Gardening: Raised Beds

During the haze of last summer, I never got a blog post done about this, but now spring is coming again and as I’m getting ready to prepare next year’s gardens, I thought I’d post about how we got here with this year’s garden!

I’m living in Northern VA. The ground here is garbage. Compressed clay that never ever drains, with very little to feed plants. Our roses required multiple-foot-deep (and wide) holes in order to not behave like we’d planted them in too-small pots. The drainage is an especial problem because water where we are is very… spotty. So if you plant dry plants they drown, and wet plants dry out (or drown too).

The solution, we decided, was raised beds.

I’ve got a little experience with these, as my parents built and then modified a set of them while I was living with them. So I sat down and figured out a good size and sketched it out on graph paper to make sure that made sense in terms of the yard.

And “roughly” what I was going to put in.

Then… the work started.

We had to buy a bunch of lumber, untreated since we didn’t want to leech the stuff they use for pressure treatment into my veggies. And other materials, like nifty slotted bricks for the corners and joints…

Since it was going to be in the middle of the yard, I didn’t really want it to be pasty white, so we stained the outside surfaces.


Since the boards were untreated and they were going to be outside and against wet soil, we had to seal them. We used a “spar varnish” which is specifically meant for use on outside stuff, sprayed onto the boards.

Then, of course, they had to dry, and we repeated with the back side!

Once it was all dry (for a third time) it was time to put it together.

Which took some time, but I got it done! The slotted blocks are totally cool.

Our ground is NOT very diggable. At all. BUT just in case, I lined the bottom with small gauge fencing. Because I really don’t want ot lose stuff to voles and gophers.

Now, as an added layer of protection to keep the soil in and as much moisture away from the wood as popular (I don’t really wanna have to rebuild this thing every other year) we lined the sides with Tyvek. This also helps keep the water from running out the sides too badly.

Finally, along the back, I put up trellis made from a section of goat fence cut in half. For those who haven’t heard of that before, it’s the same idea as hog or cow fence, just with different holes. Cow and hog have more at the bottom and large spaces at the top, goat has even smallish holes all over, perfect for beans and peas. Held up with standard fence posts.

And so, the structure was done!

Which meant… time to fill it up. We got some lovely compost from a local landscaping company for… not too expensive, because we were also regrading our yard at the time and working on several other projects so I got about 7 yards of compost, plus a big pile of topsoil. The compost (or rather, much of it) went into the garden.

Woohoo! We’ve got a garden! It’s got dirt and everything! And steps!

Ok, now plants… which… sort of went as planned. Quick, change the plan, no one will notice, right? Right?

And pretty soon, OMG IT’S GROWING. It’s funny, it’s not like plants that are planted in good dirt and cared for, are unlikely to grow. They may not flower, or bear fruit, but still when stuff started coming up from seed I was both overjoyed and relieved that it had “worked.” Brains are funny things.

And grow it did, fast!

Lettuce, beans, peas, and carrots

And by the end of summer… (yes, we also put down 2400 sq feet of sod, by ourselves, in this time)

Definitely had some flaws, but mostly in my planning on how close things could or couldn’t be and what would run over other things. Also discovered after the fact that the compost is low in calcium, so I fought blossom end rot a fair amount, though it only reduced my yields. Had some bug challenges, mostly arising from the fact that almost no one else in the area has a serious garden, especially a vegetable garden. That’ll be the biggest challenge with the upcoming year, keeping the squash bugs and cucumber beetles backed off enough they don’t kill stuff. I lost almost all my melons, a third of my squash vines, and all my cucumber plants to them this year. Sadness. Hopefully better luck with those this coming year!

More dirt coming to refill the raised bed early next month, and the peas will go in on the 20th of March, as will the early in-house seeding of things like tomatoes. I can’t wait!

That’s all for now!

~The Gnome
fae

1 thought on “Gardening: Raised Beds

  1. Garden! I am planning mine now. We lucked out with soil, fertility deficient but good structure. Covered the beds last fall with an inch of homemade compost and about a foot of mown over leaves with some grass clippings.
    Cannot wait to get out there…In two or three months 🙁

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