A How-To Guide For Installing A Home Garden

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  • Tue, Apr 11, 2017 - 12:06pm



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    Are the boards for the beds

Are the boards for the beds made of treated lumber?  If so, are you concerned about arsenic contamination of the ground/produce?  Also, could you show a picture of your door?  Thanks for the step-by-step.

  • Tue, Apr 11, 2017 - 01:55pm



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    Bagged vs. Loose soil

Having more money than time, we have always made the decision to have compost, wood chips delivered and dumped on our driveway. We pay the cost per cubic yard plus delivery cost of around $75 per ten yards. In the last twenty years we have had at least 100 cubic yards delivered. Shoveling and wheelbarrowing is a great workout. I would suggest calling around to landscape supply companies and seeing what possibilities exist. Typically you can do split loads too…8 yards of two different materials. We are lucky to have a wide driveway so easy for trucks to back up and dump….and nothing atracks neighbors more than a fragrant pile of 10 to 20 yards of steaming compost.

  • Tue, Apr 11, 2017 - 02:26pm

    Jon Petersen

    Jon Petersen

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    Treated Lumber

FWIW, I've been researching this topic lately. CCA Treated lumber has the arsenic in it and they don't produce it anymore. In my area we have a new product called AC2 treated lumber. The product information claims it is playground and vegetable safe. I haven't found any independent information on AC2 treated lumber since it is so new. I'm going to build a 4' x 8' bed this year and test the soil each year as an experiment. Should be interesting.

  • Tue, Apr 11, 2017 - 02:47pm


    Adam Taggart

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    Old Redwood boards

jw4994 —

The lumber I used for my beds is of old weathered redwood boards that have been outside in the elements for decades. I inherited a pile of it when I moved onto this property.

Not knowing whether these boards had been originally treated or not (they are so old and weathered they have no color or surfacing left that indicates any kind of treatment), I asked our local nursery about using them for my garden. Looking at the wood, they told me not to worry — that if they had been treated, so much of the chemicals to worry about had long leeched out that anything remaining was at too low a concentration to matter.

As for the garden door, I'll take a photo for you later today. But it's very simple: I used wire cutters to cut a door opening in the center of one wall of the fence. I then used the resulting cut-out wire rectangle as the "door" — using several small carabiners as hinges on one side, and one on the other side as the latch. It functions surprisingly well, and has the added effect of looking "invisible" (on initial glance, most folks remark: "Hey, how do you get in there? You forgot to add a door!")

  • Wed, Apr 12, 2017 - 02:23am



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    How much food?

What percentage of a family's vegis can be grown in an area like this?

  • Wed, Apr 12, 2017 - 04:46am



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    Lovely garden, Adam!

It's very satisfying, isn't it?  I'd recommend that you look into books by Carol Deppe (sp?)  if you haven't already done so. 

If you're growing butternut squash and pumpkins in a garden that size, you probably almost won't need mulch!  The vines are so creeping and long that much of your area will be covered if they do well.  That's a good thing, and you may find yourself picking walking paths among the vines.

Your fencing is almost exactly like mine, and probably for the same reasons.  Local deer and my own chickens can wreak havok.  If your chickens have a place where they perch at night, then save the poo that collects underneath.  Properly aged, it makes excellent organic fertilizer for your garden.

About raised beds… They're great if your native soil just won't do, and if you can have a nice irrigation system like you have.   In places where hand watering needs to happen and where the summer can be blisteringly hot and dry, sometimes it's hard to keep up with watering raised beds.  Anyone wanting to go away for a weekend or longer may return to parched plants if they don't get daily watering.

Kids in the garden is a huge YES!!  Getting a little dirt on them is good for their immune system, lovely for their mental health and understanding of the natural world around us, and a wonderful way to spend quality time with your kids.  They're more likely to eat veggies if they take pride of ownership in planting and tending them, and there are so many interesting, colorful varieties to choose from nowdays.

Thanks for the detailed step by step guide with all the great pics!  Love the ingenuity of your carabiner hinge gate.  Nobody has to be rich to garden.   It can be done for very little if you think hard enough.

  • Wed, Apr 12, 2017 - 08:25am



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    Productivity of vegetable garden

Some information from Sweden on productivity: we live in an area with winters down to -20oC (-4oF), around 4 months of snow, generally warm summers. Very short days in winter, long daylight in summer. Mid-April: soil thawed up 2 weeks ago, but we still have frost during the night.

Last year we grew vegetables outside on freeland on around 60m2 (72 square yards), have an old rickety greenhouse of 10m2 (12 square yards) for tomatoes and sweet peppers and had around 20 pots outside with more tomatoes and sweet peppers.

We're a family of 4, with 3 who love vegetables and a son who every day lifts the lid of the pot in horror :).

  • Vegetables (around 50m2 planted in freeland) and production from greenhouse and pots: we were self-sufficient for 4-5 months (difficult to give an exact time as we freeze, can, store in the root cellar and use other preservation methods. We leave several vegetables in the ground also to reap in spring (e.g. leek, parsnip).
  • Potatoes (around 10m2 planted): self-sufficient for 20-30 days. They seem to have stored well in the root cellar (first year we tried), we still have a trial batch stored from last year that still looks (and last week tasted) excellent.

