Setting up a Raised Garden – A Labor of Love
(Summertime) You are so good to me. Warm, breezy days. Birds chirping. Bees buzzing. Butterflies a-fluttering. And then me, with the crazy idea that I could plant a garden, from scratch. Why, oh, why did I think this was going to be a piece of cake? Don’t get me wrong. I loved every step of it. I’d do it again in a heartbeat just to reap the rewards in the end. However, no one told me you would need the strength of 10 men with 8 pairs of arms, the patience of Job, and the ability to forego sleep. You have been warned! (kidding)Seriously, though, here’s what you’ll need/we had:
- Open, relatively flat land
- Lots and lots of topsoil
- A wheelbarrow
- Twice as many shovels as people – trust me on this one
- A rake
- Wooden stakes (especially if you’re not using pre-made wooden beds)
- A hammer
- Wooden garden beds (optional – but not for us!)
- Measuring tape
- Spools of nylon string
- Straw, lots and lots of straw
- Work gloves
Step 1 – The MeasuringWe figured we had room for about sixteen 3’ x 10’ beds altogether. So, we measured everything out, used the wooden stakes as guidelines for the beds with the nylon strings (fishing line) shaping the rectangular beds. This method is fine.
If you’re looking for a neater, more contained look, I would suggest going with pre-made wooden boxes. My husband actually built each one from scratch – pretty easy to hammer them together – which made things so many easier for us. I think we ended up with a few 2’ x 10’ beds because of how the pieces were cut and we wanted to use every board we bought.
We didn’t have much land so we made our pathways only 1 foot wide. Any smaller feels like a gymnastics balance beam routine.
Step 2 – The LandI can’t stress this point enough. TIP#1: Make sure your land is level. There is nothing worse than having to level the land while building the beds. How do I know, you ask? Hehehe…because we tried to do it and it was a NIGHTMARE. Talk about wonky beds! We laugh about it now but at the time, it really didn’t feel all that funny.
For our 16 beds we needed 16 cubic yards of top soil. We had it delivered to the front of our very narrow driveway. We’ll just haul it to the back yard, we thought. Which leads us to TIP#2: Place you soil pile as close to the bed site as possible. Pleeeease!!!!!!
Step 3 – The Soil
Step 4 – The Beds aka The Hard WorkWanna work those biceps and triceps? Then get ready for a real treat! You will be working. From the pile to the box, and back. Repeat a ga-zillion times. Soon the soil pile will go down and your plots will start to form. I’m always surprised at how much soil you can pack into just one of the boxes. Not too firmly now.
We also had to level everything. Let me tell you. We did NOT do a good job at that. It’s sloped all over. Good thing we’re not too bothered by it. At the end of all the shoveling and “wheelbarrowing”, blood (stubbed my toes a few times), sweat (actually we started at the end of spring when it was a little chilly so never mind), and tears (hey, I said I stubbed my toe!), the last thing we cared about was the sloping.
Once all the beds are filled up, use the flat side of the rake to flatten the soil in the beds. Watering and settling will “shrink” the soil to about ½ to 1-inch lower than the top of the boxes. You want this gap so that the water (and seeds!) don’t run off the sides of the raised beds. Unless you like growing things in the pathways.
Step 5 – The Straw (The End)Pack the pathways with lots of straw. I mean LOTS. Stomp around on the snow a little. It’s kinda fun, actually. Feel free to add some straw to the tops of the beds too (After sowing the seeds, of course). It will keep the weeds down and the moisture in.
Now you’re ready to go. Here are a few pics of our “struggle” and a few of our well-worth-it “rewards”.