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natethebrown 03-10-16 03:19 PM

My large semi-raised bed garden
I thought I would go ahead and post about my gardening experiences. I have learned some lessons along the way that, perhaps, someone may find useful. As far as a little background, last year (2015) I attempted to do a standard row garden in my heavy red clay soil (we had just bought the house the summer prior, so I really hadn’t had much time to work the garden due to the other new homeowner projects). Doing the standard row garden was the simplest method for me to get something in the ground. This would be my third year to have a garden, with the two previous at a rental house (both of which were quite successful). Unfortunately, this garden was a complete failure. I was plagued with problems, from poor soil and weeds to 4+ legged pest problems (rabbits, grasshoppers, squash bugs, cows that broke out of their pasture behind my house, etc.). Also, I learned that I absolutely HATE starting seeds in biodegradable seed starting pots. The biodegradable pots wick away the moisture from the soil and allow rapid evaporation. I accidentally forgot to water my sprouts (they were out on the back patio) one morning, and the soil in the pots was bone dry by the time I got home from work! By that time, the sprouts were heavily shocked and really didn’t grow well after that. I ended up buying $30 worth of plants, which ended up getting destroyed by the previously mentioned problems. What a bad gardening experience!

Late in August, 2015, I got fed up and just mowed everything down (mostly weeds) with my mower. I was determined to start anew and do it right! The first thing I did was find a local ranch I could get manure from. I got two truckloads (totaling roughly 2.7 cu-yd) worth of semi-composted horse manure, mixed with wood shavings, from the stalls. It cost me $15 for both truckloads (I foolishly shoveled the first load, then got wise and paid the guy $15 to load the second). Here is what the garden basically looked like at the start:

Later, in 2015, I noticed weeds were growing up in the semi-composted manure/wood chips, so I bought some cheap landscape fabric. Also, I went to the local botanical gardens and got a truckload of leaf mulch for $10 (at certain times of the year they have a front end loader, otherwise it is free to get all the leaf mulch one wants). I put down the landscape fabric and the leaf mulch on top of the fabric to hold it down. Later that year, I tore down my old, falling apart, wood privacy fence to replace. I was just planning on putting all of the old 4x4s out by the road and my dad suggested I just use them to create a raised bed garden…brilliant! Two boxes of nails later, I now have a semi-raised bed garden with dimensions of 8’Wx40’Lx7”H. Finally, I took advantage of people’s composing ignorance and picked up a ton of bags of raked up leaves that folks put out by the street to trash. I used all the leaves to create a complete cover over everything in the garden bed, and to fill in an areas that were low. I just left the garden to fallow over winter. This is what the garden looked like at this point (Note: you can see my new fence posts on the left side of this picture):

At the start of this year, I did a few soil tests (soil samples were probably taken too deep but oh well) and noted the nitrogen levels were quite low. I went ahead and spread approximately 4lbs of blood meal in the garden. Since we have a local coyote pack, I wanted to put more ground cover down so the blood meal doesn’t attract them into my yard. Fortunately, the local botanical gardens gets a tree chipper and chips up people’s Christmas trees into large mulch piles for the community to come use…score! I figured out, if you go early enough no one has disturbed any of the mulch piles. This is really good because I just backed my truck into the largest pile and shoveled downhill:

Roughly 1.5 cu-yd (I really loaded my truck full) worth of wood chips and I have 2-3” of wood mulch in some areas:

So far, I believe I have conquered at least two problems from last year, soil fertility and weeds. I have a rabbit fence that I can put up (if my traps don’t take care of them) and the pasture fence has been repaired by the owners, taking care of two other problems. As far as the 6+ legged pests, I am going to start investing in some organic pesticides, like Diatomaceous Earth, BT Powder, Neem oil, and others. Also, I am going to try out companion planting. I got some basil and onions, both of which compliment many different plants. I found a really useful companion planting chart here:

Here is a simple sketch of my garden plan (forgive the spelling of lettuce! Also, the house is on the West side of the garden):

I really lucked out that onions compliment tomatoes, lettuce, and carrots, all of which I congregated on the West side of the garden. I am going to spread some onion and basil in and around all of these plants and hope for the best!

To date, I have spent roughly $380 on the garden. This includes $125 for concrete remesh tomato cages (I’ll get pictures up later) and $75 for rabbit fencing. Basically $180 for seeds, plants, soil conditioning, fertilizers, and building the raised bed…pretty darn good! Also, I am trying out a new seed starting idea (that I haven’t seen anyone do yet) that I will post about later. Stay tuned for updates.

