I am going to put in a vegetable garden after having not vegetable gardened for 25 years. I now have the time, although the body is 25 years older. I wish to make it as easy to care for as possible, so I am planning on making raised beds. My sunny site is also smack in the middle of a deer highway, and I have woodchucks.
My main questions:
1. How high do my fences need to be and do they need to be dug into the ground? Is there a design I can manage by myself as a healthy female early retiree?
2. What is the best way to make raised beds? I am thinking about ordering some kind of corner joints and using some kind of lumber. How high? Should I be putting a wire mesh in the bottom to keep out voles ( I have read about them but not experienced them), or plastic to keep out the weeds from the bottom?
3. I need to buy the soil and amendments...anyone have a magic formula for typical northeast gardening?
4. What is a manageable size/design of raised beds to feed two with quite a few types of veggies and do some freezing? In my younger days I underestimated the harvest and ended up burning out in the middle it.
This is my first post...I hope I didn't overdo it!
I apologize in advance for the length of this but you asked a lot of open-ended questions.
I'm just starting out myself, but I've certainly made quite a few raised beds in the last few months so here's my opinions...
1) If you're looking to keep out deer, 8' is the height most recommended because they can jump really high. Although they can jump that high, they are also skiddish and don't like fences. Makes them think people are around. Mine is 5' high and in the middle of the woods. I find deer tracks and scat all around it but none have jumped the fence yet. If they do, I plan to put an electrified wire at the top of the 6' posts to discourage them.
There are a lot of dogs in my area that will chase the deer if they show up which helps too. A lot of people discourage deer with scents. There are commercial products you can buy but probably anything that smells like a person or dog will help.
Can you do the fence yourself? Probably but it would take you awhile and if you're not experienced it's going to sag and have gaps. I hired part of mine out to make sure it would be done right because I wanted it to be there awhile.
Digging the fence in... Doesn't matter with deer but do you have a lot of rabbits or rodents? The woodchucks will definetly go right under it if not dug in down 6" or so.
Based on what you said of being newly retired (so I'm thinking you want to do this to relax) but also wanting to raise enough for 2 people, I would suggest a compromise with nature. Get some of those metal fence posts that are easy to pound in with a sledge hammer and string inexpensive woven wire 4' or so fence. Or just try the scent thing to deter them. A lot of wildlife will still come in and help themselves but you'll still have plenty for you.
2) Best way to make the beds you'll get a lot of answers. I used pine trees I cut down right from the site and put in soil and amendments. Those 'corner joints' you can order are probably a good choice. You can use dimensional lumber with them so it's fairly quick and easy to lay out a bed. Kind of lumber? How long do you want it to last? Untreated pine will rot fairly quickly. Cedar or redwood will last longer but is very expensive. Treated wood? Will last forever but do a search on the threads here on which chemicals from the treated wood will leach into the soil.
How high? I think 6-8" is fine but the deeper the better. What's under it? If the plant's roots will like that then it can be shallower especially if you've cultivated it before building the bed.
Wire mesh on the bottom? Never heard of that. But then again, I don't know what a Vole is. Assuming it's like a Mole or shrew I'd say don't worry about it. I'd guess they don't bother raised beds much and if they do I'd suggest finding a way to live with them like the other animals.
I would recommend putting down newspaper, cardboard or some other organic material that will break down on the bottom to block weeds. Check for a book called 'Lasagna Gardening' at your library.
3. I'm not in the northeast but a few comments on the soil you buy. If you have some time (like a year) before you want to start planting, fill the raised beds with organic materials like grass clippings, chopped leaves, wood chips and some sort of animal manure. Depending on the area you're in you might be able to get this very cheaply basically just paying for someone with a truck to deliver it. In a year it will make better soil than you could buy. If your city or county composts leaves this is a good,cheap source. It will probably be acidic though so you'll have to lime it.
If you can't wait that long I certainly understand that. There's probably a bunch of companies around you that sell 'top soil' by the truck load. The best 'top soil' I have found is light and rich and full of organic material. Deep black color, crumbles in your hand whether wet or not, has some chunks of bark,wood or plant material in it. Mushroom compost is very nice but probably expensive.
4) Well sounds like you know the answer to that. Start smaller than you think you should. You can grow a lot of veggies in a small area. Another library recommendation, 'Square Foot Gardening'. Partially the answer to this depends on what you like to eat. The vining stuff like melons/squash/cukes/tomatoes takes a lot of roomespecially if you don't grow them up. But you can grow a lot of lettuce/carrots/radishes/onions in a very small space.
