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Raised Beds Solve Rocky Soil Problem

Author Photo
By Loretta Liefveld | Oct 24, 2017

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

(June 30 2017)

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

(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).

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. 

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. 

 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.

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