Your Opinion and adviceplease.

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

I have had this long bed in the back of my yard for about 37 or so years.
It had tall evergreens in it--which got bent over to the ground in last winter's 4' of snow.

They never straightened up--so I asked my neighbor to cut then back by half. Done!

Then the idea came to me that i could make this bed into my new vegetable bed.
This area gets full sun.
My neighbor will do most of the work and i will pay him....whatever.

This bed measures 21' x 3 1/2'. It has been edged by landscape timbers two deep,
which will be removed as they are half rotten anyway.

So my plan was hatched....
See what you think? Logistic advice is welcome.
I have pretty much decided in my brain what I wanted done--but there may be
some "glitches" I am not aware of...
***Mind you--this soil where the evergreens were is packed and full of tree roots.
It cannot be dug up!

1--Cut the remaining evergreens down as close to the ground as possible (done!)
2--Remove existing landscape timber edgings and get rid of them.
3--Build a raised bed out of PT 4x4's bout 16" deep.This would take 5 layers of 4x4's.
The first one would be, pretty much, buried in the ground, right where the old edging was.
4--Lay a double layer of commercial (the gray) weed block over the soil.
to keep any roots from coming through. I have 2 huge Maples in the back.
5--Cover the weed block with about 2" of some kind of river pebbles to hold things
down and to also aid a bit in drainage.
6--Bring in a load of topsoil and fill the bed, mixing in bags and bags of composted,
shredded leaves from 2 years ago. I always save my leaves this way--in black trash bags...
Hopefully, I will also mix in some bagged humus/manure and let it all settle.
The problem is--that this bed is not even at stage #2 yet....and it is now freezing...
My neighbor just did not start on all this soon enough.....Oh well...I shall see how far he gets...

Additional plans--

Use a 4' x 4' space at one end of this bed to build an open Compost Bin--about 4x4x4....
This was an "AHA" moment thought!!! Why not???? My black plastic "Earth machine" bin is
NOT very functional and is now starting to crack and weather....I hate it!

The stumps were just cut down to the ground level--yesterday. Small progress.....
The right side end--where the bag is--would be where I would build the compost bin.
It is a perfect place for it! Still need plans for that!
This would remove 5' from the total length of the bed--making it perfect for 2-8' lengths of 4x4's.
These would be staggered and nailed together by 7" spikes. The ends of the bed would also
be done the same way, using 4' lengths of the 4x4's.

I would then put 3 privacy fence panels 8'x6' high (Shadowbox kind) all along the back of this bed
to provide a backdrop--and to hide my neighbor's trash cans and other stuff....He dumps all kinds of things back there...
out of HIS sight--but I have to look at it all....

Time for a picture so you can see what i am talking about....

Here is the bed looking straight at it from the Patio. My property line is pretty much
where the bed ends. The "junk" behind it and the garage belongs to my neighbor.

Thumbnail by Gitagal
Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

Here is a length-wise view of this bed.

Behind the end, where the bag is, continues my corner bed--which I have always
called my "YUK" bed--to those that are familiar with my garden bed woes....

Right behind "the Castle" is my other neighbor's property line.
You can see the split rail fencing we all share.

The construction of the compost bin is not an immediate concern.
Will work on that next year---but suggestions are welcome any time...

Some still unknowns-----------

I have Googled plans for building one--still not sure of the best way. No palates!
I like the idea of boards with a 1/4" wire mesh lining to keep out critters and hold things in.
I would not lay the weed block under this area--as I do not want to block any earthworms
setting up a home in this compost pile.
I have thought of just laying down paving stones as a base. What do you all think?

Thanks for any comments/advice so far.

Gita

Thumbnail by Gitagal
Alexandria, IN(Zone 6a)

I am guessing that the evergreens are a cedar type and would not rot for 50 years.
Have you considered making a bed adjacent to the existing bed...out in the grass away from large roots? Then maybe you could remove those old roots at your leisure.

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

indy--

I do not remember what the evergreens were called.

If I move the bed adjacent to the one I have now--that means I will be moving the bed
just 5' closer to all those maple roots.

It will have to stay where it is....

Thanks for your input, though....Gita

North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

Have you considered hiring someone to grind up the roots & stumps?

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

puddle--

My neighbor has already dug out the evergreen stumps. Evergreens have rather shallow roots.
Looks like he just had to chop out some of the bigger rots and out came the stumps.

The main issue here is not the roots from the evergreens--but the roots from my two
40 years old maples, which run all over the lawn and also in this bed...
I did mention that above in my first post.

