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The New Raised-bed Garden

By Tricia Millix

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A photo of Tricia MillixThe weather is beginning to take a turn for Spring! With that turn comes the feeling of New Life, New Beginnings and the start of pleasant warm days. I am not always so excited for Spring, only because of the mud that comes with it, but this year the mud seems to be at a minimum. We have been discussing our garden plans for quite some time now and I think we may have "the one."

We have decided on raised beds this year, we have not had the best of luck the past two years with our garden. We had a hard time getting anything to grow the first year we planted in our newest spot, our pool now occupies our old spot, and last year it was pretty much a swamp; every bit of water settled in our garden. I sometimes believed the water was never going to go away! Our tomatoes would rot from the stem right before they would be ripe enough to pick, and no matter how high we mounded our squash or cucumbers they would always be swimming unhappily in a pool of water.

Our hopes are high this year and we are anxiously awaiting our new beds to arrive. They will be Vermont White Cedar with a mortis, tenon and pin construction. Beautiful, just beautiful! I love the old look about them and the fact that they will last for quite some time. I am hoping that we will be able to get a plentiful harvest with four 4-foot by 6-foot beds. It doesn't seem like a lot of space, but when you consider just how much we can plant in those beds it is amazing. I can't wait to see our wooded rectangles filled with tomatoes, cucumbers, sugar peas, yellow squash, zucchini, peppers, eggplants, spinach, tons of salad greens, herbs and all the other vegetables I forgot to mention.

I personally think a vegetable garden is more beautiful than a flower garden. Besides, it's a good thing when you can eat just about everything you see in that garden. We will also be getting some much wanted rain barrels that we didn't have much use for last year seeing how our garden had all the water it could have ever possibly needed and then some.

This year seems to be shaping up to be a year we will finally figure it all out, at least the gardening side of it. Who knows, once we get the hang of this maybe we will venture to a larger traditional garden, like my parents garden, in the future. I can vividly remember the garden my father would plant, from seed, every year. It was an amazing sight. He had the most beautiful strawberry patch I have ever seen, what us kids didn't eat my mother would always make jam with. Rows and rows of glistening jars of red, what a treat spread on home baked bread toasted with butter, yum! There was never a year that our garden was not lined with sunflowers that I swear touched the clouds and when they were ready my parents would cut them down and hang the heads up to dry in the attic of our carriage shed, my mother would toast the seeds and that was a common snack mixed with the fruit she would dehydrate.

We always had the largest array of veggies from our gardens, even with nine children we always had plenty to give away to friends. I can remember spending all day on Saturday and Sunday canning with my mother and sisters. We always had great conversation and lots of laughs the whole time we were doing such an important task.

I will never forget the time my mother acquired flat after flat of cherries! Those were not so much fun to pit, halve and can - too much work that required too much concentration not to mention the stained hands that lasted what seemed like an eternity! They sure were good when we were done with them though.

Our cellar was always packed with shelves lined with every kind of vegetable, canned in every possible way, for any night of the week; we just had to walk downstairs and pick out the one we wanted. I think the only items we purchased from the grocery store were the "staple" items that couldn't be made at home, although I am sure if my father could have found a way and the time to make toilet paper he most certainly would have.

So with all the sweet memories of my childhood gardens I will do my parents proud this year with a smaller version of a piece of my past. I promise to plant those sunflowers to remind me of what I have the opportunity to offer my children, and when it comes time to reap the benefits of our hard work, I promise this year I will take out all my canning equipment and I will can everything possible, a task I have been intimidated by for most of my adult life but still one I dream of mastering.

4/20/2009 10:36:18 AM

Dave- I am going to look for that book, "Incredible Vegetables From Self-Watering Containers: Using Ed's Amazing Pots System”. Good luck with the whole watering system!! I can relate to your murderous ways - I sent quite a few flowers to their grave from our window boxes!! They are so beautiful the day I plant them and I truly enjoy seeing them every time I pull into the driveway and then one day they are just DEAD!! I still haven't figured out how I simply do not see that coming? I am going to give the rain barrels a try, I am hoping with five children one of us will be able to get some water to the garden!! I too am so hoping for a bountiful harvest this year, actually I would just be happy with a few tomatoes that do not have rot spots on them and maybe a cucumber or two! Last year was so disappointing, borderline tragic, all my beautiful heirloom tomatoes almost made it to the point of enjoyment but like the window boxes the next time I looked, they were past salvation! Good Luck! Tricia

