Jul 05 2011

Raised Bed Garden – July 2011 Update

Posted by Seth in Gardening, Home Improvement

My garden that I built way back when (ok, so a few months ago..) is doing great.  For as much work as I put in, I am starting to reap the benefits, and I can’t wait until next year where I don’t have to focus on construction.   I thought I would update everyone on the lessons learned so far, and some things I will be doing differently next year.

First..  I severely underestimated how tall my tomato and cucumber plants would get. I was used to having a dinky container garden at my old apartment, now that the plants are in the ground and being properly watered, they are growing like they should – and my trellis is definitely not tall enough. Next year, I will be building a much taller trellis, using the 3/4″ electrical conduit and tent parts that I built the protective cage out of.  Total height will be in the 8-10 foot range, it will be the last time I build it for sure!  When the plants were young, I trimmed back the lower branches to promote upward growth – that was definitely successful!

The cucumber vines are ridiculously long, one of them I would guess is at least 10 feet. You can train them to go where you want, but I just ran out of trellis for them – I’m letting them go wherever they want now.  Good news is the tomatoes are already mature and they don’t seem to mind.

For reference.. the random poles holding up tomato plants on the right of the big bed are 10 feet long!

Part of the garden.. holy tall tomato plants!!

Next.. the hops plant will require some sort of extraordinary system to climb up as well, as it’s well over my garage roof already. Some sort of 30′ tall contraption with pulley system is in order.

Probably the best money spent so far is the irrigation system.   I water twice a day, 5pm & 5am, for 95 minutes.  The plants are doing great!  I have been adding some vegetable plant food per the directions on the container at the recommended interval, and it’s helped tremendously, probably because this is brand new soil and was lacking some nutrients.  I have a nice compost pile going that will be great for the next growing season.

Honeydew, Canteloupe, Watermelon vines

The watermelon, honeydew, and canteloupe vines are EVERYWHERE.  Next year, I probably won’t plant as many as they are hard to manage.  There are overgrown weeds in the neighbor’s yard, on the other side of my fence, which I need to cut back, but you can see how the melon plants have taken over this area.

Peas – thanks to my cousin’s advice, I found out why they are not doing so well.. they do not do well in the heat. I just put some seeds in the shade of the tomato plants, we’ll see if they do well or not.  Next year, I’ll be planting these much earlier / later in the season, when it’s not so hot.

 The squash plants are in the main bed with all of the pepper plants.. they have really taken off and are HUGE. They are starting to overtake the pepper plants, I will be keeping a close eye to make sure this does not hinder the peppers at all, if it does, I will cut back the squash if I have to.


May 20 2011

DIY Raised Bed Garden – Part 2 – Security and Irrigation

Posted by Seth in Gardening

Continuation of DIY Raised Bed Garden Construction

It became apparent about 2 hours after planting some of my first vegetables, that I would need some sort of security fence around the plants. The squirrels or birds around my house seem to think it is fun to chop the plants in half and leave them for dead.  Originally, I made a wooden frame with some plastic poultry netting to keep them out, but I knew that was temporary and I needed something more permanent.

Cage installed, and you can see the tomato/cucumber trellis as well.

I took out my tomato cages and changed over to a trellis system, using some electrical conduit – this stuff is very cheap and easy to manipulate. To do that I needed to buy the conduit pipe cutter, so I figured I would get my money’s worth out of the investment in that tool.  I decided to use some 3/4″ EMT conduit along with some tent frame pieces that you would normally find vendors using to build tents at outdoor flea markets and shows.  Above is what I came up with, a nice “box” around the plants, that has plastic netting on all sides to keep out the creatures.  The temporary wood structure worked great, I’m sure I’ll get many a season out of the metal version.  It’s also hinged on one side so it just swings away.   You can find the pieces you need via a google search, mine came from http://www.ysbw.com/ .

1/4" Drip line connected to 1/2" main line

The next item I wanted to tackle was an automatic watering system.  I started to clear out the area along my fence to make way for some items like berries, and melons, and along with the second bed I built, I had things to water that were not so easy with a regular sprinkler. On top of that, sprinklers suck – they spray the leaves and it’s hard to get the roots in the beds soaked properly.  I decided to build a drip irrigation system and permanently install it.  Pieces for drip irrigation are available at Home Depot and Lowes under various brands, but right now the shelves are pretty barren because of the time of year, so I suggest buying online. I went with Drip Depot.

The systems are very simple to set up.  On top of that, they are efficient.  You will only be soaking the roots of your bed, for exactly as long as you need, so it doesn’t waste water. Mine runs on a timer, for 75 minutes each day at 5:30AM.   

 Basically, you hook it up to your hose outlet, run a main line near your beds, then branch off smaller lines to directly feed the plants. It literally takes minutes to install.  Mine took a little longer as my garden is nowhere near the hose hookup, and I opted to bury the 1/2″ line in the ground all the way to the garden.  The main line is called 1/2″ poly tube, the feeder hoses are 1/4″, and your garden hose hookup is a 3/4″.   At a minimum for the “foundations” of the system, you need:

That’s it for the foundations, then you need to accessorize in order to be able to water the plants.  How many emitters do you need? Well that depends on your plants. I did a good bit of reading to figure out which plants required which amount of water.  What I gathered is that Tomatoes needed the most water while peppers and just about everything else in my garden was good with 12″ spaced dripline running on either side of the plants to soak the roots.  I highly recommend a hose timer, so the garden waters itself. This Orbit one (and ones that look like it) had great reviews, that’s what I went with.