OK! Any comments on my plans on how this bed is to be built? Are they reasonable?

Gita

Alexandria, IN(Zone 6a)

If you have maple roots in the bed, that is very bad. I suggest that you dig a trench a dozen feet from the bed and cut all roots off that are headed that way.


Maybe you could rent a ditch witch and still trench it 3 feet deep. I don't think it would kill the tree...trees are 360 feeders.

This message was edited Dec 15, 2010 1:28 PM

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Weed blocker did not work for me, the oak tree roots and burmuda grass grew right through it.

I don't recommend buying topsoil unless you are able to personally inspect it first.

Maybe you could make some raised beds above the ground to keep out the tree roots.

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

Indy---

I am a 73 year old senior lady. No helper here....Digging a trench is not something I can do--
seem a bizarre option.

I have a bed already.
It is going to stay there!.
I am trying to make something better out of this bed to grow veggies in.
The suggestions offered here do not seem to be very helpful or reasonable..

Besides--cutting ANY roots within 10-12 feet of a tree would surely kill the tree. Not doing that!
You have NO idea how massive the roots are all over my back lawn. maybe you have never
had a mature Silver maple growing on your property. Bad choice back in 1971--but it is too late now.
This is not a feasible option....

Honeybee--

My weed block will be buried 16" down--with 2" of stone on top of it. There will be 15"-16"
of soil on top of this all.

I plan to buy the topsoil from a place where I know they have good soil. We have about 4 places nearby
that sell topsoil. I will either--go visit them and check it out--or call them and give them the 3rd degree.
Did you read my first post here? I said I was planning to build a 16" raised bed.
I also wrote about all the composted leaves Nd humus I have to mix into this bed.

From past experience, though, I know that the Maple roots will go anywhere they want to go.
Flat bed---raised bed--freshly dug up soil, etc.....Been there--seen that. I battle them every Spring!
My property is small. I live in a development....

That is what I have been fighting all these years in all my beds in the back yard.
Trying to do something different.....as in a raised bed with weed block and stones for a base.

If I may say again--I am seeking advice here more on a structural level.
My steps in planning to build this being feasible?. I cannot accept the unreasonable
suggestions given here...
Sorry! I don't mean to be ungrateful, but, so far, I cannot see any of the options offered as doable.

I do not have the kind of $$$ to pay a landscaper to come and do this for me.
I have formulated a plan---and my back yard neighbor will be doing the work.

That's all I can afford. I shall pay for all the materials and then give him some money for his work.

Gita


Texarkana, AR

Gita,

Your plan looks reasonable for what you are working with. I also have maples, and can sympathize with your plight. The structure of the bed looks good, but I will add one comment.

In my yard I did the same thing, built raised beds. I however did not use weed cloth or gravel. 16 inches is a lot of dirt for grass to grow up through. I have not had any grass issues in the 16 inch beds, but grass does come up through the 8 inch ones. I live in the south, and have St. Augustine and Bermuda grass.

In a 16 inch deep bed I would not lay a weed barrier. If the soil drains reasonably well, I would not put gravel at the bottom. The gravel and weed cloth is a tool used to control grasses and weeds. You are not going to overpower maple roots with gravel. The maples in my yard lifted a 4 inch thick concrete sidewalk. If they really want to invade the bed, they will. I however, have had no root problems in my deep beds.

God luck to you.

prpjt

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

prpjt,

Thank you for your reasonable advice. It is welcoming....

Well--I have already bought the weed block--I could return it to HD.
Not having to need gravel would solve a big problem--and a lot of money.
I was not so worried about grass growing through here--but the Maple roots. They can grow through anything....

This bed is not accessible by truck, so any soil or stone delivery would have to be wheelbarrowed
from the driveway to the bed. A lot of work. Besides--there would be a steep delivery charge--$30-$40.
I had, actually, thought of buying the stone by the bag at HD because of these issues.
$3.47 a bag x maybe 20 bags--not so bad.....

Still will need to do the delivering with the top soil. I figure i would need about a yard and a half.
Have to find some good soil.....

I am a bit upset that this did not get started earlier. I had talked to my neighbor since spring about this.
Now--he does do couple different jobs--but i would have liked the soil to be in place--
all mixed up with the good stuff--so it can "do it's thing" over the winter....

I suppose it is still doable--over some warmer winter days to come.

Will keep everyone updated here......
I also posted this on "MY" Mid-Atlantic Forum--but have not heard from anyone.


