Sunday, June 5, 2011

Adventures in Backyard Farming- Part One

There is nothing better in the world of food, then picking fresh veggies from your
own garden.  It's such an amazing reward of hard work to be able to eat something you
grew.  I decided that this was the summer that I would start a garden.  I have had a few
in the past but never really knew exactly how, or had the time,  to make one flourish.  
In this day of the interwebs it's so easy to find plenty of information about soil,
and compost, and when to plant what,
and the basics of companion planting (which I am a big fan of!).

There are different  schools of thought about planting right in the ground
or making raised beds, and although I have only had a couple veggie gardens,
I have had plenty of flower gardens, and tilling, de-rocking, and forking in top soil is 
something I loathe.  So the idea of raised beds already sounded like a good idea to me.
And then once I started researching them, I realized how easy it is to make sure that your
garden truly is organic.  By building a wooden box to hold your fresh dirt and compost
you are insuring that you know exactly what you're growing your veggies in, and that is 
really important to me.  And as a bonus, weeding becomes much less necessary and much
easier because the soil is loose enough that they just pull right out.

There are so many ways to have a backyard garden and I found plenty of great info out
there.  I thought I would share the way I went about my garden this year, and maybe it
helps one of you to start your own.  This is just how I did mine of course, as there are many
ways to go about it,  but I hope that maybe this inspires you to take another step towards
being self-sufficient and organic in your own backyard.

Part One: Building the Beds

This is the plot in the backyard that I picked as the garden spot.  It faces South so it gets
plenty of sunlight.  You want to make sure that your plants are getting at least 6 hours
of good sunshine.

This is the view from the other direction.  It already has a stone retaining wall with little steps
leading up that will be perfect for an arbor and gate.

First step: mow the lawn down really well. 

Second step: I bought nice fat wooden stakes that will be corner supports for the raised beds
but I am using them first to visually plot out where my beds will go.  I know that I want three
4'x8' beds.  So I started with the middle one and lightly drove the stakes into the ground.

Here are all three beds plotted out.

Materials:  2  8' boards and 2  4' boards.  I used 2x10's because they're nice and thick and
they are not very expensive.  They come in 12' lengths so I had the guys at the hardware store
make one cut on each and I had my 4 pieces. You can go 12" tall but for my crops,
I think 10" is plenty.  You can also get 2x6 and double up for 12", just make sure that
they are at least 2" thick so they don't rot out to quickly.  And NO pressure treated. 
Talk about chemicals!  One splinter from that stuff will send you striaght to the hospital, so
I don't want that anywhere near anything that I'm eating. It's amazing that they are
even allowed to sell it.

you will also need:
a cordless drill, a tape measure, a pencil, a sledge hammer, a level, a bundle of hardwood
stakes which are found in the cement isle of any major home and garden store.  I know this
because i walked into that isle last. Yep, cement is what I think of when I think of garden
stakes. But hey, that's where they are. 
You will also need a box of 2 1/2"  outdoor screws, and a box of 3 1/3" outdoor screws,
I prefer the star head screws,  a roll of landscapers fabric or mulch paper,
and a roll of chicken wire.

It also helps to have one these puppies:  A #8 7/64" countersink drill bit.  They only cost
a few dollars and if you pre-drill a majority of your holes, it makes putting your beds
together so much easier!

Ok, now take your 2  8' boards and measure in 3/4" from the top and the side and mark the spot.
Do this on both ends and the left and right edges.

Then take your handy countersink bit and drill down in all four spots you marked.

Then turn around and see that the sound you've been hearing is one of the 
Peregrine Falcons that lives in your yard.  Be thankful that you have your camera ready.

So now both ends of the two 8' boards should look like this.

Now stand up one of 8' boards and attach the 4' side with a 3 1/2" screw.  Make sure you hold
onto both boards firmly so the screw goes in nicely.

Go around to each end and attach all 8 screws in the same fashion and you have your
box!  And there you have your raised bed. 
Just kidding, we're not done yet.

Now decide which side is the most level and  take one of your garden stakes and
hammer it into that corner.  And I mean really drive it in there.
If you can get it to go all the way down to the top of the box then 
I want to take you to the carnival with me and watch you hit the puck that rings the bell.  
If not, don't worry about it.  Just do your best and get them down as far as you can.  
Then go to the long end of the side you just hammered and drive in another stake.

It should now look like this:

Then go to the other side and, making sure that your box is still a rectangle and not all
wonky, drive the other two stakes in to the corners of your bed.

Now choose which side is already the most level and start with that corner.
Take your countersink bit and drill a hole 2 1/4" in from the edge.  This will allow us to 
fasten the box to the stakes that are securely in the ground.  Go ahead and screw both 
sides to the stakes using the 2 1/2" screws.  I got the screws with the star heads because 
I find that they work much better than phillips head on projects like this. 
The drill doesn't slip out of the screw head that way.  
Secure one end of the long board that is the most level with 2 of the 2 1/2" screws and 
then secure the other end as well.

