Category Archives: gardening

What Do I Need to Know About Growing in Raised Beds?

As our country grows and the dynamics of the rural landscape continues to change more people find themselves with a much smaller piece of real estate to enjoy. For those who still want some of nature’s bounty to enjoy the calculus about how to accomplish a garden becomes more complicated. One alternative to this issue is to consider growing your vegetables or even flowers in raised beds. These handy creations have loads of benefits and really aren’t that hard to erect.

HOW DO I GET STARTED?

I think the first question to ask is if a raised bed is right for you. The reasons for a raised bed could be many, including some of these: 1)I have a lot of issues with rodents (possums, groundhogs, rabbits, raccoons), 2) I would like to have the crops I grow higher from ground level to ease the picking burden 3) I would like to have more order to my garden.

In our experience 1 & 2 are true. For a few years at the beginning of our stay where we live now we had a great “critter dog” that kept the animals at bay, allowing us to reap great benefits from our traditional “in ground” gardens. But unfortunately this dog, Louie, had no respect for machines with heavy wheels and his tenure was cut short after 7-8 years.

I want to say that we have always enjoyed beans, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, peppers, watermelons and more. So having everything at risk was just not a good plan. We tried electric fences, traditional woven wire fences and other devices, but our results were just nothing short of disappointing until we made the choice to “GO RAISED”!

WHAT SHOULD I USE TO MAKE THE BED?

There is a varied list of items you could use to create your raised bed and Pinterest is one of my favorite places to “shop” for ideas. I have used landscape timbers in the past when we build a smaller bed for strawberries. I would caution against treated lumber now because of the knowledge that the chemicals used to treat the wood can leech into your soil.

You could use the landscape stones that are intended for retaining walls. They will last forever, but the cost can be significant depending on the size of your bed. For our beds we chose to use regular untreated lumber, which is less expensive and foregoes the concern of chemicals.

HOW BIG DO I NEED?

This decision will come when you determine what you want to grow. When we started last year we were only intending to grow tomatoes. But we like tomatoes, so we wanted enough room for several. Many tomatoes recommend 18″ between when planting, so when we thought about planting twelve tomatoes we knew we needed to be 12-16 feet long and four feet wide. Using four 16′ 2 x 10’s cut at twelve feet allows us to make the 4′ x 12′ bed. The 2x10s made the bed 20″ off the ground. Think that is no big change, wait until your are fifty-something and your back screams every time you stoop to work on anything!

Our results were so good with our first tomato season we determined we wanted to expand our “raised gardens” area. We have them right beside an area where we grow dahlias and calla lilies, so we just planned for another 4′ x 12′ bed in which we could grow lettuce, onions, peppers and squash. Because the lettuce is so much earlier it was out of the way before the cucumbers sprawled across the space.

Our biggest question was how big could we make a bed? If we wanted to grow a large quantity of green beans could we use a long raised bed? I can’t say I ever saw such, so doing it was something of a try it and see proposition. Trying to be economical, I went back to the 2″ x 10″ x 16′ idea, but doubled the length so the bed is 4′ wide x 32′ long!

WHAT CAN I USE TO FILL THE BED?

If you think about the inner dimensions of your raised bed you can make a rough calculation of how much fill it will take. So for a 4′ x 12′ x 15″ deep bed you are considering 60 cubit feet of fill. But then we thought about our 4′ x 32′ x 15″ deep bed and you are talking about nearly 3 cubic yards of fill.

You could go to your local home improvement warehouse and by garden soil in the bag, but that can quickly get expensive and burdensome. We chose to move away from garden soil because of the way it will pack as it receives rain and sun. For best results you want your roots to be able to penetrate the soil as far down as possible to retrieve from the water table when the skies are dry.

In our town and a neighboring city we have local government facilities that create compost. For the money this was our best alternative and after the success of our tomato bed last season we knew it would work for our beans and second bed. One thing in my favor for this was a pick-up truck, trailer and Kubota sub compact trailer with a bucket on the front to aid in unloading!