Thanks, Gita


Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Quoting:
Maybe you could make some raised beds above the ground to keep out the tree roots.


I'm quoting myself above.

If you raise your beds up off the ground, maple tree roots will not be able to penetrate them. If you do a search on "wheelchair gardening" you will see what I mean. Your beds don't need to be "waist high" just a few inches off the ground will work.

Near Lake Erie, NW, PA(Zone 5a)

Gita, I followed you here. prpjt, had a lot of good advise.
Glad you clarified getting out the evergreen roots, I was going to say that the evergreens I know do not have a tap root, heck they blow over in some of the very strong winter winds we get here.
Think about building a 2 compartment compost bin, rotating the fresh with the cooked,usable compost. It is convenient having them close to the veg garden. I would not worry about critters in the compost, I have never had that problem, you are not putting meat, bread or dairy in there that will attract them. That being said you will save $ by not buying wire mesh.
I am thinking of 6 2x4s. 3 in the back and 3 front, the middle one is your divider for the 2 bins. Attach boards on the back, sides and middle with rust-proof screws. You could leave the front open or build "gates" that can be removed for easy access, Maybe hooks and eyes to hold them in place.
If you are going to grow root veg, parsnips, and long carrots you may want to have one end of the garden deeper. Also less bending.
I use newspaper and/or cardboard covered with composted leaves as a weed barrier. I cut holes and plant through it or leave space between to plant in rows. This breaks down by the following spring. It also hold moisture in the soil so you are not watering so much.
If you plan to plant garden peas you should set a goal to have this done by March. I don't think I'd hold off planting in the fresh made bed.

Good luck in your plans. I hope I have helped in some small way.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

prpjt "" I however, have had no root problems in my deep beds."

Maybe maple roots are not so interested in growing upwards, into a raised bed? at least not for 16 inches. Gita, I haven't had anything to add besides what's already here. Your plan for stacking the timbers sounds great and I know you have done that method before.

which way does the sun come in your yard? I'm wondering if the privacy fence will make the bed warmer or cooler. Could you be lucky enough that your back of the house faces north?, putting the fence on the north side of the bed? I think I remember it is west and that will work well.

Aurora, CO(Zone 5b)

Gita, I wouldn't bother with the weed block. As you well know, silver maple roots will go where they want. I tried the weed block, and after 2 yrs, it broke down enough that the roots pushed through. They also managed to go between where they were overlapped, about a foot on each side. Silver maples are evil, evil, evil!!! Oh yeah, that's in a raised bed by about 10" and the roots will go up enough to disturb veg roots. I have resorted to cutting the roots at the edge of the bed when turning over in the spring. Best that can be done. As to adding topsoil and/or compost this time of year, don't really know. I'm doing a lasagna bed today as we have had a very mild winter so far here in Denver. The mountains are another story! Best of luck. Paul.

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

Honeybee--

Your assumption re the maple roots is wrong! They will grow up through anything....

years ago, I had 2 whiskey barrel planters near my S. Maple. The planters were sitting on the ground.
I started them in the fall--and by spring, I could not even stick a shovel in the dirt. it was FULL
of the Maple's roots! all coming in just from the hole in the bottom. ONE hole!!!!
All meshed and matted. A whiskey barrel is--about 18" or so high. See? They can grow to anywhere!

One benefit of a 16" high bed would also be that it will keep the rabbits out.
I don't think they jump that high???

Lady---YES! You helped a lot! Love ideas to ruminate on....

I have seen the 2 compartment bins--and they look great--but all I can spare in this bed is a 5' area--total.
4x4's come in 8' lengths. The bed is approx. 21' long. If I remove 5' (for the bin), that leaves 16' for the bed--
or perfect for 2 lengths of 4x4's.
I think a 4x4x4 bin will be enough for me. Anything is better than the SEM (Stupid Earth Machine) that
I have been dealing with. One is supposed to turn compost over to mix it and to aerate it. Can't do it
in the SEM! Nope! That's why it takes years to compost!

I emptied it this past spring--got 2 lg totes full of the "good stuff"--even though it kept sprouting melons
and tomatoes and all that. Endlessly! Probably, b/c the temperature never got anywhere near what it
should be to kill all the seeds. Threw the un-composted stuff back in it.
I DID have a lot of worms in there--and plan to throw any and all wormsthat I come across into
my new bin to help them set up housekeeping...
I think the wire mesh will help for those critters that like fresh fruit. I eat huge amounts of Melons and
everything else--and just dump the rinds in the composter.

