Sunday, May 10, 2009

Preparing New Raised Planting Beds

My new raised bed frames arrived from Natural Yards on Friday, just in time for the weekend. This year my garden supplies include two 4 x 4 raised bed frames, a 4 cubit foot bag of sphagnum moss, a 4 cubic foot bag of vermiculite, 1 bag of composted manure and two compost 50 gallon bins worth of composted yard clippings. I also purchased a 100 foot bolt of weed barrier cloth and 10 bags of rubber mulch. The rubber mulch is made from recycled materials and is supposed to last many years.

My soil recipe is 1 part compost, 1 part vermiculite, 1 part sphagnum, 1 part soil mix from last years garden and 1 shovel composted manure. To make it easy to mix, I added 1o shovels of my composted yard clippings, 10 shovels of vermiculite, 10 shovels of sphagnum, 1 shovel of composted manure, and 10 shovels of the mix from last year's garden. I put all of this into my wheelbarrow and mixed it in the wheel barrel. Then tipped it into my garden bed. It took four wheelbarrows per 4 x 4 bed.

The 4 x 4 beds have three feet in between each bed. I had enough soil-less mix for four beds. The trick in the plan is that I had to disassemble one half of my last year's bed which was a 4 x 8 foot bed, four boards high.

The first step my husband Brian and I did was to figure out how long the garden-bed row would be and then laid down the garden cloth. Then we removed the top two rows from last years bed.
We measured the distance from the farthest half of last year's bed to include a four foot bed, three feet space in between and then another four foot bed and three feet. So we started building the first new 4 x 4 bed ten feet away from where the near-side of the old bed that would remain. We had to leave the 4 x 8 bed intact until we assembled three beds so that it could hold the planting mixture.

Once the three beds were assembled, then I started mixing up this years planting mixture based on Mel's Mix from Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. I put four wheelbarrow's of mixture in each of the three beds. Then we scooped out one wheelbarrow of planting mix from last years bed and scooped all the mix from the half we were disassembling to the end that would remain. We began putting together the last of the five beds, but found that the ground needed to be leveled and we were running out of daylight so had to stop for the night.

One advantage of adding the planting mix from last year's garden into the new beds, was that some of the red wriggler worms I added to the bed last year were transplanted along with the planting mix. I was so encouraged to find the little guys. I wasn't seeing them at first. They had migrated over to the sides and bottom of the garden bed. I suspect they were seeking the warmth of the wooden frame. I was so happy to start seeing them as I digged a little deeper.

I hope to get the last bed in place today and to place the rubber mulch. I may hold off on the mulch because I think I may purchase some landscape edging to hold the mulch in place. I priced it on the Home Depot website last night. I looks like I will need 6 packs of edging which should run about $180. We bought the rubber mulch at Costco. It was about $20 a bag. That's pretty rich for my blood, but hoping it really will last as long as the claim! And I hope the ten bags will be enough. I think I will need to buy another bag of sphagnum peetmoss and vermiculite to finish filling the beds. Then I will be ready to plant. Yeah!

I haven't done the official talley but I estimate that I am at about $600 for this year's garden beds. The five beds will then have reached a cost of about $1000 - $1200. That sounds like a lot to me, however, these materials will last for many years. The planting mix from last year was still very usable this year. If you were able to find reclaimed lumber for your garden frames you could cut the cost in half.

We recently stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast near Herman, Missouri, Les Lavandes, where the owner, Myrta Webber, was able to acquire barn boards for free from a neighbor who was taking down an old barn on his property. The old weathered barn boards look great in their new life as a raised bed garden. Another example of a great reuse of materials. Remember the OurFriendlyEarth motto: reduce as much as possible, reuse as much as possible, and recycle as much of everything else as you can.

I expect to only be refreshing the mix each year with my own compost which is virtually free. We use a lawn service which uses only organic treatments for the lawn and we do not add any chemicals to the lawn ourselves. We water the garden with water from our rain barrles, so our garden is as close to organic as one can get in a suburban garden.

Les Lavandes Bed and Breakfast, Starkenburg, MO
Gardens at Les Lavandes B&B

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