Some considerations:

  • We use mulching, great for soil life, moisture management, and saves a lot of time in avoiding to have to deal much less with weeds. Very bad for slugs though who thrive in the mulch… With mulch we water very little, even in dry periods. Without mulch we had to water maybe 30 times in a year, with mulch 10 times max?
  • We started gardening vegetables seriously 3 years ago, where I do most of the 'dumb work' (i.e. digging and preparing the beds, buying the books 🙂 while my wife does the 'clever work' (i.e. planning, planting, reading the books, research), so we're not very experienced yet, and have on-and-off success. It's like most things in life, you try many things, some work great, many are OK, some are disastrous; learning is continuous. My wife is amazing, the amount of knowledge and experience she has accumulated in such a short time is admirable, it's the commitment and trying things that counts.
  • We pre-grow plants inside to have an early start, we have had pots and growing lights all over the place since March (we actually took in some sweet peppers after last summer, which have continued to give some peppers throughout the winter, not efficient though as it took 2m2 of space and we possibly had 15 peppers over the entire winter). We hope the plants will pick up again this year though.
  • We did heat the greenhouse between end of September and beginning of November, stiff electricity bill.
  • The first beds we made were wooden frames, but later ones we just raised a mound, while still early, it seems to work well too.
  • We want to go to the no-tillage approach, which worked well last year. Works well with mulching.
  • I do put a lot of work in preparing the beds in removing roots, breaking up the original soil (dense clay), and mixing it thoroughly with compost, planting soil (bought) and manure (2 years ago it was too fresh, so it burned the roots of the squash, they picked up after 6 weeks though).
  • We rotate vegetables to manage nutrient demand and avoid disease. We do adapt fertiliser levels to the needs of the crops planted (at least we try :).
  • Last year we tried to plan the beds so we can have several vegetables on the same area in different periods of the growing season. Our inexperience, lack of time, and competition with slugs made this less effective, but the potential is there.
  • We fertilise regularly with green fertilisers.

I think these are the key points. It is quite intensive if you combine with two full-time jobs, a family, fruit production and processing, and maintenance of several wooden buildings in various states (in the growing season the vegetable garden takes on average probably 1-1.5 hours/ day?), but is is possible to have a good production even in colder climates if you manage the agenda well and have the ability to prepare things.

This year we're working on an interesting (for us new) thing: perennial vegetables (see http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/vegetables/perennial-vegetables-zm0z12amzkon for some background); many advantages compared to annual vegetables…

Though we continue (and count on expanding) on our annuals too.

Here a picture of what it looks like (in summer '16):


  • Wed, Apr 12, 2017 - 09:30am



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    Additional point

Concerning the vegetable garden that I forgot to mention above but that may be important:

  • We rotate in the beds using groups of plants that work well together and avoid combining plants that negatively affect each other (not sure if this is clear, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_companion_plants for more info). Linked to this we do combine (in beds and close to them) with plants that attract positive insects and repulse or disorient the ones we don't want (some produce edible flowers/ pods).

ps Inserting image doesn't seem to work…

  • Wed, Apr 12, 2017 - 02:20pm



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    Controlled Environment Agriculture

I attended a 2 hour seminar on growing hydroponic tomatoes recently, in the controlled environment agriculture  center at the University of Arizona.  Here is a pic of tomato plants, grown from suckers, that produce non stop for 10 to 12 months.  

You should check out LDSPrepper on YouTube.


He built a 20 X 40 geothermal greenhouse that he operates year around in Idaho, with only geothermal and passive heating sources.  

I'm thinking about giving it a try, on a smaller scale.  In Wisconsin, however, I doubt geothermal will work keep a greenhouse above freezing in Wisconsin, in January and February.  Wisconsin gets much colder than Idaho.

LDS stands for "Later Day Saints."  LDSPrepper has quite a few videos on YouTube.  He spends a large portion of his time teaching and helping others, building community, if you will.

  • Wed, Apr 12, 2017 - 03:52pm



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    Greenhouse design

MotherEarthNews recently had a good article in their latest edition, I can't seem to find it online, though I haven't looked hard. 

They featured "Chinese Style" Greenhouses. Essentially south facing glazing with N, E, and W walls heavily insulated. This reduces heat loss mainly to the south facing wall where all of the heat gain comes from. Apparently they have a system where they actually roll insulation down onto this south face at night, but if you had double wall Poly with an air buffer in between it could act similar with an R-value of around 6.

The article stated that china will have about 2.2 million acres of production under these greenhouses by 2020 or thereabouts. I guess there is a large push by the government for this to happen. 

The article also mentioned that this style of greenhouse, at the same latitude as Chicago, will stay above 40 degrees year round without any external inputs. That's pretty amazing. 

If you had passive heat storage like 10-20 black 55 gallon drums of water or this geothermal design, couple with a Chinese Style greenhouse, one may be able to keep the greenhouse above freezing year round, possibly even in zone 4. 

There's another great YouTube channel of a backyard gardener in Chicago – OneYardRevolution. Here's a link to a video where he features 8 plants that did great during the polar vortex in Chicago this year. It's worth noting that you're not going to get tomatoes in January in Chicago, but he is eating fresh greens year round from his garden and he doesn't even have a Chinese Style greenhouse. He simply has a home built greenhouse and then hoop houses inside the greenhouse for 2 layers. Eliot Coleman in his book Winter Harvest Handbook claims that for each layer of cover it increases the growing zone by 1.5. So if you have 2 layers you're up 3 zones. That takes zone 5 to zone 8, without any active inputs (i.e. heating with electric, propane, etc.) and with the inefficient design of just 2 layers of plastic. Lastly, here is a video of OYR showing you how to build double layer hinged hoop houses. This will allow you to experiment with a small raised bed to see just how much production you can get in winter without building an entire greenhouse. 


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