Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Episode 2: Wherein Organigirl Discusses Primary Gnome Defense - Raised Bed Boxes

Gnomes have stubby little legs. If you’ve ever seen a gnome, or joined one for a night on the town, then you’re aware of this already. They can’t run fast and they can’t climb for anything. You wouldn’t want to go to battle with a gnome at your side because if you’re one of those people with a highly developed moral code (I’m a superhero so it was in my contract) and you happen to get into any sort of trouble out there, you can bet you’ll be running for your life with a worthless gnome under your arm, and who needs to be weighed down like that?

That said, it should be glaringly obvious as to why I recommend using raised bed boxes in your garden. Aside from the fact that plants grow better and are happier in raised beds, gnomes generally leave them alone because climbing into one would more than likely take them all night - and though they’ll sometimes go through all the trouble of making an attempt to do so, they rarely succeed before the sun comes up.

Gnomes notwithstanding (it’s really more of a squat, if you ask me), raised beds really are ideal for growing vegetables and other edibles. I’ve found that it’s much easier to keep raised bed boxes weed free (unless you have bindweed, which creeps into absolutely everything) because weeds can’t creep across your yard and begin to encroach the edges of your box. They’d have to come up through the bottom of the box, which few weeds have the capability to do, or they’d have to be blown in by the wind or dropped by birds.

Raised beds are also easier to care for. You don’t have to bend as far down to weed, sow seeds, or otherwise tend to your plants, and with boxes you have the option of sitting on the edge to do your work - and we all like to live life on the edge, right?

Below you’ll find a simple guide to building your first raised bed. I recommend starting with just one so that you can learn to garden on a small scale before you engage in full fledged gnome warfare. This tutorial is for building an 8’ x 4’ raised bed, but you can use the same principles to build any sized box. I don’t recommend making your box any wider than 4’ because you won’t be able to reach the middle of it and you’ll have to step inside the box which compacts your soil and isn’t good for the roots of your plants.

What you’ll need for this project:
- Two 2” x 12” x 12’ Untreated Boards (redwood or cedar are perfect - I use redwood)
- 8 Steel Corner Brackets
- 32 Steel Screws (Not galvanized or coated; 8 per corner)
- Power Drill

- Circular Saw (or hand saw)- A Square (for perfecting corners)
- A Shovel
- Compost and Fresh Soil (enough to fill your box; use a ratio of 1 part compost to 2 parts soil).

STEP 1: Measure your boards twice and then cut them.

“Measure twice, cut once” is how the old saying goes. Have wiser words ever been said about anything involving a saw? Since we’re making an 8’ x 4’ box, you’ll only need to make two cuts. Each of your two 12’ boards should be cut into two pieces - an 8’ piece and a 4’ piece. So, when you’re done cutting your boards, you’ll have two 8’ boards, and two 4’ boards.

STEP 2: Put your box together by screwing two steel brackets into each corner. 

I like to use small steel brackets to join the corners of boxes because they give the corners extra strength and they’re inexpensive. Four screws per bracket should be sufficient.  Use your square to make sure your corners are lined up properly before you attach the brackets.

STEP 3: Put your box in it’s permanent location and dig down 6” or more inside the box.

The box itself is 12” high because the boards are 12” wide. Digging down 6” will give your plants’ roots ample room to grow (the boxes will then have 18” of soft soil when filled).  

STEP 4: Fill your box with compost and fresh soil.

You’ll want to fill your boxes with a ratio of about one part compost to two parts soil (that’s ⅓ compost and ⅔ fresh soil). Make sure it’s well mixed rather than layered because you want your plants to grow steadily and not go crazy and random intervals when their roots find a layer of compost.

Why not just use the dirt in your yard? Weeds. Why start off with a bed full of weeds? If you do opt to use soil from your yard (which I’m really hoping you won’t), you’ll still want to amend it with some compost.

That’s it! You’ve built your first raised bed box, and you’re ready to move on to irrigation and then planting! For more information about getting started with vegetable gardening, see Organigirl’s Guide to Starting a Vegetable Garden.  Happy planting!

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