nebraska dave
4/19/2009 11:11:18 PM

Tricia, I searched for the book you mentioned “The Vegetable Gardener's Bible”. I just had to have one so I ordered a copy but even more fascinating was another book of Ed’s called “Incredible Vegetables From Self-Watering Containers: Using Ed's Amazing Pots System”. I installed a front yard patio and wanted to put containers of flowers on the new block retaining wall I built. I just today went to Lowe’s to see if I could put together a self watering system so that I wouldn’t have to water everyday. In the past that has been my biggest down fall is to water the garden and flowers faithfully at least every couple days. Then there’s the out of town trips for a week at a time that is a real garden killer for sure. Tomatoes just don’t seem to like getting watered every day and then going with out for a week. After standing in front of all the timers, emitters, drippers, filters, pressure reducers, lines, couplings, and splitters, my mind was spinning. I decided that I really must do a little research on this subject before buying anything. The second book looks to be just what I need to come up with a plan of salvation for my plants. This just might be the year when I can get some meaningful produce off the garden plot I so dearly plant in the Spring time. It just might be the year that I actually have live flowers for more than the month of May. I have murdered so many plants that I went to containers so I can quickly hide the evidence from the neighbors. I’m sure they wonder how the plants have flowers of one color one day and a week later have completely different color. Now weeds on the other hand abound in my yard. I don’t have to water or care for them. They just seem to thrive on lack of any attention what so ever. Thanks for the heads up about the books.

4/19/2009 9:09:44 PM

Dave- You are so right; the smell. I still to this day can remember the smell of the garden and dill is one of my favorites! My father was the one who made pickles in our family and they were always made in a huge crock with a wooden top that was weighted to hold all the cucumbers down into the pickling liquid, that is another smell that takes me back. I still have not found a pickle that comes close to my Dad's. I actually just purchased a great book, "The Vegetable Gardener's Bible", that is all about raised bed gardening. I was AMAZED at just how much you can fit into such a compact area, another reason I am so excited to try this. I think it is a great. I will be visiting the sites you suggested, any additional information I can gather the better! I really like the idea of the "No work Gardening", sounds good to me!! It sounds like you do not have any "wood" borders, just mounds. I like that idea, saves money and material. I do compost, like my father always says "Garden Gold". We actually have two compost "sites", one for all our kitchen scraps just outside our back door in a bin and then a larger one we mix our yard clippings, leaves etc. We will mix both together and hopefully it will be exactly what our garden needs! I will keep you posted on how it all works out and please send along any other suggestions you may have. Like I said as much information as I possibly can gather to make my garden grow would be wonderful. Besides I truly believe that the best ideas come from people who have already done it - tried and true! Thank You! Tricia

nebraska dave
4/19/2009 10:05:09 AM

Tricia, I too have many memories of gardening. However being a boy on the farm, my experiences are just a little different from yours. My memories come from the preparation of the area, the planting, and the harvesting. I don’t have so many memories of the preserving of the harvest. One thing I do remember clearly is the smell of the garden. Mom always planted dill and cucumbers. She loved making pickles. I still love the smell of growing dill weed in the garden. It’s kind of funny how certain smells can bring back good memories that make me feel good inside. I now have just one 4 X 8 raised bed that I grows tomatoes and peppers. I’ve discovered though from past experience that along with raised beds vegetables don’t have to be planted in rows. There’s a method called square foot gardening and actually a book has been written about how to plant according to this method. There’s a website to explain how it all works. It’s really amazing how much produce you really can harvest from a small 4 X 8 raised bed using this method. I started off my raised beds by digging the width of a spade and as deep as the shovel. I put the dirt into a wheel barrow. I filled about half of the trench in the ground with Spragum moss, which can be purchased at any local nursery. Then I filled the rest up to ground level with compost. (You do compost don’t you?) Then I dug another trench right next to the sphagnum moss – compost filled trench and put the dirt from the second trench on top of the first. Continue this method down the line until the last trench has been dug. After the moss and compost are in the last trench put the dirt from the wheel barrow over the top and it’s done. The moss will control the water and the compost will boost the plant growth. The end result will be a bed that is raised up about 8 inches above ground. Of course you could always go with the Ruth Stout “No work gardening”. http://www.motherearthne