As far as the veggies I would grow will still be a few tomatoes, lots of Dill, would like to try some Leeks,
Maybe some Garlic (??), Bush Beans, maybe some Pickling Cukes, as I make my own pickles, might try
a few potatoes--just for fun...etc....Sugar snap peas would be great---maybe next season.....

Sally--
My back yard faces SW at a slight angle. Neither of my 2 back yard neighbors have any trees--
so I should get really nice sunlight here. The small bed behind my shed (AM sun only) was not the
greatest for my Tomatoes. They did OK--but could do better....This past summer was not great
for tomatoes.....They did rather poorly. Maybe the soil is no longer as fertile....

The front of my house faces North--with a slight touch of East sun angle.

The Privacy Fence's main function is to screen the view I have of my neighbor's "junk" and trash cans.
Also--it will give a finished look tot he bed.
However--since I LOVE the "Shadowbox" fence--something/anything vining/climbing could grow there as well.

vadap--

YES! Silver maple roots are evil--evil-evil!!!! Been fighting them forever! Love the shade in my
back yard though. It is 10* cooler just to walk into the back yard....
Your suggestion to cut any roots at the edge of this bed as i dig it up in the spring is a good one.
Been doing that in my "YUK" bed forever--to NO avail! The tree just sucks up any and all water there.
For those that do not know--my "YUK" bed is the corner bed in my back yard.
It is only feet away from my maple.....I salute anything that grows and thrives in it.....Believe me,
the list is LONG! Amazing as it is!

Thank you all for your input! Gita

Here is a view of my :YUK" bed. See how close the Silver maple is?
This is the bed my new one will connect to--with the Compost bin in between the two.


This message was edited Dec 15, 2010 8:09 PM

Thumbnail by Gitagal
Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

Here again is the bed that has had all the evergreens cur out of.
Follow it up to where it ends (the bag). The bed going from there is my :YUK" bed.

Just a refresher picture.....The stumps are now all dug out...

Thumbnail by Gitagal
Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

I read Honeybee's suggestion as boxes elevated from the ground, and therefore the roots WILL NOT grow up across airspace and into the beds.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

sallyg - thank you so much for your post- I was trying to explain the same thing to Gitagal :)

Gitagal - The following is a quote from Wikepedia:

Quoting:
A plywood bottom can be attached to the bottom of a box, which can then be placed on a tabletop or raised platform


You would only need to raise your bed a few inches off the ground to prevent tree roots from penetrating the bed.

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

honeybee--

I did not pick up on that---sorry!
Sally--always the logical one--did!

How would all the worms get in if I did that????

Gita...:o(

North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

Gita, just dig some worms up and put 'em in. Or just buy a small bag of worm castings and add it in; there are always some eggs mixed in among the castings.

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

Any worms???? Even from my garden? I have already done that to some extent in my SEM.

I am always digging up worms in my beds.....especially after a heavy rain...
Do they have to be the big, red ones--or just any?

I have NO idea where to buy worm castings.....I always thought ''castings" were their ''poop"....
Worms make eggs?????????????? I did not know that.....How DO they propagate?

I feel so ignorant all of a sudden.......I should know all this....

Gita

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Any worms you find will work. I'm sure there will be worms in your leaf bags.

I'm just thinking an elevated plywood bottom may change the way the beds are built though.

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

Sally--I am not really considering doing the elevated part--but I may put down a
"pad' with flat paving stones--like I have under my SEM.
May have to even out the base with some sand first...
That would still allow drainage and wiggle room for the worms.

yes! I will have to be dealing with the roots....I already know that.
They are already there in this bed--some as big as my arms.

Gita

Near Lake Erie, NW, PA(Zone 5a)

Gita, here is a site for you to look at, read all the comments also. One person said he cut cost buy using pine, it will not last as long a the expensive ceder but he said his first one lasted 10 years.
http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/how-to/intro/0,,20258509,00.html

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Here's a link about the Life Cycle of the Earthworm:


http://www.ehow.com/facts_5488680_life-cycle-earthworm.html

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

Thank you both!
I will try to save both web-sites for future information.

Lady--
Much of the raised bed info does not apply to me--as i am working with an
existing bed.....but the technique is worth considering....
I am still leaning towards 4x4's..as a longer lasting and more sturdy material.

Of course--the man doing the work may have his own ideas. Don't think so--but he may.
I hope to be there when any of the work is done to offer my input...