Sorry to ramble and as I said I'm just beginning too so I look forward to learning with you :) Whatever you do make sure to just start planting some stuff and keep reading here at DGs. It's very fun to watch these plants grow into something you can eat :) Pic below was my dinner salad on friday :)
jkehl, you have been very helpful. I think my biggest problem is there are so many choices that I am having trouble getting started. (There is also a foot of snow on the ground). I really only want to do the structure once and don't want to make a mistake. I had this same trouble last year when I decided to put in a big flower garden. Buying the first plant was a major decision. Then I realized through coaching from others that no decision needs to be permanent. So I just went ahead and made a beautiful beginners perennial flower garden that I am most proud of and can't wait to see come up this Spring.
I am going to mull over all your comments, spend some more time with catalogs and books ( I have Lasagne Gardening and think I will buy the Square Foot Gardening you suggested), and just get started! Thanks so much. And your salad is so impressive...
Yeah, sometimes just getting started can be the hardest thing. That's one reason I like about the Square Foot Gardening book. The author advises you to start small maybe with a 4'x4' square and really concentrate on getting the soil looking good in that small area. Once you have that planted and looking good then you go on and add to it. You get a feeling of accomplishment and build on that. A lot of people try veggie gardening, plant a few things in an area they haven't prepared ahead of time, don't research the types of plants, don't pay enough attention to it and then become disappointed and give it up when nothing grows and it becomes a weed garden.
I'm a big believer in planning and design from my old job as a computer software architect, but I'm finding that only goes so far in gardening. Sometimes I find myself out in the garden and suddenly I just decide to start building a new rock garden(I have a lot of rocks) or planting something in an area I had completely planned for something else. I just go with it and update my plans later. So far the results have been good and I'm really liking the spontaneously developing garden.
Jeff, I took your suggestion and looked for Square Foot Gardening. Mel Bartholomew has come up with a new edition All New Square Foot Gardening. I read it cover to cover and it clearly mentions how you need only 6 inches of Mel's Mix - composed only of Vermiculite, peat moss and compost. I also bought another book, with a completerly opposite idea: The Vegetable Gardener's Bible by Edward C Smith. He proposes very deep soil in the raised beds. A much more labor intensive approach. He makes a lot of sense too.
Anyway, I am SOOOO glad you mentioned Square Foot Gardening. I am going to use his method verbatim. I am a little nervous about mentioning it to my gardening expert friends as his whole theory goes against hundreds of years of expert ideas. I will wait until I have a great garden to show off. But my idea was to do vegetable gardening without killing myself. I love watching the growth process. We have a local pick your own vegetable farm nearby, so it would be easiest to just continue doing that if Mel's Mix hadn't made my own garden seem like a really reasonable project.
Yeah, I've read a lot of gardening books and it's interesting how many of them disagree with each other on different things. I just read them all and try to apply what makes sense to me. My beds are mostly all around 6" deep over heavy clay/rocky ground and they seem to work great for most veggies. I can't grow things like long carrots and parsnips in them though, I just use the short carrots. For Asparagus, Potatoes, Peanuts, I made beds 12" deep.
I didn't use the soil mix he recommends just because I made a lot of beds. Vermiculite and Peat moss were just too expensive. Instead I used whatever I could find reasonably priced that would make up soil like that. Light, able to hold a lot of water and full of organic material.
I know what you mean about liking to watch stuff grow. Every day I'm in my garden I start just wandering around and looking at everything. So much fun especially this time of the year. All my fruit trees are starting to leaf out.
Good luck with the garden, I'm sure it will come out great!
You probably remember from 25 years ago to collect, compost and add as much organic stuff as you can get your hands on.
To improve drainage and aeration, I have become a big fan of using fine pine bark mulch as a soil amendment. I screen out the bigger pieces to us as literal mulch on top of the soil, but mix in anything that passes through a 1/2" screen.
I see that most people use wood for the walls, but that is expensive, and you have to cut it and use nails or screws. Once it is built, it doesn't look easy to make it "a little narrower" or "a few feet longer".
I use paving stones stood up on end. They cost only around $1 per linear foot. I use 12" x 12"
pavers that are 1" thick to look nicer, and provide more stability. They look like brick, but I think they are concrete died red. They ain't never gonna rot!