Daox 04-13-16 12:21 PM

Looks great. Got any updates?

jeff5may 04-13-16 06:25 PM

This year's beginning:
Top: Roma tomatoes in jiffy pellets in pencil box germination module
Bottom: 2 kinds of basil in jiffy pellets in recycled 4-packs
Brought outside just long enough to water. None of these babies are ready for direct sunlight. Those seed leaves will burn super easy, then you get to start all over.
Super high-speed transplant station (leftover everything)
Secret seed starting juice from Wal-Mart (too lazy to drive to the grow store) or superthrive works too. 1 drop per liter of bottled water. Secret dollar tree soil plus some leftover perlite from previous pic used to fill 4-packs a few days after seeds germinate.

Total investment:
seeds $2
jiffy pellets $3
secret stuff: $6

Or you can go to the grow hut and pay a dollar apiece for plants in a month. I count about 50 here.

Not shown (still germinating in the dark on top of the refrigerator):
bell peppers: another $3 for two dozen
purple coneflowers: about the same (these sell for $2 or 3 each a month out)

Now is transplant time for perennial plants such as shrubs, sedum, hostas, daylillies, ornamental grass, hibiscus, etc. If you wait much longer, they will need to be watered to survive the summer. It rained a few inches last week, so the ground here is just sloppy, soggy, and loose. Transplanting is more like making pottery than shoveling dirt, but guess what? Once you stomp on your transplant, it molds perfectly level to the ground. Throw mulch over everything, water once with your favorite no-burn rooting formula and a watering can, and wait for shoots to emerge.

Haven't heard from the pilgrims on the dirt garden, but I broke ground two weeks ago. Still waiting on Mr green jeans to say when he plans on coming to rototill the plot with the mean green machine. I gladly pay him the following Tuesday to do in 15 minutes what would take me all day with the troy-bilt. I'm sure the hippies and tourists will show up Kentucky derby weekend.

natethebrown 04-14-16 09:37 AM


Originally Posted by Daox (Post 49738)
Looks great. Got any updates?

I wish I had better progress.. First, my seedlings really haven't been doing well. I wish I knew why, so I may end up just having to buy some plants for the garden. Second, I have had very little time to give the seedlings the love they deserve. I have been completely focused on other pressing projects like finishing everything for the nursery, fixing the riding lawnmower for this cutting season (deck had to be welded), and doing everything else my wife is too tired to do. I never did put up pictures of my blue berry bushes...

Back in February, since I want to get my land to work for me and I want to save some money not buying as much fruit at the store, I got 4 Rabbiteye Blue Berry bushes ($72 total). The two varieties are Tifblue and Powderblue. According to the gardening place I got them from, they cross pollinate well together (mutually beneficial) and produce at slightly different times of the year. Also, the rabbiteye varieties are native to us Southerners, so that should mean much less maintenance or upkeep. Unfortunately, North Alabama has a REDICULOUS amount of clay with very little organic matter in the soil. Blue Berry bushes HATE wet feet so I had to do some major soil reconstruction. I got cu. Yd. of soil conditioner ($21) and a truck load of free leaf mulch from the local Botanical Gardens.

The guy at the garden shop told me to prep the hole for what the bush will become, not what it is when planting. Blueberry bushes’ roots apparently don’t go deep but wide. I dug the holes roughly 5’ across and around 1.5’ deep. Since the clay can act like a bowl and retain all the rain we get, he also told me to dig a drainage trench. The holes are dug on a slight mound in the yard with the trench going away slightly downhill.

I mixed roughly 1/3 original clay soil with 1/3 leaf mulch and 1/3 soil conditioner. Also, since blueberries love acid (3.5-5 pH) and my soil is around 6 pH, I put about 1/8 cup of sulfur per hole (I haven’t had a chance to retest the soil again to see what the pH is).

After a lot of digging and work all the bushes got planted. You can see, the root ball is mounded even within the hole I dug to help shed water.

To date, all my blueberry bushes are looking blooming but it is possible I have Septoria leaf spot on them (*sigh*). I need to check it out a bit more but I will likely have to spray them with a fungicide. I will get some pictures up later of where they are at now.

On a lighter, more fun note. I wanted to see what happens when one puts the root of green onions from the grocery store in water with a couple of drops of liquid fertilizer. Here they are after about 2 weeks (they were previously cut down to the white).

Servicetech 04-16-16 06:55 AM

Large ain't the word for it !!
That's a HUGE raised garden bed !!

We may do a small 4' x 8' next year.

jeff5may 04-16-16 08:01 AM

We have hard, red clay soil here in Kentucky too. For plants that like well drained soil, the raised bed is the best thing you can do. Break ground a few inches deep, let it dry out, and spread organic matter over the clods of clay. Rototill it once to mix the clay and amendment material without pulverizing everything. Build a perimeter for the bed or make a mound, fill with compost or mulch a couple inches deep. Carve out holes for plants so that the bottom of the hole exposes some of the base layer and backfill with compost mulch.

I have used this method on hundreds of plots in my area with extraordinary success. Super low maintenance and way above average plant vitality.

