Grit Blogs > Of Mice and Mountain Men

Garden Project 2016 — Part 1

By Allan Douglas

Tags: raised bed garden, landscape timbers, retaining wall, gardening, building a wall, Doug Bittinger, Tennessee,

Of Mice and Mountain MenI have another major garden project underway now that the growing season is wrapping up. Here’s what I’m doing.

Garden_Lower 10c
The Lower 10

Starting four years ago I began digging-in a whole mess of 4x4 raised bed boxes. I added some each year, and had 21 at the beginning of this year. I built three sections in my garden: The Lower 10, The Middle 10, and the Berry House. I did this because I live on a mountainside, and it seemed that digging these boxes into the slope would give me garden space that resisted being washed away with every rain. And that much of it worked. I was also enamored of the square-foot gardening method. That part didn’t work so well.

I made the boxes of untreated lumber because I didn’t want the P.T. stuff in my food. So they rotted after a few years, especially the ones up high where the rain water hits them hardest as it rolls down the slope. One of my foster dogs developed a penchant for ripping up rotted wood, so any boxes that were pretending to be hanging on got demolished last month.

Garden_Middle 10b
The Middle 10

I’m removing the Middle 10 and restoring lawn — not because I’m fond of grass, but because it keeps the soil from going AWOL. When the other boxes of the Middle 10 are done growing things, I’ll take them out too and plant a row of small fruit trees.

Removing old Box

I’m removing what’s left of the rotted wood, digging out and moving the garden soil, and pulling up the landscape fabric. Then I fill in the hole with ordinary dirt (I have a pile) and a little of the garden soil on top. Then I move in grass from where I’m digging it out down below.

Lay-out Front
Old boxes removed

What’s happening with The Lower 10 is more complicated.

The Lower 10 is getting expanded and becoming The Vegetable Garden. There will be the Veg Garden, Fruit Tree Row, and The Berry House at the top. The Lower 10 is the flattest spot on our property.

Lay-Out Back

Still, the lowest corner (left, back) is about 6 feet below the high corner (right) and I don’t think I want to try to build a wall that high out of landscape timbers.

I’ll step the wall up the slope to keep the low corner 4 feet or so high. That will leave a slight slope to the garden plot, but not bad.

Then I will go back to traditional in-ground gardening methods and abandon the raised bed boxes all together.

I can reuse the PVC tubing made into fence boxes by reorganizing the parts to form a perimeter fence fastened atop the landscape timber wall. That will keep the bunnies and (most of) the dogs out of my veggie patch. What’s left will become trellises for use in the garden.

Once I have a good start on the wall going, I need to dig out all the landscape fabric in the vegetable garden. It was great for keeping weeds and grass out, but also does not let veggie roots grow down into the soil below. That makes for stumpy carrots, green potatoes, and thirsty plants that would normally seek water deeper in the soil. Hopefully the grass has been thoroughly discouraged now and it won’t be a problem in the future. (Yeah, right!)

Low Corner Hegelkulture

All the rotted wood from the original boxes is getting tossed into the bottom of the deep corner (on top of a double layer of cardboard to smother out grass in the new areas) to become a form of Hugelkultur.

It’s kind of depressing spending so much time and effort undoing all the time and effort I put in to build and dig in these small boxes, but that just didn’t work out ... the plans of mice and men. Those new-fangled flibbity-tufts held much promise, but did not deliver. Time to go back to time-tested methods. So instead of a bunch of little boxes, I’ll build one BIG box and use traditional gardening in that.

Join me next time and I’ll get into layout and getting started.