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Raised Beds Solve Rocky Soil Problem

Loretta Liefveld

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ll completely understand why I decided that my vegetable garden will be planted in raised beds. This is a picture of what just the top of my back yard looks like, not to mention the black plastic that covers the entire yard about 4 inches below the soil, or the gigantic rocks lying about 8 inches beneath the surface.

Original back lawn

Large rocks in ground

I searched all over to figure out where to build my beds.  I checked both the front and backyard at different times of the day, so I could see where the sun fell at those times. I also wanted a place that was close to the house.  My previous garden was about 100 yards away from the house. In the summer, when it was hot, I just didn’t feel like walking that far to harvest vegetables. I knew I would be able to take care of them much easier if the garden were close.

I also had to decide on the size and materials. I wanted the beds to be high enough that I didn’t have to stoop down (another advantage of raised beds), so 2 to 3 feet seems about right. I wanted them to be sturdy (maybe even be able to sit on the edge) and easy to build. We decided on beds that are 3 feet wide, 8 feet long, and 2 feet tall. That would allow us to buy lumber in sizes that we didn’t need to cut very much.

I decided on alternating stacking pattern, partially for the strength and partially for the appearance. Here’s the result, before filling it.

Completed Raised Bed

I really wanted to utilize as much of the native soil as possible. Rob used the bulldozer to push a load of "dirt" over to my area.  Like everything around here, it was dirt and rocks, not beautiful, rock-free topsoil. So I had to sift the soil. Since our soil texture is primarily clay, I wanted to mix in plenty of organic material and some gypsum. 

First, I loosened up the soil at the bottom of the raised bed.  This also gives you an idea of what it would be like if I wanted to try to plant here.

Bottom of planter

Next, I needed some organic material to mix in. As I’ve mentioned before, we have lots of ponderosa pines and some red (Douglas) firs. So I took my trusty Husqvarna lawn tractor and its little trailer into the forest to gather "forest mulch."  In the old shed, I found four sifting screens made of half-inch hardware cloth in wooden frames. I wanted to sift out smaller rocks than that, so we put another layer into the frame and offset the holes, balanced the screens on top of planter, and I started sifting.

Sifting screen

The word sifting doesn’t really impart the effort involved.  I wanted about a 50/50 mix, so I would put three shovels of dirt/rocks onto the screen, and then four shovels of forest mulch. I used a short handled shovel to push the material back and forth until I only had rocks, pinecones, and small sticks left in the screen. I put this leftover debris into a wheelbarrow and started all over again.

Screening into raised bed

Little did I know that I would never be able to move that wheelbarrow once it was filled with rocks.

Wheelbarrow full of rocks

Needless to say, this was a long and arduous process, but finally it was finished, and I planted my first bed with some seedlings I had started earlier from seed, green bush beans, watermelon, basil, and peas (right to left). I also planted some carrot seed, but only two of them broke through.

Newly planted 1st bed
(June 30 2017)

I quickly realized that one bed wouldn’t even begin to be enough – even just for now.  

First planter plants grown
(August 27, 2017) 

I decided I needed at least four beds, just to get started. Fortunately, we recently moved the backyard fence out about 10 feet, giving me more room. We leveled pads for three more beds. It was really quite easy. I have a secret, little-known tool that makes this super easy…my husband (haha. He loves it when I say this).

Leveling ground for remaining beds

Soon, the second bed was finished as well, and ready to fill.

This time, I decided it was just way too much work to sift all that dirt and rock, so I bought raised bed mix. Most of the other bagged material that you can buy is meant to be mixed with the existing soil, and I did NOT want to go through that again. But, I finally figured out what to do with that huge rock-filled wheelbarrow that I couldn’t move. I shoveled it into the bottom of the raised bed! Shovelful by very heavy shovelful. But it was still easier than all the sifting I did for the first bed.

The raised bed mix was just a little to "fluffy" for my liking and I was afraid it would dry out too easily, so I mixed in some garden soil mix as well.

