April 9, 2012

Mr. C. shares suggested plans for my garden!

Katie inspired this weeks topic by asking me to help them plan a raised bed garden. Hopefully this article will inspire you as well. They suggested a level spot north of their 12 foot long shed (which runs east & west) that they thought got sun all day. However, in the spring, when the sun is low in the southern sky, the shadow from the shed extends more than 4 feet (see photo below). The rough shadows are from a row of pine trees, but they shift during the day and are not a major concern (beyond 4 ft would still get at least partial sun). Since they want to grow early crops (peas, lettuce, chard, etc), they should locate the garden at least 4 ft away from the shed. Because they have to contend with deer and rabbits, they should consider a 5 ft fence located far enough from the plants so they can't reach over. To keep out rabbits, they should add a 2 foot high 1 inch chicken wire mesh. If you only have to contend with rabbits, use either chicken mesh or rabbit fencing (which has closer strands on the lower half). Rabbits love the tender bean sprouts when they get about 3 inches tall (I know from experience and is the reason I fenced in my garden). Support fences within the bed will depend on the variety of peas, ex. Little Marvel require 2 ft fences but sugar-snap peas, which she likes, need a 5 ft fence.

                                                                        Partially shaded spot

I suggest that they start with a single bed or row of beds oriented parallel to the shed so more beds can easily be added later. Make the bed(s), plus paths and fences, the same length as the shed for ease of mowing around. They have some aged pressure-treated lumber (decking that the  chemicals have leached out of), to build boxes (without bottoms) for their bed(s). If the beds are accessible from only one side (e.g. next to a fence), limit the width to 2 feet, but if both sides, they can be 3 feet wide. Either build one long box with dividers (for rigidity) or shorter boxes with a path in the middle. Note: A good test for path width is to measure your foot to foot distance while standing comfortably. (at least 15 to 18 inches per previous blog). You should not feel like you are taking a sobriety test (like on COPS)  when you walk between beds. If you plan a peripheral fence (either to support vines and/or to keep out animals), decide if you want walk on the sides and ends of the beds. Below is a sketch of the proposed layout.

                                                                   Katie's proposed garden layout

Instead of digging up or turning over the sod, cover the bottom of the bed(s) with at least 3 layers of black ink newspaper (wet them down) and the paths (including the space next to the shed) with newspaper or corrugated cardboard (preferred), and top with heavy plastic or weed cloth and mulch. To be able to start using your garden this season, add a 50/50 mix of topsoil and compost (I donating them some)  in the box(es). If you chose instead to build a "lasagna garden" for planting next year, click here.

The newspaper and soil will block most of the weeds and grass from growing which  will eventually decompose. After the newspaper breaks down, the earthworms will tunnel though it into your beds. You need at least 2 inches of soil/compost mix for most crops. You can break through the paper and underlying sod to plant potted plants like tomato, pepper, etc. Wait till next year when the sod has broken down to grow root crops (carrots, parsnips, beets). Once your garden is established (and the worms are doing their thing), you should top-dress it with compost but never turn the soil. To learn more  advantages of no-till gardening, click here.

To put on the finishing touch, install edging along the fence to prevent the grass from encroaching. I used pressure treated 1x3 partially buried with the top edge an inch above the grass.

Happy Gardening,

Mr. C