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Old 03-10-16, 03:19 PM   #1
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Join Date: Aug 2012
Location: North Alabama
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Default 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.

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