Adventures of Old Nebraska Dave

Build a Permanent Raised Bed with Cinder Blocks

Site for bed(2)

There comes a time in life when the thought process shifts to how can I build, repair, or purchase something that will last for the rest of my life. In my experience, wood for raised beds only lasts about 10 years or less and then the bed will need to be rebuilt. I may not be able to rebuild my raised beds 10 years from now. Unfortunately, we cannot stop the aging process and with aging, comes less physical activity. It's just a fact of life that we all have to plan for.

Prepare the Site and Lay the Anchor Block

The site for the bed should be somewhat level, but it doesn't have to be. In my case this already was a raised bed with landscaping timbers that rotted away and the bed became a rubbish pile for this growing season. So with all that cleared away, I'm ready to set the anchor block.

Building a raised bed to last will require some hard labor but after it's done the bed will last for years to come. It will take 32 concrete blocks and 16 caps to build this raised bed. The first anchor block will take the longest to set in place.

The right height of the bed is determined by the depth of the anchor block in the ground. Mine will be about 4 inches below the ground level but because there is a slope, the other side of the bed will be ground level for the first layer of blocks. This anchor block must be perfectly level both ways to end up with a level bed. It's the most important block of the entire project. Once I get the block set, packing the block holes with dirt and around the side will keep the block firmly in place.

Anchor Block(1)

Lay the Blocks

Then the process begins as each block is set in place in relation to the last block. 


Most blocks are accurately square and consist in dimensions. If the blocks are set with perfect fit on the top and no cracks between the top or the bottom of the blocks, the side should remain level. In my case, even with that the bed came together with a slightly different height of a 1/4 inch. I planned for that and the bed came together in a back corner. That's OK after the block caps go on and even less when the brick facing is glued on. It's really not too noticeable.

This bed is 4 feet wide with 32 inches of growing width and 8 feet long with 9.33 feet of growing length. This would be just fine for a raised bed like this but I decided to spruce it up a bit. If leaching of concrete chemicals into the soil is an issue for you line the side walls with a non degradable liner to keep the soil pure. Personally, I don't think it's an issue and didn't do that.



Building Paths

The photo above shows one path completed. I built a weed barrier using wood chips on top to about 4 to 6 inches in depth.

The brick face is just colored and brick stamped-concrete patio blocks that are somewhat buried in the soil about 4 inches with construction glue to adhere the block to the cinder blocks. All the cinder blocks were a gift from a friend that needed to get rid of them.

I would estimate that it took about 10 to 15 hours of hard labor to build the bed and a bit more for the path. I widened the path between the bed from 24 to 32 inches to give this old body a bit more room to roam between the beds.

I have two more beds to rebuild and hope to get them done next year.

Nebraska Dave is a Nebraskan-Iowan dirt farmer-turned-urban dweller who lives to improve life with backyard compost, raised beds, vertical growing, automatic watering, and other undercover techniques. Connect with Nebraska Dave at Old Dave’s Garden blog and read all of his GRIT posts here.

Planting Sprouted Seeds

Seeds to sprout

Seeds sprouting

Seeds are an amazing thing of nature. Plants produce an abundance of them every year. Down through the years much knowledge has be acquired about how to plant, grow, and harvest from seed planting. All sorts of methods have been written about, talked about, and experimented with how to plants seeds and nurture them to a food harvest. This post will explain how to insure 100% plant growth from germinated seed sprouts.

One of the most difficult seeds to sprout is the famous pepper seed. Under good conditions the seed might germinate in potting mix in three weeks. Many times only a few seeds will germinate and then another three weeks of waiting must be done for more pepper plants. Spouting the seed first will guarantee 100% plant growth in 10 days. 


Step 1: Of course step one would be to acquire the seeds. There are many good seed companies to get seeds or local nurseries will have them as well. Fresh seed will always give better results for sprouting and planting.

Step 2: Fold a section of paper towel into a square that will fit into a pint-size Ziploc bag. Place the towel square on a counter-top and moisten the towel with a wet sponge. Don't wet the towel too much but just moist.

Step 3: Place the seeds on the paper towel with a generous amount of space between them. Make sure the seeds are in good contact with the paper towel.

Step 4: Take a pint-size Ziploc bag and open it up as wide as can be. Pick up the paper towel with the seeds by placing it on the open palm facing up. Carefully place the towel with the seeds inside the Ziploc by sliding your hand and towel together into the open Ziploc. Pinch the bag on the end of the towel to keep the towel in the bag and slide your hand slowly and carefully out of the bag. Press down on the bag to remove air and give the seeds good contact with the moist towel. 