Where I had a big height difference, I stood thinner 8" x 16" pavers up on end the tall way, creating a 16" wall. I slope them into the bed just a little, for stability. I would not advise walking on top of a bed that had 16" tall walls! But I would not advise walking on the soil of any RB.
One really nice thing about pavers as walls is that you can assemble a bed as fast as you can haul pavers and soil. Even better, you can chnage your mind easily, at any time. I have a little clump of bamboo, and I expand that RB every few years by adding a few pavers and moving them all out a little.
We live in rented spaces in a manufactured home park, and never really knew where our boundardy lines were. When my neighbor moved out, I moved the wall of that RB about 18" her way and raked the soil level ... in 5-10 minutes. If I had more soil ready to go, I would extend it further, even knowing that the next resident would get to plant in it. At least it would keep the weeds further away from MY part of the bed!
Every so often, a paver leans in too far, so I pull it back an inch and scrape some soil into the "Vee" to hold it in place. Or I tidy them up to be more even.
There is one shallow 8" wall I built in 15-20 minutes up a slope: uneven and messy. My worst wall. But it gave me another bed! My plan is to someday widen that bed about 6-12", "terrace" it, change the wall from 8" to 12" and "terrace" or "staircase" the wall, and turn the muddy slope beside it into a well-drained literal staircase. Meanwhile, I have a near-zero-effort RB that runs up a slope with a (messy) wall that I can fiddle with freely.
In principle I could morter them together, or use "concrete glue" ... but I like the flexibility of being able to decide "I think I'll make that 8 inch bed a 12 inch bed" ... boom boom boom, done. And if I want to go back and excavate deeper, I can pull the walls away and stack them in 5 minutes so they are out of the way.
I just lean them into the bed very slightly. VERY slightly! Gravity does the work.
Every few years i wlak around with a 2x4 and a heavy hammer or brick, and nudge the bases back into place, if they moved out any. If the top moves out any, you can just push it back in with your palm, or get fancy and dig a little soil away first.
But I usually see them lean further IN, as if the soil contracted. Then I lean them back out by hand, and scratch a little soil down into the gap. All done!
The only stability problem I foresee would over if you or a visitor tried to walk INSIDE the bed. If the soil is light, it would "gush" sideways and tilt some pavers, or even tip them over. But I don;t wnat nayone walking on my RBs anyway! The cats using them as catboxes are bad enough.
I used to think "I should mortar these together. Or use concrete glue". But after 3 years, I'm thinking "why bother?" I still hope to find time to use an angle grinder and cermic wheel to cut the corner stones to fit better, especially on my "square yard of bulbs" where the size is dictated by my deck, so they don't meet evenly.
And often when a corner "leans in" too much there is enoguh of a traingular gap to leak soil. I want to cut out some triangles or beveled edges so they meet "tidily". One of these years, when there's nothing better to do ... yeah, right!
But these walls are so cheap that my time goes into making more RBs and more soil to fill them ... until every part of the yard with any sun and no flowering bushes is either an RB or a walkway.
P.S. One of the people who use cinder blocks for RB walls pointed out that you can paint them if you don't like the original color. She used watered-down house paint, without even a primer coat, and it looked great!
Much later, here are some photos, including beds where I have not "tidied up" for years.
One of these years, I'm going to put a masonry cutting wheel on my angle grinder, and cut some pavers into Vee shapes and half-widths so I can make neat, square corners that don't leak soil.
And maybe buy a tube of masonry glue for a caulk-gun, and glue every seocnd or thrid paver to its neighbor. I don't wnat to glue them ALL together, because I'm not supposed to build permanent structures in my (rented) lot. And one of the charms of raised bed paver walls is that you can chnage the shape of a bed or move it easier and faster than you can re-arrange living room furniture.
Here are some beds at different heights on either side of a concrete sidewalk at the highest part of my yard.
What method do you use to water your raised beds? I only use raised beds made from 2" x *8 cedar boards to grow vegetables. Currently I am hand watering them every day and it takes a lot of my time. Plus, when I am traveling out of town and I hire a neighborhood kid to water for me I always come back to under watered and either dead or dying veggies. I'm considering putting in an irrigation systems using 3/4" PVC pipe with small holes drilled into the pipe going around the perimeter of the beds and maybe one or two going crosswise. I would connect all of the pipes covering all ten raised beds so you only have one place to connect the hose and let it go for a predetermined amount of time. I believe that I can explain that concept to the neighborhood kid and it will hopefully save me a lot of time. I have unsuccessfully used flat drip hoses buried under my butterfly garden and in two months one of the hoses split open and I had to remove it. That's why I want to try PVC pipe but I'm open to other suggestions. I'm thinking of something like what the guy did in "Tons of Tomatoes, part 2" (link below).
