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The weather this weekend was beautiful, with temperatures in the low 80’s here.  Perfect weather for working in the gardens.  Our vegetable garden sits atop a plateau, and is positioned above our orchard, which is planted on the slope below.

One of our new raised garden boxes

A lot of our soil is actually quite good here, especially in the orchard.  It drains well, and contains plenty of organic matter.  The vegetable garden, the one place you’d like to have ideal, free draining soils, well…it’s probably the worst soil on the property, and primarily mud-stone and sandstone.

Vegetables do NOT grow well in mud-stone

Although the soil in the vegetable garden, if you could even call it soil, is poor, that garden area does get at least nine hours of full sun per day.  We knew from the beginning that the location was a perfect place for the vegetable garden, but that we’d need to address soil composition and fertility.

The obvious solution was planting in raised beds, but first we needed to construct the beds.  We wanted a simple, but sturdy bed system, one that would last. We noticed a simple design in the Sunset Western Garden Book of Edibles that seemed about right for our needs, and based our beds on that design.

Clearly, as we’re planting edibles in these beds, pressure-treated lumber was out of the question.  We considered engineered plastic decking-type materials, but they flex too much under the weight of the soil.  Instead, we used sustainably harvested redwood for the lumber, as it is naturally rot-resistant, with no chemical additives, it’s renewable, and will outlast any other wood product available locally.

Our boxes are constructed of sustainably harvested redwood lumber

The boxes are very simple in their design, using 4″x4″ lumber for the ‘legs’, and standard 2″x6″ lumber for the ‘walls’.  Once the lumber is cut, each box can be fully assembled, by one person, in under an hour.

With the lumber cut, going from this...

...to this, takes one person about 40 minutes

The bottom of each box is fitted with 1/2″ hardware cloth to keep moles and gophers at bay.

Each box bottom is fitted with half-inch hardware cloth to keep moles and gophers out

The ‘legs’ are intended to be buried in the ground, so that the base of the lower board is flush with the soil.  This helps to hold the boxes in position, and keep the box square when filled with soil.

Each 8’x4′ box holds approximately 1 cubic yard of soil.

Now THIS is soil! Each box holds approximately 1 cubic yard.

Some sort of hoop system is really essential in our garden.  In winter the hoops can accommodate floating row covers to help protect frost tender crops.

By adding hoops to the boxes, we can easily use row covers as needed

In spring and summer, netting can be draped over the hoops to protect berries from browsing birds, or hold up shade cloth over crops sensitive to sun or excessive heat.

Most plants can benefit from being covered, especially young seedlings, even if it’s just to protect them from slugs, including our resident Banana Slugs.

 

Row covers can help protect young seedlings from hungry slugs!

The hoops themselves are six-foot lengths of 1/2″ schedule-40 PVC, and they simply slide into lengths of 1″ PVC pipe that are attached two-feet in from each end of the boxes.  When the hoops aren’t needed for a box, the hoop can simply be removed, and stored flat.

Before the box is filled with soil, each is fitted with four lengths of 1" PVC to hold the 'hoops'

Then 1/2" PVC is bent over to form the hoop. Two hoops per box.

Not everything we plant can be situated under hoops though, especially taller plants like tomatoes or beans.

The hoops are easily removed from the boxes that don't need them, and replaced in subsequent seasons as desired

Hiding inside the little red teepees, tomatoes!

Our first box that was planted, was when the deer were continually jumping over the fence, and raiding the orchard and garden.  We put out some ‘sacrificial’ greens (image at top of post), to see if our fence modifications were finally keeping the deer at bay.  They worked, in that one morning we found some greens were nibbled on, so we knew we had more fence repairs to do.

More evidence the deer had made it back into the gardens

However, since then, the deer seem to be staying out, and the damage to the vegetables was minimal.

The deer left the oak-leaf lettuce alone

...and the beets were unscathed...

Although we did have two young bucks hanging around outside the fence for most of the day yesterday while we were in the garden, they did stay OUTSIDE the fence.  Our defenses finally seem to be holding!  (Knock on wood).

Not all of our boxes are built yet.  We have a shed to construct in the garden this year, so for now we’re holding off on building some of the boxes so we can still maneuver the tractor in the garden.  We also need to focus our efforts on a new chicken coop for our older hens over the next week or two, as our young chicks will need some new accommodations very soon!  Not to mention we need to rough in the drip irrigation in the vegetable garden.  Our lists of things-to-do never seem to end!  We’ll continue to build more boxes though as we need them, and hopefully by the time we’re ready for fall planting, the remainder of our raised garden boxes will be finished.