Monday, March 22, 2010

If You Build It

Friday after work I went to the home improvement store to scope out what was available. I ended up buying seed starting trays and a bunch of seeds. I still plan on ordering some seeds, but the ones at the store were the same brand and cost less, probably because there are less seeds in each packet. Since I don't need a ton of seeds for my small garden, I don't need packets with gajillions of seeds in them. I know they only keep for a few years.

Saturday morning we went back to the home improvement store with a friend and a borrowed truck. Our list looked like this:

2 12' composite timbers
1 16' composite timber
8 frighteningly-sharp-and-toothy brackets
full bale of compressed peat moss
two bags of composted cow manure
landscape cloth
galvanized nails
bolts and nuts

Then I went to the garden center and bought a packet of delicata squash seeds--I'd had trouble finding vining ones and was thrilled to find these--and 8 cubic feet of vermiculite.

Our city composts the leaves it collects and offers it for free. You just have to bring a vehicle and load it yourself. We did that on Saturday afternoon.

My current garden is a circle enclosed by edging stones. The new garden is going to be a long rectangle made of the composite timbers, which means the edging stones needed to be moved. They weigh approximately four thousand pounds apiece. We moved a bunch to the front flower bed, realized they were a slightly different color and size than the ones up there, moved all the ones from the front to the back, and built up the front flower bed. I now need more soil in there and to replant everything so it's higher.

Sadly, I hit the wall before I was able to finish the front bed. Andrew finished while I sat quietly on the porch. I know the doctor said I might find that I tired more easily for a couple months after my gallbladder surgery, but I assumed he was wrong. To have things that I wanted to do and no more energy to do it made me a crazy woman. I tried to give myself some grace--after all, a week earlier my most energetic outing was handbell practice at the church. Since then I'd worked full-time all week, jogged a couple times, helped load and unload a truck with compost, etc. Still, it's frustrating.

I still have edging stones left over. There are enough to make another bed somewhere. We have quite a small yard, so it needs to be in the back where nothing much has been done. I'm still not sure where that's going to be. It is on the north side of the house and will get horrible light, so I'll probably only be able to plant some hostas and hellebore. Even though it seems inefficient, I think I'll move the remainder of the stones to the back patio and finish the work on the new gardening space before setting up the new flowerbed. The garden seems to be more important to get finished so I can get my peas planted.

Yesterday Andrew and I worked on building the structure for the garden. I'm basing this off of the Square Foot Gardening book. It's not radically different from what I had--a small area with plants in nonlinear formation. The idea is to build a raised bed with very good soil composed of one-third vermiculite, one-third peat moss, and one-third compost. (This will be quite a shock to my plants since my backyard is currently one-third tree roots, one-third rocks, and one-third clay.) The bed only needs to be 6" high. Then the bed is split into 1' squares. Each square can have a different type of plant, and the number of seeds planted depends on the type of vegetable/herb. For example, you can plant eight pea seeds in a 1' square, but only one tomato seed because the tomato needs more room than the peas.

Square foot gardening also depends a lot on trellising. We're going to build three 5' x 4' trellises to go along the north side of the garden. Tomatoes, squash, and peas will all grow (theoretically) vertically, so they'll need much less ground than in a typical garden. Last year my yellow summer squash tried to take over the entire garden, so I see the wisdom in growing up.... so to speak.

We decided to build a three-box structure. The two end boxes are 6" tall and the middle box is 12" tall. The extra height in the middle is both so I can grow vegetables that require more root room, such as carrots, and because I think it will look nicer. We built it out of composite wood so it would last forever.

Here's a picture of the early stages of construction:

Composite is very different from what I expected. It's unlike lumber in every way. It has deep grooves on the back, which make it difficult to nail without hitting a groove. The composite itself is extremely hard. We had to drill holes to help the nails get started, and even then I wasn't able to drive the nails in. Andrew loves me a lot.

Square Foot Gardening has grids that go on top of the squares to mark off the 1' squares. To be honest, I think they request that you do this because they want your neighbors to ask you what the heck you're doing and why you have grid marks on top of your garden. Then you can tell them about this book you read, and they'll get interested, and POW! another book sold. In spite of that, I do think it will be helpful to visually see what space is available when I plant. I am not very visual, so I need whatever help I can get.

Besides, I love organization, and a garden demarcated into squares is right up my alley.

We build the grids out of cheap wood lath and connected them with bolts and nuts. That way, they'll be able to be collapsed and stored in the garage after harvesting time. The composite won't ever rot, but those grids certainly would.

We finished it late in the afternoon and managed to carry it to the backyard. Besides being extremely hard, composite is also extremely heavy.

I'm really pleased with the way it's shaping up and am eager to get it placed into its permanent home and get the soil in it. Right now, there's a large pile of compost on a drop cloth on my back patio.

Of course, since this is the Midwest, the temperature has dropped twenty degrees and it's gray and rainy. This, too, shall pass, and you'll find me outside playing in the dirt.


  1. Looks like a great garden, and it will last a long time :o)

  2. OMG--I am so with you on this post! I love your set up of your SFG and am so jealous--and also have a bit of ency! Since I am the one who has to lug everything home, composite is not happening. I've instead used fire wood as my border! And am slowly building up my garden beds with yard stuff, peat moss and compost and today, plan to pick up a huge bag of vermiculite! Oh, I can't wait to watch your garden grow! Such a great plan you have there! And don't worry about the energy level problem, you will get it back--you have too much to look forward to to not have it return! Be well!

  3. That's an impressive garden system you have going and I have to say that I am jealous. I look forward to getting my hands in the dirt in the coming months.

    Hope your feeling better.