I planted two kinds of snap peas, two kinds of spinach, two kinds of kale and two kinds of kohlrabi. I also replanted my carrots. I have a couple of clear shower curtains that I’m using to cover the top of the raised bed when the nights were getting down to 32 degrees. But the days are wonderful, so I can open it up easily. 

First 2 beds planted for winter

I also took out my green beans, which were pretty much finished, and hung them up on the fence as a treat for the deer.  They loved it!  Two days later, they were all gone. 

Green beans for deer

 I’m always absolutely fascinated by how quickly plants grow. The bed starts out looking so lonely and it just isn’t any time at all before it’s filled to the brim. I can hardly wait for this one.

Dehydrating Wild Apples and Plums

Loretta LiefveldYesterday was another rainy day in Kamiah. I love the rain. I love watching it rain. I love doing indoor projects while it’s raining. 

I decided to dehydrate some wild apples I picked several days ago. I know, you aren’t "supposed" to dehydrate when it’s humid or raining, but I really don’t think it matters as long as you make sure the item is thoroughly dried. It just might take longer than usual. But since I normally just let my dehydrator run all night, it doesn’t make a lot of difference.

We have lots and lots of wild apple trees. Most of them have very small apples, but a few have some that are almost as large as the "small" apples sold in the stores. Most of them turn somewhat red-streaked when they are ripe, sort of like a ‘Fuji’ or ‘Gala.’  Most of them are also wormy, but I’ll just cut out the bad parts. The good parts will still be good for dried snacks and apple pies.

First, I used my electric slicer to slice them into ¼-inch slices. They are small enough that I can line up two or three at a time.  As the slices pile up, I immediately put them into a bowl of water so they don’t turn brown.

 2_20170919 Apples slices in colander

You can see that some of the slices look pretty good, but some have bruises or bad spots. On one apple slice, I noticed a worm that had been sliced in half. Yuck!  But at least it wasn’t crawling around.

I use an apple corer and a paring knife to make quick work of the bad spots. The apple corer quickly removes the core, and the paring knife cuts out other bad spots. I don’t worry about making "pretty" slices. The good slices go directly into a lemon juice/water mixture. The scraps go into a colander.

 3_20170919 3 apple slices and tools


4_20170919 Apple slices being cut 

You can see the proportion of good slices versus scraps in this picture. The scraps will go to my worm farm and my compost pile.

 5_20170919 Cleaned slices and scraps

Taking them out of the lemon juice mixture, I dry them in a clean towel, then arrange them on a dehydrator tray.

 6_20170919 Prepared Apple slices on tray

The apple slices didn’t use up all of the trays, so I decided to also dehydrate some of the plums I had picked.

8_20170919 plums in colander cropped 

The instructions said to blanch them for 30 seconds, which I thought was weird, but I did it. The skins all split, making it difficult to then cut them in half and remove the pit while still keeping the skin on.   

 9_20170919 plums in ice water cropped

The instructions said to put them on the tray with the skin down, so I tried to do that. In some cases, the skin had come completely off, so I put the skin on the tray, and then grabbed a skinless plum to put on top of the skin.

This morning, I took out the apples and checked the plums. The apples look great! I tried one, and they are the perfect consistency for a snack. I loaded them up into a quart jar. They barely fit.

7_20170920_Dried apple slices on tray


120170920Dried apple slices in jar cropped Small

The plums looked pretty weird. They stuck to the tray, and the skins that didn’t have any plums on top were crispy. I turned them over, according to the instructions, but I’m not holding out any hope. I’m sure they will taste fine, but they sure look weird.

99_20170919 Dried plums on tray before turning cropped 

Meanwhile, the store had a fantastic sale on strawberries, 4 pounds for $5! I bought 8 pounds! I'll freeze some with sugar (Rob's favorite dessert — sugared strawberries with cream). Then I'll slice some and try dehydrating those.

20170920 Strawberries 8 pounds cropped