ENJOY MY PICTURES OF RAISED BED SUCCESS

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End of Month View – August 2017

 

Some months ago I found this monthly invitational hosted by The Patient Gardener and it is a monthly chance to show off your garden. Since that time Helen has handed off the duties to Steve at Glebe House Gardens. I invite you to support Steve as he carries on this fun chance to see gardens from far and wide.

Unfortunately my garden is only worthy of show for about 6-7 months each year. Right now is the peak time or my gardening activities, so I have lots to share!

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This is our newest lower bed, which we finished the first of the week. We have all bargain rack lowers rom Lowes and the annuals are intended to provide seeds for larger plantings next year after we saw what is in the following picture.

 

Some friends of ours win the award for breath taking flower display of the decade with their combination of sunflowers, zinnias and marigolds. All of these can be replanted using seeds from dried and spent flower heads. So the first photo shows the bed we will use to try to gather some seeds for our own attempt.

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No, this is not a flower bed . . . yet, but it will have small beds flanking the walk to our new fire pit.

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The sedum is turning and the Pee Dee Hydrangea is in full bloom.

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The Blackberry Lily seed pods are opening.

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The tomato patch as been a star producing a large amount of tomatoes each week.

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If you were here for my EOMV-June post you might think I just reposted that photo of our raised bed with green beans, but this is our second crop which will probably begin to be picked about the middle of September.

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Our dahlia patch looks kind of rough, but it really is producing very nice bouquets as you will see in the next collection.

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Because I missed the July -EOMV I did not share the photos of the Gladiolas that are the last to come from the Daffodil/Tulip bed.

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At the end of last season we took our mums and planted them in mulch and covered the roots. Only three survived, but my wife nursed them into what will be giants come late September or early October.

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One of my wife’s hair salon customers gave her Moonflower seeds. So far all we have to enjoy is healthy vines, but here is hoping the wait pays off.

That us not everything we have, but enough for this EOMV-August. I plan to hop around to see others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you want to check out more End of Month View posts click here: EOMV

 

 

 

 

 

 

End of Month View – June 2017

 

Some months ago I found this monthly invitational hosted by The Patient Gardener and it is a monthly chance to show off your garden. Unfortunately my garden is only worthy of show for about 6-7 months each year. I managed to get my act together and make a post to fit this monthly theme in March, but have allowed the hectic nature of life to overcome me such that I skipped the next two.

I realize I am a week past the post date and will credit trying to finish vacation preparation with the delay.

 

 

 

This is the result of our raised bed with green beans. We will be picking these beans within the next week.

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We also put cucumbers in the raised bed and they seem to be thriving.

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Have you ever had an entire flower bed to get out of control? We ripped out a large one on the south side of our driveway. I know it looks better because we had a neighbor stop to say how good it was looking now.

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We are able to enjoy all of our perennial plants ahead of schedule due to the abnormally warm winter we enjoyed this year. I usually don’t see the first bloom on these until mid-July.

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Our Calla lilies are also thriving this year.

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We cut back on the number of tomato plants we put in our raised bed but they have done so well it is difficult to tell.

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The blackberry lily in the top of the photo is one of my favorites. I intended to separate the plants this year, but unfortunately other priorities too over and so instead I get to enjoy this great display.

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We have one specific dahlia that had to be tied due to its size. Some others are a little behind, but blooming.

050Opposite the blackberry lilies is summer phlox and a darker day lily variety.

 

 

 

If you want to check out more End of Month View posts click here: EOMV

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can I Grow Green Beans in a Raised Bed?

Fifteen years ago I would have bristled at the mere thought of growing anything anywhere but in the soil I work ever spring in anticipation of harvesting the vegetables we love. But that was when the conditions were much different. My body was much younger and more fit, I was working to get my greenhouse business off the ground and working from day light to dark, so spending time outside was my thing.

Also, we had an outside dog that loved to hunt the critters that feast on garden plants. Seeing your hard work go to pot because the groundhogs and rabbits like your potential food source as much as you just rubs you the wrong way. So what can you do? Some people string up an electric fence. Maybe I did it wrong, but that barely slowed the assault.