I used to (still do) hand-water, but I'm putting in dripline and sprinklers now.
The guy in the video is really shooting hard jets of water onto hios soil! Looks like a layer of pebbles on top to prevent HUGE erosion. That doesn't look good to me.
Holes in PVC are also inflexible, unrelocatable and hard to adjust flow rates.
If you must run PVC pipe, at least screw some sprinklers or sprayers into it, to prevent digging deep mud holes (just my opinion). Dramm makes many sprayers with gaskets that screw tightly into 7/16" holes in PVC.
I'd ask why the T-tape blew apart. How many PSI? My city water come sin at 45 PSI, enough to blow a 10/32 thread right out of 1/4" polyethylene tubing. Dripworks suggests 8 PSI, eight not 18, 30 or 45.
If you have a pump or even just one big on/off valve, I bet it runs HUGE pressurfe syrges when it strats up or you slam a vlave closed. We called that "water hammer" when I worked in a chemical plant, and it could make big steel pipes jump and make noise.
I'm about to order a 30 PSI pressure regulator after a few "POP-GUSHER" events. And I'm thinking about a really low-pressure one like 10-15 PSI to make some spinners cover a much smaller area.
You could regulate your pressure down to 8 PSI and use T-tape. I hear that's the most economical thing for huge areas, like farms.
For higher pressure, maybe dripline tubing: 1/4" or 1/2" polyethylene tubing with emitters every 6, 9 or 12". For raised beds, 6" spacing or maybe 9". That can run at 15 PSI, and mine hasn't blown up YET at 45 PSI, but it does make funny noises and spurts more than it drips.
Dripline is great for putting just a little water exactly where you want it. But if you use 1/4" dripline for economy, it works best in short runs like 15-30 feet, or it can't handfle the flow rate and pressure drops the further you go down the line. (So run 1/2" mainline down the long axis fot he bed and run driplines accross the narrow axis.)
Or pay for 1/2" dripline, and then you can probably run it 100 feet or more.
But that won't stop the neighbor kid from turning it on, forgetting to turn it off, and washing your beds down the street overnight. Now I'm suggesting "pressure regulator and timer". I'm about to order a 120-minute wind-up timer.
And any kind of drippers need a filter. Check Dripworks for cheap ones (or good, expensive ones). I started trying to avoid everything but the timer. Now I think "I need it all".
You can also mix it up: run PVC to get close to your beds, then run flexible black poly tubing to each bed. Either 3/4" or 1/2" diameter, or some of each. Punch a hole where want water, and run 1/4" tubes that carry 30 GPH each.
Once you have some poly mainline, it lets you easily add any of dozens of cheap drippers, sprayers or spinning-sprinklers. Low flow, high flow, 180 degrees, 360 or 90. Mist, spray, fingers or droplets. Fixed-flow or valved. From above, under the leaf canopyh, or under-the-mulch.
I added some garden-hose-threaded Tees and ends to my poly mainline, plus some hose "Y"s with valves, and now I have huge flexibility in moving lines around, opening, closing and throttling eac h zone. I like to fiddle!
Now you can move even segments of mainline around to suit this year's crops and weather, or your changing preferences.
Linda - that's an awesome link! We've run out of space in the back yard after 4 (or is it our 5th season coming up?!) and the BF wants to try tomatoes and a salad garden again. We are going to muck up the front yard with beds. Nothing elaborate. Just tomatoes and peppers, some greens.
Voles. metal fabric, (rabbit cage mesh) 8" down, 4" up. For gophers things like wire mesh baskets are used to plant things like roses in... your deer can jump 6', but they'll wait til harvest to do it. A deer fence isn't built like a horse fence- iits built leaning out toward the incoming deer. They wont jump the ht AND width of that fence. Surplus veggies- locate a place that would take them. Welcome back to gardening, and dont discount Youtube gardening visual ideas, chuckl.
Hmph. Never realized that deer would dig. Interesting. Our moose fence are about 8' tall poles with heavy wire mesh about 5' tall stating maybe a foot down from the top leaving the bottom 2' or so with no mesh. The moose are too big to go under (and don't dig) and they can't get past the upper part. Only down side are the first year babies who can get under.