Last year we wanted a garden, but the deer population, along with rabbits, racoons and squirrels, really put a damper on that. We have five tillable acres that we could use for a garden, but without a fence and some attempts at protection, growing that garden would merely be an effort in keeping the wildlife population fat and happy. We grew a small container garden on the south wall of our house and had a nice little "fresh-eating" garden.
This year, I got the idea of finding used fence on Craigslist. For $300, we picked up 1,200 linear feet of snow fence. I know snow fence is not deer fence and at 4 feet tall, barely enough to give them pause. However, with some modifications to the visual height as opposed to the actual height, we think we can fool those graceful animals into leaving our veggies alone. The slats in the fence are close enough together that we think the rabbits will have a hard time wiggling through. As for racoons, my farmer father says we can rig a single line of electric fence to the T-posts about six inches off the ground and that will keep them from climbing over or climbing under.
The deer will be the true issue. Andy and I plan to attach flexible posts normally used for temp fencing to the existing T-posts. Hooked to the T-posts, the extra height should reach 8 feet. We will then (or maybe before we attach them) string flat, white horse tape fencing. This will line the 300-foot perimeter, making the fence look much taller than it is.
This is all in theory. I'm praying it works. Right now, the snow fence is up and we have attached an old dog kennel gate to the one opening into the garden. The gate will keep deer out and toddlers in. (Just while I'm out there working, of course!)
Mid-March came through nice and sunny. While we were boiling away at sap, we were also constructing a makeshift cold frame for the garden. We took small straw bales from my father's farm next door and made a sort of raised bed from them. The row is about 18 feet long and 2 feet wide. We took my dad's loader tractor and dug up some nicely composted manure from the farm and dumped it in. Then I asked to borrow some old storm windows from the farm house and laid them over the top of the bales.
After the super cold temps of March returned, I held off planting anything until the first or second of April. We planted radishes, salad mixes and peas. Volunteer Lamb's Quarter came up everywhere, and I left them because they easily replace spinach as a green and grow a heckuva lot easier! Every few days I water them. Everything is looking great so far!
The rest of the garden is untilled. We have heavy dark clay soil and it holds moisture forever. Great for dry years. Unworkable in wet ones. Having dealt with this soil all my life, I knew that if we were going to have this garden be effective, we would need raised beds. In the very least to increase drainage, but also to allow for solid pathways in between beds. I intended to cover the paths with mulch, but a thin layer of white clover has already filled in the gaps and will make an excellent cover crop for walking on. I will have to mow it occasionally, but I will leave large enough gaps in between the wide beds so the push mowers will zip right through.
You see, I want an English style cottage garden. The perimeter will be all wildflowers and cut flowers. (We rototill that area this Saturday). The interior will be raised beds (I hope to have seven by the end of the season) and on the ground beds. Some crops, like melons and corn and sunflowers, won't need raised beds.
About the raised beds: I thought that was a dream for next year since we invested so much money into the fencing already. But searching on Craigslist again I stumbled upon a high school selling old wooden bleachers. Apparently the 40-year-old planks were yellow pine and averaged 1-inch-by-8-inches-by-17-feet. Eighteen feet long! And they wanted $2 per board.
I just about leapt out of my skin. I was seriously thinking, "What would Hank Will do?" Buy the whole lot, that's what! I talked to my father again, and he got excited for the bunch given that it's high quality lumber at a crazy price. We offered the seller a deal for the whole bunch, and he took it. The next day, we borrowed a trailer and drove south to the small town high school. The boards were single tree planks. No seams or MDF to be seen. The shop kids were outside and loaded the trailer for us. For $150, Dad and I got 80, 17-foot pieces of lumber. Some of the planks still have numbers painted on them, which give them a lot of character. I took about half of the cost and Dad covered the rest.
We decided to make seven raised beds. At 12 feet long and about 4 feet wide, each bed required two boards to make. That's $4 right there. Then we hand cut some of the narrow bleacher boards into 3-inch-by-2-foot stakes. These will be pounded in periodically on the sides of the beds to help the 1-inch-thick boards support the soil we will add. This adds about one more dollar to the overall raised bed cost. Next, we purchased premium grade 2x4s at $2.30 each. These will brace the corners of each bed. Add in a box of deck screws and the total cost for each garden bed will come out to be about $6.50.
Folks, $6.50 is hard to beat. I realize they are not cedar or rot resistant, and most beds are made with two-by's. But come on, would you turn this down? Not if you read GRIT!
So far, we have two beds screwed together and staked in. It's been a challenge to drive our homemade stakes into our hard-as-rock clay ground, but with each stake, my parents-in-law make the process more streamlined and efficient. I really appreciate their immense help. And I appreciate my father's help in cutting all the wood pieces with his table saw.
Even though our Craigslist cottage garden is in our back field, it is turning out to be a community garden after all! I will keep you up to date on the progress of our scrapyard gardening.