On Saturday evening I lifted the bins from the compost and turned it out. The compost in one of the two bins wasn't nearly broken down enough. The second bin was better and close to becoming good compost, but still not quite ready. I went back to ACE and picked up two bags of composted cow manure ($3.21) to mix in with my home compost. We gathered up clippings my husband had been dumping under the lilac bushes then we layered the dryer compost, then forked in some manure and then a layer of the greener clippings and the more composted material. We continued the layers until both bins were full again, then I hooked up the hose and watered both bins well and recapped them.
When I went out late in the morning today and checked, the compost had really heated up. The bins were hot to the touch without being in direct sunlight. The spot I have them is on the west side of our garden shed so they don't get direct sun until after one or two in the afternoon. So, the yard waste that had been in the bins for two years making really, really slow progress is now on the way to becoming rich compost probably in a matter of three to four weeks.
My garden plot, just waiting for action!
I decided to call Suburban Lawn and Garden, a local nursery across town to see if they had vermiculite. Ace didn't carry it and the garden center a mile from home, Family Tree Nursery didn't have it either. When I called Suburban, I asked for someone who could give me advice on soil amendments which put me in contact with a fellow who was willing to listen and give me some really helpful advice.
He felt that 1/3 vermiculite was a bit too much so we did some mental math for the size of my garden and came up with the following combination: ten 2 cubic feet bags of Back to Earth Cotton Burr Compost ($49.90), two 3.8 cubic feet bags of Canadian Sphagnum Peat ($27.98) and one 4 cubic feet bag of vermiculite ($16.99). I also bought a 3' x 50' garden weed barrier cloth ($19.99). It's a lot more cloth than I need for my single bed, but the next smaller size, 3' x 20' was $12.99 so it was a better value and I will use it on other flower beds around the yard with plenty to spare for the addition of another 4' x 8' bed I will most likely add next year or maybe even this fall.
The current accounting
My total for growing mix and the two bags of manure I layered in with my compost, the garden frame from Natural Yards, (I bought the economy boards which may come with some less than perfect but still durable boards, and it saved me 15%), is $577.13. About $80 more than I had estimated for the bed with growing mix.
To recap, the garden frame is untreated cedar and is 4' width x 8' length x 22" high and will have 32 cubic of soil mix. This is less than the actual volume that the frame could hold,but looking at the stack of bags waiting out by the garden, it looks like it ought to do the job. I have another 24 cubic feet of homemade compost cooking in the bins which will be added later and once I have the plants in place I will be top dressing with mulch.
The garden frames come in heights of 5.5" increments. The main reason I went with a four-layer frame was to gain enough height to discourage my two faithful Basset hounds from jumping into the bed and digging around. Max, the "big dog" of the two, has already enjoyed helping me dig up the weeds to prepare the bed. He had a great time!
Michelle is the female half of the Basset duo. She is not as interested in digging at this point.
Max is 6 years old and Michelle is his 2 year old child bride. They are quite a pair.
What still needs to be purchased
I still have the soaker hose and of course, the veggies to purchase. I also need mulch and a can of worms. That's right! Good ol' night crawlers. The associate that helped me at Suburban told me they had no worms, but I could buy composted worm castings. I told him I want my own live wormy pets in the garden! You have to add worms because the weed shield cloth that will be placed under the frame and growing medium will keep worms out as well as weeds. A quart bucket of worms introduced into the garden will provide perpetual worm casting which is great fertilizer for the garden. The worms will multiply and make their happy home and nourish the garden bed as well. The fellow at Suburban Lawn and Gardens told me to try a fish bait shop.
I am paying for this from my paycheck, but my husband was curious as to whether I had compared the cost of prospective produce from the garden to what we may spend at the market. Honestly, this year, I will be lucky to break even but there are all the other intrinsic values to count such as the known therapeutic benefits (I have a high-paced, stressful job...I need this! At $100 per counseling session this is a bargain, right!) and the better ability to deal with our yard and kitchen waste. Plus the experience I will have learning about gardening and then sharing all of that with you, my readers. Next year I won't have the same start up costs, unless I add a second bed. If the dogs are good and stay out of the garden, I may be able to simply break my current bed into two 11" high beds. I checked with Natural Yards and they will be able to sell me a second set of steel pins which are used to hold the bed frames together.
I knew this would not be the cheapest way to garden, but with my work schedule of 48 plus hours per week, I need a gardening method that promotes simplicity. Although preparing the bed was a bit of work, I didn't have to rent a tiller. The raised beds are supposed to make caring for the garden much easier. Hunting down the growing mix components took some doing and luckily I have a big strong husband to help lug all the heavy bags.
If you are doing this on your own, you could most likely have the bags of growing mix components delivered and you could consider hiring a teen from your neighborhood to help lug the bags, set up the frame and add the mix. Once all that is in place, the going should be a breeze. But stay tuned!
One more tip. Check with your local library to see if they have some good gardening books. I found that our library, Johnson County Library has Mel Bartholomew's latest book on Square Foot Gardening. JOCO Library has a great website and I am able to reserve books online. I am number 3 on the wait list. I will try to be patient. I may end up at Borders. After all my gardening costs...I need to save the $24.95! Patience!
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