Step 5: Close up the bag and place it seed side down on a soft surface such as a bath towel. Set the seed pack on top of the bag as a marker of what plants the seeds will grow. Put a light weight on top of the seed pack and the Ziploc bag to keep the seed contact. A magazine would be perfect. The temperature for good seed sprouting is a range between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Too hot or too cold will slow the sprouting time.

Step 6: In five days the seeds will be sprouted and ready to plant. The seed that haven't sprouted will not be planted. This is how 100% plant growth can be produced. It's time to carefully remove the towel by opening the Ziploc wide and carefully sliding out the towel. Take a seed cell planting tray and fill it with a quality potting mix.  Use a pencil to poke a hole about an inch deep in to middle of one of the cells.  Carefully, take one of the sprouted seeds between your thumb and fore finger and direct the seed root that has been sprouted into the pencil hole. The pencil eraser side can be used  to move the sprout root down the hole until the actual seed is just below the surface the the cell. Gently cover the sprout and seed with potting mix to a depth of the width of the seed. Very little mix needs to be over the sprout. Use a spray bottle to lightly wet down the surface of the seed cell. Continue to spray and keep the potting mix moist but not wet. 

Step 7: The plants will normally break the surface in about three to four days. At that time top watering is stopped and bottom watering is started. From seed to plant takes about 7 to 10 days and it's on the way to becoming study healthy plant for the garden. 

 peppers at six weeks

Bell pepper plants at eight weeks

These pepper plants are just a couple days under eight weeks from beginning to sprout the seeds. Just about any seed can be sprouted this way to get a jump on the planting process. Spouts can even be planted directly in the garden if soil and air temperature are favorable.

With just a little effort seed sprout planting can be a more efficient and faster way to get from seeds to plants.

How to Trench Compost in a Raised Bed


 Unsplash/Anaya Katlego

Nebraska Dave

Composting envisions a mound of debris that contains brown and green material. There's aeration, watering, and turning or tumbling. When do you need to water? How much water should be used? How often should the pile be turned? What if I told you there's a better way to do this. It's called trench composting, and I've been doing it for years. It eliminates all those decision making processes down into one simple process. It does take a little more work up front but once it's done, that's it for the rest of the year. All the things that you would put in a normal compost pile are used. 

The first thing is to choose the bed to prepared. This bed was covered with the compost debris about a foot thick in the fall to start the process of composting over the winter. As the rain, snow, freezing, and thawing process happens over the winter months, the material compresses down to about three inches thick. This bed was given a healthy layer of grass clippings and covered with leaf yard debris. It was then just left uncovered over the winter to naturally begin the process. This process can be done in basically any garden and is not just for raised beds. It's a really good way to cut down on the fall clean-up chores. There's no waiting for months or perhaps even a year before the compost can be used. It will break down as the spring turns into summer and fall. The aeration of digging and the moisture of the soil along with the worm activity break the material down and feed the plants.

The first thing that must be done is to dig out a trench and put the dirt temporarily in a wheel barrow. This dirt will be used for the last trench of the bed. The trench is about 8 to 10 inches deep and mine is just the width of the spade that I'm using. The width can be less or more but the depth must be deep enough to cover the debris with about four or five inches of soil. 

Now all the debris on top of where the next trench will be is raked down into the currently dug trench. Don't be concerned about putting too much compost material in the trench as it will settle as the elements, soil micro-organisms and worms work their magic. By the next spring, all this material will be virtually turned into soil. That's basically the process. Continue down the bed with digging and burying the debris until the end is reached. As the years go by and this procedure is continued the soil becomes easy to turn over. It's light and holds the water extremely well even in dry times of the year. My spade sinks into the black rich soil with out even using any foot work.

The dirt and debris in the wheelbarrow from the first trench is now used to fill the last trench in the bed. A rake over to smooth the bed down and this bed is ready to plant. A generous cover of mulch to keep the soil from drying out and weeds from growing will be added as a final touch. Now the work is done for the rest of the season.

So as you can see the process is simple, straight forward, and once completed almost no maintenance required. Give it a try, I think you will like it.

Killing Poison Oak, Ivy and Sumac

Adventures of Old Nebraska DavePoison ivy, oak, or sumac can be difficult to deal with but with some precautions it can be killed. When I bought my vacant lot from the city to develop it into a garden little did I know that 10 feet away from my picnic table area giant poison oak vines were climbing up a huge cotton wood tree. When I brought the donated picnic table to the garden, I made sure no one would steal it by using U blots over the legs to anchor them into 300 pounds of concrete. Therefore moving the picnic table is not really an option. So with the help of my Mother Earth News friends, I came up with a plan.

Step 1 - The assessment. 

It's always good to do research and make sure that the task is within my skills or within my ability to learn the skills. This is where advice from those in the know comes in handy. I sent out the call on Mother Earth News Facebook.