So what is a better way? Last year (2016) we gave a raised bed a shot with our tomato crop. Four sixteen foot 2×8 boards allowed us to craft a 4 ft x 12 ft bed for our tomatoes. We wound up with too many plants in the space, but had the best tomato crop in many years, with fruit still present on November 1st. Following that success we began to imagine a longer bed for our beans.

When you create such a large bed you will need a fair amount of soil. In a garden you can just plow up the depth you require, working the ground to your desire with a roto-tiller. We chose to use compost from our local facility, which was a little bit of work and expense, but since it is loose it does not compact when wet like regular garden dirt.

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I probably should explain we eat a lot of green beans in one year. At our peak we have canned up to 150+ quarts of Tenderettes, which is a bush bean.  Obviously a 12 foot bed wasn;t going to provide much in the way of a crop. Instead we chose to work in the multiples of the 16 foot lumber from our local big box hardware store. Nine boards made the 4 ft x 32 foot bed we now are loving.

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To make the most of our space we planted our rows as close to the side as we could, thinking the rows would fill in the space. Boy have they! It is difficult to see where one row begins and the other ends, but they will be higher than in the garden, so hopefully the picking will be easier.

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I am sure many who read this will say ‘What’s the big deal? It is only beans!’ Well that is true, but for the last few years we have planted only to have our vines chewed off by every animal that loves green stuff. Luckily we haven’t had to battle the deer yet, so this solution seems to be our best bet. Seeing actual beans hanging is like a victory for our garden efforts.

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My answer to the question ‘Can I grow green beans in a raised bed?’ is a resounding yes! I will soon be harvesting the first picking off ours and hope to get two or three more before the vines are spent. Give it a go, you might be pleasantly surprised.

fbgrnbeanThis is the Facebook post I made about the success of the raised bed. Yes, the groundhogs are officially booted from the roll!

AUGUST 21st of 2017 EDIT

Due to our love of green beans and two other factors: our daughter being away at school and our son potentially being married within the next year we are making special efforts to turn another crop during this growing season. With that purpose in mind I pulled the vines for our first crop the 24th of July and replanted on the 25th. Four days later God blessed us with a good all day soaker of a rainy day and two days later I had the second crop poking up through the soil.

With 60 quarts coming off the first crop we are in good shape, but if we can turn that again with this current crop I will be beyond tickled. So far the second crop has gotten just the right rain at the right time and looks well ahead of the frost deadline of mid to late October.

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You will notice our “picking” chairs to the left of the far end of the raised beds. Let me assure you it makes the task much more enjoyable. Rest assured this is not just another view of the first crop, it is indeed our second one which should begin to be picked by mid-September.

Unfulfilled Promises

If you ever have bought a flower or tried to start one from seed you know they are a fragile lot. Flaky, persnickety, obstinate or maybe just they like to mock us supposedly “superior” beings. Above you see the best of the process when I was operating my own greenhouse business called The Potter’s Dream. But unseen is the thousands, yes I typed that correctly, thousands of failed plants.

This post is under construction almost ten full seasons past my greenhouse time. My failed experiments are far fewer, but just as frustrating. As I was out taking my miniature Sheltie for a walk this week I thought about this post and collecting the photographs to support it. When you establish the theme or parameters it is amazing how quickly potential photos come to mind.

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This is a geranium in distress. I am not knowledgeable enough to tell you exactly what the issue is. I just will try to fertilize and overcome the yellowing. If all else fails I will lift this sickly plant and replace it with another.

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In my time as a greenhouse owner I sold thousands of wave petunias. They are so hardy and easy to grow it is a challenge to kill one, but this little guy defied the odds. Again this is one that will be lifted and replaced.

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It is a little difficult to make out this photo, but you should see a full stand of lettuce. All I can figure is our lettuce seed is bad. This is the second year I have not been able to achieve sufficient germination of lettuce. We even tried it in the raised bed this time.

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After a few years of unfulfilling experiences with tulips and daffodils bought at the big box stores we ordered some bulbs from an actual bulb seller through Amazon. Our daffodils came up early due to the warm winter and were gorgeous ahead of time. Our tulips came up on schedule and all bloomed beautifully except for the one picture which was broken when I accidentally stepped on it when trying to mulch around the bed.

