Redesigning our garden

Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Wed, Jul 20, 2016 - 1:28pm

He's 81. His garden will be our model. 

This spring, right when we would normally be planting, we had two major household repairs done. By the time we were done with these months-long projects, we decided that we would give up gardening for the year, can foods from the local CSA and farmer’s markets, and merely concentrate on harvesting our perennials.

Some of what we were doing was not working anyhow. So this is the year we stopped putting up with some issues and are totally redesigning our garden.

We’ve spent the season touring other local vegetable gardens, seeing what worked and what did not work. As always, I am going to be totally honest about our failings, in the hope that you can learn from our mistakes and shorten your learning curve.

Problem One: the beds were not deep enough. We only had money for lumber for 6-inch deep beds, and only one of them had no quarter-inch hardware cloth at the bottom to stop moles. No matter how high you pile the soil, you can only grow half long carrots in beds that depth, and many things had a problem with their roots getting stopped. Also, our grass infiltrated the shallow beds and was able to easily poke through to the sunlight.

Solution? We are going for much deeper beds this time! At last a foot deep, maybe 18 inches on the slope. And the moles are only a problem near tree roots so we are not using any hardware cloth except in that area.

Problem Two: Weed-whacky bed edges! We left walking spaces between the beds that were not wide enough for the lawnmower.

Solution? The 12-ft x 4-ft beds will go in a line, next to each other, with dirt paths in between them. We’re pattering it after my husband’s father’s beds in his garden in Fairfax, VA (see photo, above). Like me, Charles started gardening in NY state, and then moved to the South and gardened for many years in Alabama. He says it keeps the soil cooler to have it deeper and that makes sense to us!

Problem Three: Soil quality. Despite a discovering two places that made municipal compost we had problem finding a local source for quality compost. We’ve learned that all the municipal places  want to do is get rid of woody things and you have to mix it half and half with horse manure to get a decent crop.

Solution? We have a place to get horse manure for free now. So when we fill the new beds, we will mix that in from the get-go.

Problem Four: Inconsistent watering. It gets so hot here that missing even one day when it’s 100 F can hurt your yields. We’ve been watching what successful gardeners in our area do, and they all got best results with drip irrigation. But we made the newbie mistake of hooking up our well, that gushes 22 gallons a minute, to a drip hose without a pressure regulator on one bed. You guessed it, burst hose. And the raised beds are currently all over the place; laying drip hoses to all of them would be a nightmare.

Solution? Having the beds next to each other will greatly simplify the laying of the hoses. We will get a pressure regulator. It will water things even when we are away.

Problem Five: rotted wooden raised-bed sides. What can I say? Pine attracts termites and termites attract fire ants! We’ve been replacing the rotted pine boards with cedar as fast as we can.

Solution? We’ll go with cedar in the new construction.

***

So this “year off” gave us some time to think, and plan. All of this is a major undertaking, and I will have to cost out renting a small Cat with a loader bucket and how much cedar we need to make it happen. But when we are done, we will have a much more productive garden!

The work will happen over the late fall and during our mild winter. We will keep you posted.

3 Comments

sand_puppy's picture
sand_puppy
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 13 2011
Posts: 1888
Mrs Cog: Your Garden Matters

A very fun article to back up Wendy's excellent post by Cognitive Dissonance's wife, aka, "Mrs Cog."  She calls us to the richness of working a garden.

Your Garden Matters

jtwalsh's picture
jtwalsh
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 268
The Truth Will Set You Free

Wendy:  Thanks for the open and honest discussion of your gardening ups and downs.  I grew up in a family where both sets of grand parents and my parents had gardens.  As a child I worked with them and felt I knew what I needed to know about growing food.

For years, what little time I had was spent on flower gardens.  I have had good success with those.

So when I decided to attempt vegetable gardening three summers ago I thought it would be an easy transition. Was I in for a rude awakening.

So far, strawberries are thriving. Rhubarb is doing great. Asparagus have at least come back two years in a row but nothing worth harvesting yet.  I have gotten small batches of potatoes. Tomatoes, peppers, cabbage and onions are still with me for the moment. We will see if we get to harvest any.

The reality is that growing food requires more time and more attention to soil, watering, insects, than flower gardening.   

I am determined not to give up on this project but at times it is discouraging.  It helps to hear about the struggles of others (as well as getting tips from folks who have already been through it, like deciding to move to drip watering next year and realizing the need to rearrange my beds).

Keep up the good fight.

Thanks.

JT

Tall's picture
Tall
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 18 2010
Posts: 564
Gardens

Drip irrigation. Depending upon your water source, I also recommend a water filter. Grit can stop up your drip lines. I recommend spending more and buying professional grade line and fittings that lock rather than push on. My system has lasted almost 10 years with minimal maintenance. My biggest problem is keeping track of the lines in the beds so that I do not damage them while cultivating and digging.

Natural woods vary in rot resistance during ground contact. You may find an inexpensive source of local wood. Here are a couple of links: 

http://garden.org/learn/articles/view/977/

http://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/fplgtr/fplgtr190/chapter_14.pdf

see page 14-5

In general, the heartwood of all of these trees is more rot resistant than the sapwood. We got our black locust from a local farmer and it has done well in general, but I do see variation in longevity among individual pieces.

In my experience, if establishing new beds today, I would add vole protection to all my beds. Over time, animals find the food plants and extend their range to include them.

Know the source of your manure, what were the animals fed? Persistent herbicides can persist in your garden soil for years.

See: http://compostingcouncil.org/persistent-herbicide-faq/

 

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