Poison Oak Vine
Poison Oak Vine

There it is. The dreaded vine that looks to be almost as old as the tree. It's been there so long that the tree has grown around the vine making it even more of a challenge. I've decided to give it a try.

Step 2 - Formulate a plan

After reading, researching, and getting advice, I've decided the best approach is to remove a section of the vine from the base and just leaving the vine on the tree to die. Yes, I know that the active ingredient is still in the vine for many years but at least it won't be growing new vines or leaves.


Step 3 - Gather clothes and tools

Old clothes that can be bagged up and thrown away will be worn.  Hat, old sun glasses, face mask, long sleeve shirt, heavy gloves, old pants, and old socks are never to be worn again. Tools are simple with only an axe and a matock.

Dressed for Poison Oak



Dressed with clothes and tools

Step 4 - Execute the plan.

Poison Oak Vine Removed
Poison Oak Vine Removed

Chop through the poison oak vine with the axe being careful not to have contact with vine.

Step 5 - Dispose of vine debris and clothes.

 After the section was removed it was carefully put in a yard waste bag along with all the wood chips produced by chopping the vine. "DO NOT" ever burn any poison vines. The smoke will carry the resin called urushiol that causes the skin rash. If inhaled it could cause major respitory issues. My method was to take the bag with vine debris; dig a hole in the wooded unused area of my garden lot; and bury the bag and all. An Immediate change of clothes when the vine cleanup was done. All the clothes were bagged in plastic bags never to be washed or used again. They will be double bagged and set out for the trash men to take to the landfill. 

Step 6 - Clean tools.

The tools used are washed with clean water and left to dry.

Step 7 - Wash skin as soon as possible

There are many soaps that are especially made for washing after exposure to poison oak. Any good grease cutter such as Dawn dish soap will wash away the resin of poison oak. This should be done as quickly as possible.

Planning and caution keeps the experience of killing poison oak positive. 

Gardening Updates: June

Adventures of Old Nebraska DaveSomehow May has passed me by with great haste and wild abandon. Many things have happened in May. Usually, May is the busiest garden month of the Spring but with ongoing family responsibilities my garden time is cut down to only having enough time to tend three beds out of 12 at Terra Nova Gardens. The rest are covered with tarps to control weeds until such time that I can properly bring them to harvest. I don't see that happening this year. I do have a bucket garden on the back patio with tomatoes and bell peppers. I'm hopeful to get some cucumbers planted as well.


The perimeter of my beds at Terra Nova Gardens are lined with rocks from retaining walls and I'm always on the look out for more rocks. My neighbor just across the road had a load of rocks delivered for his driveway and this is what they delivered. He was thinking gravel and the delivery service was thinking big rocks. So for a few hours of effort I acquired enough rocks to put a second layer on some of the beds. Nice!!


The potatoes are liking the new raised bed and are growing leaps and bounds. They are already on the verge of blooming. The onions are liking the new bed as well. This bed has been planted with half potatoes and half onions. I haven't really had to deal with watering so far this year. We have had rain quite frequently. Some would say too frequently. Flooding has been a major problem this year for many folks. Fortunately, my properties have escaped the water destruction. Others that I know have not been so fortunate.

Bed 12

The dirt to build the potato raised bed came from this bed which left a 12 inch pit. I'm building a hügelkultur bed here. First I put chemical free grass clippings in the bed.

Bed 12-2

The  power company came by last year and trimmed trees around the power lines. They left piles of wood along the tree line which has dried out nicely. I thought it would be perfect for making a hügelkultur bed.  The wood is in place for about one third of the bed. Now another layer of chemical free grass clippings will be dumped on top of the wood. The last layer will be about 12 to 18 inches of dirt, The newly acquired rocks will layer up the perimeter to keep the bed contents confined. 

Mean while back at the Urban Ranch where I live, life goes on in the back yard.

Bucket tomatoes-2

The patio bucket garden is growing quite well. It took a bit to get started because of the cold weather up until the end of May but now that the temps are up in the 80s every day the tomatoes are really taking off. They are blooming and well on the way to producing a harvest. The empty buckets in the front are for the cucumbers. The seeds have been sprouted and now they need to be planted in the cell trays to grow into strong plants. Then they will be planted in the buckets.  On the backside behind the tomatoes are the bell peppers that also have buds and are close to blooming.

Sprouting Seeds

These are the cucumber seeds sprouting. I like to sprout my seeds to know if they are viable are not. These are old seeds so many have not sprouted but quite a few have. Looks like I'll be having some cucumbers before long. Seeds are placed on a damp paper towel and placed inside a Ziploc bag to keep them moist. The bag is then placed on the regulated heat mat at 80 degrees. Five days later seeds are sprouted. It's a great way to be sure about germination.