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These are the old tulips and daffodils that produce greenery only. It is disappointing after a long winter with no color to see this greenery emerge, but never achieve any kind of blooming. I have consulted with another experienced grower and have a plant o try to rectify the non-blooming habits.

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These two photos should be flats full of tomato seedlings. I will tell you that in the days since I took the top phot I have seen about a dozen seedlings emerge. Being April 17 however, they are seriously delayed. I wanted them to be the size they are now at least a month ago!

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This photo shows a failed cucumber seedling attempt. Actually about five days earlier this [pot was full of about two dozen nice looking seedlings. Then the weather changed and we decided to not take chances, but move the most tender of plants inside for three days. The cucumbers did not adapt well and now we have only three or four living seedlings. Thankfully it does not take long to germinate cucumbers, so I will try again soon.

That is my unfulfilled promise candidates for now. I am sure more will find their way to my lens soon!

 

Spring is Coming – Part 2

Ah spring. The time for projects. I love projects. I love improving our spread as I enjoy spending time in the great outdoors. We also enjoy gardening. As an extension about 17 years ago we built a 12 x 16 foot greenhouse. Within this greenhouse we can initiate an early start to spring by giving our plants an environment where they can grow as if it was June.

One of the favorite ways to provide this head start is to purchase the items we want in our window boxes early and insert them in the window boxes 7-9 weeks ahead of the last frost date when we can actually bring the window boxes out to enjoy. Allowing the plants to grow their roots with this head start means when we bring them out in May they are healthy and thriving.

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You may not think these are growing that much, but if you click Spring is Coming Part 1 you will see there has been some definite growth.

One of our challenges where we live is that I have acres of  farm land on three sides of my property. This is a great thing for many reasons. But one negative is that the wild life is thick and willing to come and take as they please. We have battled rabbits and groundhogs for years as we attempt to raise a garden. Up until the last few years we have been able to win this epic struggle. But lately the critters are the only ones getting fat on our vegetables.

After the success of our new raised bed where we grew tomatoes we decided to expand our alternative growing method with a long raised bed to house our bush beans. Long ago we introduced our family to a type of bush bean called Tenderettes. After nearly two decades of enjoyment my family truly prefers the ones we grow and can. But if you cannot control the rodents there is nothing to enjoy.  Enter the new raised bed.

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Now I will share the complicating factor. As life goes there can be situations that make you rethink your plans. After hauling two loads of ground compost to half fill our raised bed I ran into issues with my truck. Now I am scrambling to work out an alternative way. Thankfully we are up to four weeks away from the safe time as far as last frost before we can plant so I have considerable wiggle room.

You can see there is a black landscape fabric flanking this bed. While I am working out the alternative method to fill the long raised bed I will be using one of my favorite tools, my Kubota tractor to dump wood chips on the fabric to eliminate the need to cut the grass that would grow up around the bed. By taking this out of the equation I don’t have to be concerned about cut grass drifting into the bed and starting weeds.

Another alternative vegetable growing plan we have in progress actually came from a video we enjoyed courtesy of Facebook. We like to grow and enjoy potatoes. Specifically we enjoy the small or “new” potatoes. Aren’t all potatoes new you ask? Well yes, but what I mean is young potatoes with a very thin skin. Basically the idea is to take a pot and cut four openings in it. Then you slip it inside another pot of the same size, fill to about 1/3 depth, place seed potatoes in the soil, cover the seed potatoes, water and let them grow. Then as the green shoots of the potatoes grow you cover them repeatedly until you have filled the pot. After three months you lift the pot with the sections cut out and harvest your crop. I made pictures as I created this for your enjoyment.

For the past few years we have selected a specific type of potting soil sold by Miracle Grow. We learned almost a decade and a half ago how important it is to have a base soli for new plants that does not pack down like the garden soil at our home. Tender roots respond so much better to this loose mix. The particular type we choose to employ is called Moisture Control. The selling point is that it is designed to keep the moisture content as close to optimal as possible. Of course that does not mean you can avoid watering, but that if you water frequently the soil will help maximize the effectiveness.