Gita

Lewisville, TX(Zone 7b)

Hi Gita,
I am sorry to do this.. I hope you understand it is to help you not hurt you..however, if you've already started your garden then just disregard this advice. This past summer I have learned how to prepare a weed free garden...the preparation includes placing newspaper on top of the grass/soil, etc to where you want to have your garden. Of course, secure it as it has to stay on the area for 5 weeks...then you can add soil, etc then plant. I am sending you this as I too am preparing a new garden & I have grass to deal with. I have existing gardens where I put weed blocker but the weed blocker has long disintergrated! In between it's holes, etc come back the weeds & grass. I am also trying to be environmentally friendly as some day I want my yard certified as a habitat. So.. by putting newspapers down they will decompose & form a healthy topsoil. I live in a mobile home park so I too am limited.
If you haven't started I hope this helps. As to what to use for a raised bed, I used landscaping rocks. I recently joined a "Freecycle" group where people post things they don't want & was able to get a HUGE load of patio bricks that I will use for the "new" garden.... I can only garden with raised beds here in Texas!!!

Good Luck & happy gardening!!

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

Cindy--do not worry! Why would i think you want to hurt me?
I appreciate all input--whether I will use it or not....

This is ONLY for the one bed that I am planing to convert to a 16" raised bed to grow veggies in.
Look at the pictures a bit higher up of this Post. You will see what i am talking about...
That is as far as it has gotten, and I don't think he will do any more on this until early Spring.

I still do not see the harm in putting down the double layer of dense weed block.
NOT the thin black stuff! This is light gray and is of commercial quality--like a dense felt.
Some people even use this as an underlayment when making their ponds.

I will not use the stone--have decided on that.....

Thanks, Gita

Lewisville, TX(Zone 7b)

Gita, I did take a look.. & I liked what I saw with what you have..it looks very similar to what my parents have in their back yard..& at the back of their shed too...that's why I thought I could relate to yours hahaha.
They too have the grey weed block... & it really didn't stay in place even with a lot of dirt over it so it blew "upward" & sure enough the weeds came in with a vengence...now I am not saying don't use it... to each their own I say. I thought that with what I suggested it would save you bringing in more topsoil than you wanted to. hahaha.
I love gardening so much that I tend to have a habit of "developing" other people's gardens as my own! hahaha But I would never enforce it!!
I can't wait for spring either... we don't get snow ( usually) but the ground is just as hard year round so it makes it easier to work in spring/ early summer.

Lynnwood, WA(Zone 7a)

Since you have seen the power of those maple roots over the years and especially how they came through the hole in the pots, I am surprised you still believe something, other than an air space, is going to stop them. How about an airspace, like a trench, around the perimater of your raised beds? It would be effective if the maple roots are shallow. I've heard it called air pruning. I had a compost pile full of big-leaf maple roots years ago. I wasn't expecting that.

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

patti---

YES! I believe--and I will see it haappen!
I cannot do what you suggest. Can you imagine the lost effort to dig a trench where the roots are
as thick as my wrists???? That is a lost cause! NOT what I plan to do....
Perhaps you have some strong husband/son/grandson to do this. Here--it is only me!
And--I am 73. Not feaeble or helpless--but there are limits...

That is why I want to go ahead with the double layer of commercial weed block.
The only concern I have is that it will block worms from getting into the soil of this bed.

However--I can always transplant any worms I dig up in any of my beds--to this bed.

Be well! Gita

Frederick, MD(Zone 6b)

Gita, I've seen your maple roots... I don't think the weed barrier (even the really good stuff) will stop them for more than a season or two, and then you'll have a new raised "yuk" bed. I really like the idea of adding a bottom to your raised bed to create an air gap and keep the roots out. You're tearing out the structure/timbers of your old raised bed anyway, so you may as well think of it as starting from scratch... if you want to keep some of the good soil from the bed, just shovel it out to one side and add it into your raised bed box at the end. Other than adding a plywood bottom to the bed, I don't think it will cost you much more in materials than what you've described... you can either return the weed barrier or use it to line your new bed (to help hold in the dirt). A liner for the bed is probably not necessary, just mentioning it because I saw that Gardener's Supply is selling liners for their beds now, but that's probably only needed if you're putting a raised bed on top of something like a patio.

I don't think anybody is suggesting your trench around your bed by hand, but you might be able to get/hire somebody to come in with a trenching tool, like they use to put in those "invisible fence" wires or when they're running cables underground. I'm not sure how long a trench would stay, though, and when the sides start collapsing the roots will find their way across again, unless you filled it with gravel maybe? But by the time you hired somebody to make the trench and added gravel, you'd probably be well over the cost of building a bed with a raised bottom.