Kentucky is a big tobacco producing state, so for big plots I use a wood chipper and a mixture of tobacco stalks and hedge or tree trimmings. Local tobacco farmers will dump a whole hay wagon full of stalks on me for free in the late summer or fall. You have a local source of wood chips, so all you need to mix in is something green so the wood chips can compost in place. Livestock manure is easy to come by here, since Kentucky is a big horse racing state. For smaller plots, bales of green hay (not grass - alfalfa, clover,or oat hay is best) can be used to incorporate some high-nitrogen material into the layer.

A lot less green material is needed than wood chips. For an actively managed compost bin, you want a high nitrogen ratio (20 carbon:nitrogen) so the bin will work fast and hot. For composting in place, especially with coarse woody chips, the process works much slower, so having a high nitrogen ratio ( below 50-75 carbon:nitrogen) will get you a stinky, sloppy mess of a bed that will need more wood chips or aged leaves mixed in. I cannot stress this enough: DO NOT PUT TOO MUCH NITROGEN INTO A FRESH RAISED BED!

Check out this page for the lowdown:

Optimal Compost Ingredients To Create Rich Black Soil

Using this basic method/formula will eliminate the need for fertilizer, water, and most other routine maintenance for a long, long time. As long as the plot is not disturbed, it will need nothing except more mulch on top as it cooks down. If you live in the desert, the plot will need water the first year or two until the worms and fungus do some composting underground. If the color isn't your favorite, sprinkle a thin layer of store bought mulch from the big box store. They had a sale on it this month for 2 bucks a bag in rainbow colors. Scott's earth something.

natethebrown 05-12-16 07:13 AM

Well most all of my seedlings have failed this year! The only ones that pulled through were my squash seedlings. Since all of my tomato and cauliflower seedlings failed, I was fortunate enough to find a plant sale last weekend, hosted by the Master Gardeners of North Alabama. I rolled out of there with 19 plants for $19! I got 4 different varieties of tomatoes and 3 different varieties of peppers. I got everything planted and watered last Saturday. Things were finally looking up, maybe I would have a successful garden this year. Sunday afternoon, I was out looking at the garden....BAM! EVERY STINKING TOMATO PLANT HAS POWDERY MILDEW! Sigh... I attempted a Sodium Bicarbonate solution, per the interwebs, spraying the plants every day. A couple of the tomato plants look better, but, for the most part, Sodium Bicarbonate solution seems pretty ineffective on Powdery Mildew. Last night, I got some Neem Oil concentrate and sprayed the plants. I didn't get a chance to look at them this morning, but I will report later on how effective Neem Oil is.

In positive news, my bush beans are doing great, as well as my cucumbers. They were all directly sown, so at least that was easy enough.

In a more interesting project, these are store bought, non organic, heads of romaine lettuce. You can see where they were originally cut down too with a knife. Water and a little bit of liquid fertilizer and new growth!

Higgy 05-26-16 10:11 AM

Nice big garden there Nate. I have 4 4x8 raised beds for vegetables. So far my tomatoes are coming along nicely. I was going to plant them last week but living in Canada you never know when there will be some freak risk of frost.

How did that neem oil work on your tomato plants? Hopefully they survive. I haven't been getting very good crop at my new house (been living there for 4 years) compared to my old one, I think because of all the wind they get. My old house used to be protected by a fence, but the new one I don't have a fence around it. Hopefully they do better this year. I also planted carrots, beets, peas and cucumbers. I'm going to try lettuce as well but I should have started them earlier this year as they do better in the spring/fall.

natethebrown 05-31-16 07:23 PM


Originally Posted by Higgy (Post 50258)
How did that neem oil work on your tomato plants? Hopefully they survive.

Sorry for the delay, I have been a little busy as of late:

This picture was him still in the NICU. Alexander is 11 days old, today.

The Neem Oil was quite effective in eliminating the Powdery Mildew. Unfortunately, I did end up loosing two tomato plants. Two out of twelve plants isn't a huge loss in my book. Also, on a plus side it is also good against mites and aphids, which I was also having some aphid issues on my green beans. The Neem Oil took care of both problems! I would highly recommend it to anyone now!

The garden is looking great. Since I am taking off work for two weeks, due to the above mentioned distraction, I have had some down time during sleep times to work on the garden. I have put in all of my concrete remesh tomato cages. Each cage has a 2' diameter. At the very front (nearest me) you can see the carrots and lettuce mix coming in.

You can sort of see how I fastened everything down. I zip-tied each cage to two 2.5' long rebar stakes that I hammered about 1.5' into the ground. Also, I zip-tied all the cages together, so, in essence, four rebar stakes are holding 3 cages down.

Next time, I am going to leave a bit more space in between the tomato plant rows. Even for a skinny guy like me, there isn't a lot of room between the cage rows.

Daox 05-31-16 08:39 PM

Congrats on the kid!

Also, nice looking garden. :)

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