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We have several plantings of daffodils and tulips in our yard that are perennial disappointments. Apparently they are not hardy enough to withstand the wildly varying ups and downs of temperatures here in the mountains of Southwestern end of Virginia. As a result we ordered a new batch of supposedly “hardier” daffodils and tulips and dug out a new bed for them. The daffodils are pictures in Spring is Coming Part 1 and now the tulips are showing their colors.

 

My last addition to this post is in the form of photos of some trees I grafted during a county extension service class last week. At my home place, meaning where I grew up, their is this 4o year old “Early Harvest” apple tree. It is a yellow apple that is ripe at the first of July and cooks down into almost an apple sauce. I have wanted to graft some scions off of it for years and finally accomplished the first part of the process during this class. In all I grafted seven trees: four of the Early Harvest, a Rambo, a Gala and a Cortland. I won’t know for a little bit if any or all of them will successfully graft, but check back here for updates.

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As I said in the beginning of this post I love projects. Even now as I realize the completion of some projects even more are dotting my radar. This past Saturday I enjoyed a day in which the Fitbit strapped to my arm recorded 28,636 steps. Five days a week I am held down to a chair by my job as a computer software tester, so when I get a chance to head outside I always have a plan in mind. I hope you will be looking for Spring is Coming part 3 where I will update you on all these activities and maybe some new ones.

 

 

End of Month View – March 2017

 

Some months ago I found this monthly invitational hosted by The Patient Gardener and it is a monthly chance to show off your garden. Unfortunately my garden is only worthy of show for about 6-7 months each year. Happily this is the beginning of that stretch, so I have pictures to share. YAY!!!! You do not know how much my mood lifts when I begin to see flowers blooming.

When I last posted we had just finished a new bulb bed flanking our 12 x 16 greenhouse. Due to the warmer than usual weather this “winter” (I am bracketing it in quotes because I cannot in good conscience call what we experienced a full-fledged winter), our Daffodils made an unexpected show of blooms in late February.

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In this same planting we included some new tulip bulbs that are holding close to their expected bloom time in April. I am not sure if they will still have color by the end of April to include with the April EOMV, but I may just include a photo so you can see our success.

Things are hopping in the greenhouse now. We have geraniums in our window boxes, having purchased them so we can “push” them toward an early May deployment just in time for our son’s graduation/22nd birthday celebration. The weather may not be amenable to leaving them out full time on May 7th, but we at least hope to have them in place on that day. Trust me, the combination of greenhouse and the feeding regimen we have honed over 15 years will make the final product in May look amazing.

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It is veggie seeding time as well. We have tomatoes seeded as well as cukes and zucchini. These are ear-marked for a new raised bed yet to be built, but guaranteed to provide critter proof growing conditions. Unless the maddening creatures have been doing pole vault training in Salt Lake City, Utah that is!

Another new addition to our gardening facilities is a 32 foot raised bed to try to allow us to grow bush beans. At one time we were able to enjoy enough beans to can 150 quarts for use throughout the year. Of course at that time we had a beagle mix named Louie who feasted on groundhogs and rabbits. Lately the only creatures getting fat on our beans have been the rodents. This year we hope to end that trend.

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Up front we have creeping phlox blooming, although only one color.

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Due to some sagging on our deck we are having to do some repair construction, so the long standing rails that support two Clematis have been removed. While it will not hurt the Clematis, the tendrils will likely seek something on the ground to attach to and may be a pain to re-train after we are done.

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Two others already trained on trellises are also beginning to emerge from dormancy. Hopefully in 5-6 weeks they will share their gorgeous blooms.

Lastly I went out to cut off all the spent daffodils in our new bulb garden to find several tulips beginning to show color. I hadn’t noticed them due to the large number of taller daffodils that were shielding them for view. I look forward to the multiple colors of these spring beauties set to peak just around Easter.

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If you want to check out more End of Moth View posts click here: EOMV