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

Jill--

Thanks for your input.....
Seems nothing will be done now until early spring. My neighbor just did not do
what I had expected him to do by now. Of course--he was working 3 different jobs.
As it is right now--the bed is as in the picture--only he dug out the evergreen roots--
and that was not that huge a job. They are fairly shallow.

I am at a loos what to do with the bottom of the bed-to-be. Thought I had it all figured out..
I don't know about raising the bed base???? What would hold up the plywood base?
Or do you envision it just laying flat on the existing bed? No air gap?

The existing bed surface cannot be dug into--all the maple roots are there.
As I think about it--some kind of "block" would be the easiest.. How about stacks of newspapers
on top of the weed block?

The idea of a trench along the bed will not work either.
Years ago, my husband dug in a 2' aluminum flashing--straight down the sides of my :yuk" bed.
and the roots still grew into the bed. Of course, that was years ago--
and the maples were still very actively growing.

At least I am now convinced that I do not need a 2" layer of rocks...

Do you know of a source for ideas on this somewhere?
Everyone here has been very helpful--but I just don't know......:o(

Gita

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Dave's Garden has an "Accessible Gardening" forum. Although it's for the disabled, you might find some useful hints about raising your garden bed off the ground.

http://davesgarden.com/community/forums/f/disabled/all/

I am having a similar problem as yourself with the roots from my giant oak tree. I have to rake back the soil, cut the roots, and replace the soil! Tree roots are tenacious, as you have discovered.

Frederick, MD(Zone 6b)

Gita, think of it as building a large rectangular planter box. Raising the bottom of the bed up off the ground (yes, with an air gap, which may mean 6 inches up from your lawn level to accommodate the raised soil there now if you can't dig into it) will give you more total height to the bed... and I think you'll love having a garden that's so much easier to reach into!

There are probably good construction plans out there (I'm sure the accessible gardening forum is a good place to look)... I tend to "overbuild" and so would probably use pressure treated 4x4 posts (either seal it well or use the new kind that's treated with some sort of citrus stuff), six of them altogether (4 corners plus 2 for the center of the long edges) plus some 2x2 stakes if needed to give the sides more support between the large posts... post height would be about 18-19 inches plus the depth of your post holes... frame out the bottom with more 4x4's placed behind your 4x4 posts (the 4 inch thickness should give you your air gap, even if you place the edges close to the ground to give you a more traditional look), then use plywood (marine grade?) panels across the "floor" of the bed.

You might be able to save money by using plywood for the sides also, although I think I would use 2x4's (three boards tall, nailed to the back sides of the 4x4 posts for best support). Then I'd top off the whole thing with 2x6's placed flat to give you an easy place to sit if you wished. This would give you room for 12-14 inches of soil in the bed itself, which seems like enough to me, although you could certainly add one more 2x4 to the height of the sides.

Oh, and for your compost bin... I would *not* put it into direct contact with the surface of the soil, or the same thing will happen as happened with your whiskey barrel... happy happy maple roots, digging into that rich compost! If you don't want to build a base to put it on, maybe you can find an old wooden pallet at HD that you could use to make an air gap.

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

Merry had another idea too. She D-mailed me.
NOT so off-the-wall as she thought. Link below.

Click on it and see what you all think...
I have to almost think that this idea would also be doable...

http://davesgarden.com/tools/mail/pm/648491/

Jill--
I have to re-read your post above. I did read it, but had a hard
time visualizing what you were describing. Building is not my forte!

I am at work right now--place is dead--as there is a Ravens game today.
NO people in the store--hardly any phone calls--and I have to
go eat lunch.

Thanks----Gita

Lewisville, TX(Zone 7b)

I couldn't access the link Gita..it said I had to login first & I already am! hahaha Maybe another time....

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

Cindy--

It was a link to a D-mail that Merry sent me.

I can open it----don't know why you are having a problem....

Anyway--no matter what--I know it will work out one way or another....
I appreciate all the suggestions/contributions--but I also need to do
what I can do and afford. "Simple" is the word......"Reasonable" is another word.

Gita

Near Lake Erie, NW, PA(Zone 5a)

Gita, the link is to your personal mail and anyone opening it would need your pass word. And you don't want to give out your pass word, ever.
You will have to copy and paste the content of the mail here or copy, paste it to a D-mail to Cindy.

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