them upstairs again and loaded them back into my car. Home Depot worker said “I’m not supposed to do this” but went ahead and cut them all into 4-foot lengths, for free. Felt like a real carpenter.
  • Took a closer look at my lumber. Realized some of it was warped so badly I couldn’t really use it. So much for that good guy! But 3/4 of it was fine. I would build 3 boxes instead of 4.
  • Shopped for screws and brackets for assembling the boxes. (Tried doing this on my own, with limited success. Did much better when accompanied by someone who actually knew something about hardware.)
  • Managed to assemble the boxes in my basement without help, despite having zero carpentry skills. Example: I think (but I’m still not sure) I may have been using the wrong kind of screws at first, since I couldn’t get them to penetrate the wood even when using my power drill. It might have helped if I’d read the drill’s manual first. I later discovered what those little numbers on it meant: torque.
  • Carried boxes outside (with help) and placed them into position.
  • Bought peat moss, vermiculite, and compost. (This took six trips to four different stores, plus one on-line purchase, but that was just my OCD kicking in.) Mixed them all together on a tarp.
  • Filled boxes with “Mel’s Mix.”
  • Shopped for wooden strips so I can make 1-foot grids to lay on top of the boxes. Discovered that even wooden strips are expensive! On a whim, visited a craft store where I found spruce strips, cheap, and exactly the right length.
  • Wondered how in the heck I’m going to erect a 7-foot tall mesh fence around my garden.
  • Tried to remain optimistic.

Am I regretting my decision to create a raised bed organic garden this year? Absolutely not! At least not yet. I’ll keep you updated on my progress.

And by the way, if you need any extra zucchini, please let me know.

6 thoughts on “Dirty Little Secret Garden

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