To water the plants, you have a variety of emitters to choose from.  My raised beds use mostly 1/4″ drip line which just plugs right into the 1/2″ main line with barb fittings.  The lines also need to be plugged at the end just like the main line, so you’ll need 1/4″ goof plugs for each run.  My raspberries and blueberries that are in the actual ground have adjustable drippers on them so that I can crank up the water as they grow if I need to.

Drip line for peas, and adjustable emitter on the oregano

Do some reading, and piece together what you need. My total investment for the irrigation system was about $100.  I work at night, and I travel a lot, so having this on an automatic timer is worth the $100 for peace of mind.  Plus, I don’t have to wake up at 5:30am and water the plants, ever!

Apr 14 2011

DIY Raised Bed Garden

DIY Raised Bed Garden

Now that I finally have a yard to call my own, it was time to retire the notion of having container gardens on the back porch, and get a more permanent solution going.  In speaking with my neighbor (who was born in the house 2 doors down), he mentioned he was having some problems in the past two years with his vegetable plants producing well. He had the soil tested and there is some organism or soil balance that is not good for vegetables.

I knew I would have to dig up and till part of my yard to make a garden.  After hearing what the neighbor had to say, I was not interested in planting in the existing soil, so I decided to go with a raised bed.  There are a few big advantages of a raised bed garden.

  • Good drainage
  • Control of the soil
  • Less weeding
  • More accessible (hey, I’m old – if I don’t have to bend as far, that’s a win)

I had a simple design in mind and headed to Home Depot for materials.  Use this as a guide, if you want bigger or smaller, obviously, get less wood. Materials cost me in the neighborhood of $100 and I did this on my own in an afternoon.

  • Six 8-foot 2″x8″ pressure treated boards.  Get two of them split in half into 4′ sections at Home Depot if you can’t find your circular saw (like me). You can also use Cedar or Redwood, but the cost is significantly higher
  • 1 5/8″ weatherproof deck screws. These should be in the same aisle as the lumber or on an end cap near it. I got the box that came with the star bit, makes them easier to drive
  • 3″ weatherproof deck screws
  • Metal strapping and corner braces, these should also be near the decking material / lumber aisle
  • Weedblocker material – black fabric looking stuff that you will find in the outdoor section. I used up a 3’x50′ roll.

You may find that your 8′ boards may differ in length by a little bit.. unfortunately this happens with cheap lumber.  Cut them to length before starting, or trim it up afterwards with your circular saw when you eventually find it like me.  Mike Holmes isn’t coming by to inspect your work, so do what you can to make it look the best.

Picked a spot for the garden, and did a rough layout

Go find a nice sunny spot, the more level the better, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. Lay the wood out on the ground, making sure it’s square,and mark the ground where you will dig.  Once that’s done, start digging.  I dug a trench about 4-5″ deep and layed one of the long sides in the ground, leveled it off, then went around and dug the rest, leveling and squaring it up as I went along.   Once two corners matched up, I put in 2 of the 3″ screws per corner to hold the rectangle form together temporarily.  It doesn’t have to be perfect,  but definitely make sure it’s level and square or it will look goofy. 

Dig in progress. One side at a time, leveling and squaring as you go along. I hope your soil isn't as rocky as mine!

Once all four sides are done, you should have a nice wooden rectangle sunk into your yard, screwed together at the corners, with a pile of dirt somewhere.  I just threw the dirt back in the middle, it will mean I’ll have to use less topsoil for fill later on.  Double check that everything is level, all the way around, and square (diagonal measurements corner to corner should be the same or close).  To level, add or remove dirt where necessary, and tap the wood down into the ground with a mallet so that it won’t settle later.

Trench done, rectangle together

After you take a break and admire your accomplishment, the rectangle has to come out of the ground. I flipped it up in the air and laid it next to its permanent home.  Once out, I lined the trench with the weedblocking fabric, and then put the rectangle back down on top of it for the last time.  Be careful with the fabric, the stuff I got ripped pretty easily. Make sure you leave at least a foot or two of overlap towards the inside of the bed, because you will tie this in with some more of the fabric later on.

Weed block fabric is down, underneath the wood and overlapping the inside of the bed

Install your corner bracing from the inside with your 1 5/8″ decks screws.  Also, make sure there are at least 2 3″ screws through each corner face. 

You can now start backfilling the inside of the bed towards the wood. Make sure you get the dirt under the weedblock fabric, we do not want any of the crap dirt below to be in contact with the good dirt we will add later.Once everything is filled in nice and tight from the inside, cover the rest of the exposed dirt with the weed block fabric, overlapping the border you already have. It should look like the picture below.

Screw all of the strapping material into the bottom half of the rectangle, then place one board at a time on to the second floor of the bed and screw in from the inside.  Check for level and square as you go before tightening.  Screw in all strapping, corner braces, and each corner face (3″ screws for corners). The more the merrier, get it nice and secure.   Try not to pass out from being upside down with the drill when you finally stand up from the blood rushing out of your head.

Weedblocker fabric in place


All secure - ready for soil!


And that’s about it for construction.  All you need to do now is backfill your trench, and fill up the bed with soil.  You will need to do some math on the size and depth of your garden to figure out how many cubic feet of dirt you need – in my case it was about 1.4 cubic yards. The picture at the very top of the page shows what 800 pounds of topsoil in there looks like (40 pound bags are 98 cents at lowes and home depot for the cheapo stuff).  Fill the bottom 2/3rds with cheapie stuff, then get some nice potting soil for the top layer.

Next step ….. irrigation