Now, use your level on the other two corners to get the top of the box level. 
This is really important!
The last thing you want is to be watering you brand new
garden and watch it all pool up in one end because your bed is on a slant. 
The spot I picked is the most level I have, but it's still pretty wonky.
I had to lift one side up a good amount for the top to 
be level, but i have a trick to take care of this later, so don't worry about it. 
Just screw it in place.

 Then I continued on and built the other two the same way.

Remember that little staircase on the retaining wall?  Well I found the perfect arbor to go there
that was locally made and sitting out front of my favorite antique store getting
nice and weathered.   I want to find some trailing plant to wind up the sides and make for a
romantic entry way to my veggie garden...
I had to place some big rocks under the front tow legs to make up for the lean and
then used two of the hardwood stakes to secure it.

After I put the arbor in place I had a grand idea of adding two more beds.  So I went and 
got some more lumber and plotted them out.  I stood back and took a look before I screwed the
together and secured them in place.

And then the voice of gardeners past rang through my ears... don't go too big too quick!
I think my eyes were bigger than my stomach and I realized that 3 4'x8' beds was plenty 
to take care of for my first summer back into gardening.  Baby steps.

Being that I live out in the country at the base of a mountain and also near a small town,
I knew that I would have to do something smart for pest control.  I want to have a completely
organic garden, so there are immediately some options that are just not right for me. 
The one that is for sure is  a fence to keep out the deer, and rabbits, and squirrels, etc.,
but those groundhogs and other tunnel digging creatures can be very persistent if
they want to get to your carrots, onions, beets  and other root veggies. 
So I thought I would try to outsmart them. 

I bought a roll of thick gauge chicken wire that comes in a 4' wide by 25' long roll.
My beds are 4' wide so this meant no extra cutting!

I laid the roll at one end of the bed and unrolled it to the other end to mark the length
I would need.  I added a couple inches at each end to make sure it curled up
onto the wood a bit for a snug fit.

Then using wire cutters, I snipped across the roll.

Be careful when you are working with the chicken wire.  
After you cut all those little wires they are really sharp!

Then I layed it out on the floor of the bed and pushed and pulled until it fit nice and snug.

Then I took mulch paper, or you can use landscapers fabric or cardboard or newspaper, and made
a layer on top of the chicken wire.  I like the mulch paper better because it is recycled, completely 
natural and will compost itself by the end of the season and add nutrients back into the soil.
Cardboard will do the same and so will black print newspaper.  The black ink is soy based but
the colored stuff isn't so make sure you don't use the funny section.

And there you have it.  A completed raised garden vegetable bed.  Now all I need is dirt!
There are two main ways to do this.  If you are just doing one bed or a couple smaller beds
you can go to a good garden center and find bags of top soil and of compost.   A  4'x8' bed at
10"-12" tall should take about 1.5 cubic yards of soil.  They sell the bags by the cubic foot. 
There are 27 cubic feet in a cubic yard. 
I believe in  having a 50/50 mix of top soil and compost. 
  Some stores sell it premixed but I don't trust that.  I would rather buy it separately
and mix it in the bed.  And if you want all organic dirt, make sure you really
read the bag.  The major corporation home and garden store around here
carries 98% Miracle Grow products.  Even their top soil that is labeled organic is
made by Miracle Grow.  Amazing.
You couldn't pay me enough to believe that a company that has made their entire fortune
on convincing people that they need chemicals in their yards and gardens is now making
a 100% organic soil.  Yeah, right.

Anyway,  the other way to do it is to find someone who will deliver top soil
and compost already premixed and sans plastic bags which cuts down on a lot of waste
when you need a lot of dirt.   Some towns even offer free compost if you 
come and pick it up.  Mine does not.  So I went on craigslist first and searched
the farming listings for top soil and compost.  I found a guy who said he would deliver
me organic dirt mixed with horse manure compost that had aged three years. 
But he stood me up twice.
So I did some more online digging and found out that there is a local company that
supplies most of the smaller local garden stores with their 'dynagrow' 100% organic
top soil/compost blend  and would be happy to deliver me 6 cubic yards the very next day. 
Oh, happy day! 

And this is where the real work comes in!

 Stay tuned for part two:  6 cubic yards of dirt in a pile in your front yard
is A LOT of dirt!!

I hope you have a wonderful rest of your weekend.  I am currently wearing two new 
rock star pieces I made myself today.  I needed a good wonder woman cuff bracelet,
so I made one for myself.  I haven't done that in a while and it felt so good that I made
myself a new necklace too!  Wow, this good weather is really doing a number on me!
Photo's of new pieces coming this week along with an Etsy update!



  1. SJ-Looking the arbor...your hands really took a beating..ouch!

  2. Thanks Sue! I love the arbor too.. and wait til you see the beauties i got to trail up it!! That chicken wire can be treacherous but I made it through!

  3. I am impressed. I would also go for raised beds hearing all the good points about them. I do like the randomness in the positioning of boxes, it made me chuckle a bit! You have put your weekend to very good use Sam! xoxo


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...