I'm hoping that every one is having a prosperous garden year. Have a great day in the garden.

Nebraska Dave
Urban Farmer

Building a Raised Bed

Adventures of Old Nebraska Dave

Winter is finally over but Spring didn't really get much of chance to be Spring. Flowers bloomed; trees displayed their flowering excellence; and snow melted away but it stayed cold and dreary all through March and April. Then came the warm rain in April that melted about 18 inches of snow pack almost over night. Terrible flooding resulted and the effects are still being felt in Nebraska from the flood devastation. Fortunately I'm not one that got flooded. I'll take the small amount of water in the basement compared to ten feet of water in the house. Some had flood insurance but most didn't. Many houses were a total loss. One thing I've learned about life is that there will be disasters along the journey of life. It may not be floods but emotional and some time financial devastation happens.  I learned to just keep on trudging forward and eventually things will get better.

Recycling Pallets


There is granite countertop business near my house. Heavy duty pallets are required to transport granite countertops. These pallets are about 12 feet long and weigh over 100 pounds each. It's a bit of a chore to get them loaded up but well worth the effort. I decided to make a raised bed and see how it holds up. My garden is totally about experimenting with new crazy ideas just to see if it will work. The company just sets them out by the road and lets anyone take them. If no one takes them I suspect they just end up in the landfill. Most things in my gardens are recycled material. I have netted about 150 concrete blocks from the flood zone that a friend has just given to me for helping him. There's probably 50 more he said I could have. Those will be used to make permanent raised beds at Terra Nova Gardens.  

TNG Bed 11

The back side of the pallets were covered with a double layer of weed barrier and set into a ten inch trench around the perimeter of the bed.  Support boards were used across the top to stabilize the bed. A heavy layer of garden waste was dumped in the bed and a 10 inch layer of dirt was shoveled on top of that. 

TNG Bed 11-2

Potatoes were planted on top of the dirt layer and another healthy layer of garden cleanup waste covered the potatoes. Then the bed was filled up with dirt and covered with a four inch layer of fresh grass clippings. 

Half of the 28 foot bed was planted in potatoes. The other half had yellow onions planted just before the fresh layer of grass clippings was applied. The onions are now popping up but no sign of potatoes just yet but with the 80 degree weather over the next few days, I expect they will be showing signs of growth soon.

TNG Bed 11-3

There it is in all it's glory. How long will the untreated wood last before rotting out? I'm not sure. It's heavy duty oak wood so probably at least a couple years maybe.

So on to the next thing and there's always a next thing, isn't there.

Updates on Winter Projects

Adventures of Old Nebraska DaveThe winter here in Nebraska rages on. Another six inches of snow fell over the weekend, making driving challenging. Snow blowers bellowed throughout the neighborhood as snow was being thrown high in the air. Temperatures hover in the teens and single digits at night. As for me, I still like using a shovel. So as the sound of roaring snow blowers echo through the neighborhood, my fuel efficient shovel quietly goes about business. It might take a little longer but it keeps a body warm and healthy to use the shovel, don't you think? So as the day comes to an end, all driveways are clear in hopes that spring is quite near. Unfortunately, the forecasters are predicting more snow accumulation of several more inches in a couple days.

New Seed Starting Station

The new seed starting station has been completed.

Seed starting Station b

This seed starting area resides deep in the bowels of my basement right next to the cold storage room that I built some years ago. There are actually three shelves that will need lighting, but for now only one shelf will be used, which will be more than enough for this year. Just this one shelf has the potential to start 588 seeds. It's not pretty, but it is functional.

Kitchen Floor

The kitchen floor is now finished and only the trim needs to have attention.

Kitchen Floor

Yeah, it's finally completed. The quarter round needs to be put back in place, and the kick boards around the kitchen cabinets need to be glued in place. It's been almost a year that I've worked off and on with this floor project. I probably have over 100 hours of work into this floor. Laying down the tile was the easy part. The floor prep took many hours but hopefully it will pay off with a long lasting floor.

Kitchen Wall

The next part of this project is to paint the wall. This wall is in bad shape from years of neglect. 

Kitchen Wall

This wall has many gouges, scratches, and other things that need attention before painting. Once again, the preparation time will be much greater than the actual painting. I probably should have done this painting before I put the nice floor in place, but that's what drop cloths are for, don't you think? I like to put on two coats of Kilz primer before the actual paint, then two coats of paint color to finish up the paint job.  

Do you have any winter projects to finish up before spring arrives? Winter can't hang on too much longer, can it? Stay warm and think spring.

Nebraska Dave
Urban Farmer

Photos by Nebraska Dave.

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