"Come on mom! Let's go let's go let's go!"
"I can see it from here!"
"What do you mean there's no sweeping in the garden?! That can't be right...."
I started reading the book Square Foot Gardening (confession - I didn't finish it. I'm okay with that.) and I love the concept of growing more in less space! So we are giving it a whirl. The first step in the book is building a raised garden bed. It suggests an outdoor wood like cedar (nothing treated, you don't want those chemicals near your food!) but a friend who built a cedar bed said theirs is already starting to deteriorate and suggested building out of stone instead. We went to Lowe's to do a little price shopping before we made a final decision, and were not thrilled with what we found. Cedar was going to be about $60 to build our bed, and the cheapest concrete blocks available would be $30 and ugly to boot. So we decided to rethink our options looking for something cheaper. I took a shot in the dark and posted an add on our local freecycle site asking for any kind of bricks or stone blocks and, believe it or not, I got a response! A lady in town offered a us a pile of old bricks if we would haul them out of her yard! Um...yes. We will totally go for that. So we brought home a decent pile of bricks for free! It wasn't quite enough but my dad had enough extra bricks in his backyard to finish it off. So in the end we built our raised bed for free and saved a big chunk of change! It also turned out looking really cool with all the mismatched bricks.... but we'll get to that in a minute.
My plan was to plant a bed along the side of our garage 2' deep (so we could easily reach stuff growing in the back) where I already have strawberries, asparagus, and rhubarb growing (if you can see the tiny bush way in the back it's a black raspberry bush I planted last summer). There are actually strawberries in there, hiding behind the weeds!
But I started doubting that layout. So I took a swim break with Baby B to think about it.
After some thought I decided it would make more sense to let the current plants grow where they are (especially since strawberries can really spread out. I'm hoping to let them fill in that whole space), leave some walking space, and then do a deeper bed set out from the garage. I wanted the bed out far enough to leave a few feet of growing space for my berries, and about 3' of walking space to make sure we could easily mow the pathway. Here is where we learn an important lesson. The book suggests putting landscape paper under the entire bed. When I moved my paper and bricks out to the area I wanted to use, I put the bricks on top of the paper. Bad move. Because I decided I wanted to move the bed out a little farther and had to move all the bricks off. Oops.
Once I got the bricks moved back off of my paper, I slid the paper out where I wanted it. I measured out 5' from the garage to keep things parallel and put a few bricks on the paper to keep it in place while I arranged the rest of the bricks. My bed is 3' wide (the book suggest 4', but my paper was 3' wide and I didn't want to push my boundaries on the property line) and about 20' long. If I decided I need more room next year I can extend it out toward the alley even more. :)
I lined up bricks all around my paper, over lapping the paper edge a little so it would be held in place. I wanted these to be as even as possible, so any time I ran into a bump or hole that made a brick sit unevenly I dug up or added a little dirt to get everything sitting flat.
All my bricks were different sizes and thicknesses, so I had to sort through them and find the ones that were roughly the same height. By using similarly sized bricks, and doing a little digging to make up the difference, I eventually ended up with a pretty even base layer.
After that the second layer didn't matter as much since nothing would need to sit on top this time. I overlapped the bricks to make them a little sturdier, but didn't worry about the varying heights.
That was it for building the bed. I love the mix-match, eclectic look of all the different bricks. I'm trying to hunt down some more bricks to enclose the berry area too so it will look tidier. And because I love the way these look. :)
Next up was filling my garden with "Mel's Mix" of compost, peat moss, and vermiculite. I found most of the supplies at Lowe's, the only problem was that they only had one kind of compost and I was supposed to do a mix of 5 different kinds. I originally bought all the kind they had, but I ended up taking some back and shopping around to get more variety. I also was lucky enough to have some friends donate a bunch of Mel's Mix from their garden which cut down my costs even more! This is the part of this project that could really get pricey, even more so than the wood/stone/bricks. Here's a cost breakdown for filling my garden:
- Compost $2-4/bag (1 bag covers 1-1.5 cubic feet)
- Peat Moss $10/bag (1 bag covers 3 cubic feet)
- Vermiculite $12/bag (1 bag covers 1.5 cubic feet)
I used my mix to fill up my raised bed. And then it was time to plant!
But I think this is long enough already, so I will tackle the planting next time! Have you ever used a Square Foot Garden or other raised bed? Do you have a veggie garden?