There is nothing like a pandemic to help you realize that it might be a good idea to be able to grow some of your own food. At the beginning of this current lock down, no one was sure how the food supply chain was going to be affected. This possibility of food shortages sent many Americans including myself, into their backyards to try and supplement their food supplies. This along with a growing interest in organic food has contributed to more folks creating their own gardens.
I opted to build a raised bed garden with my daughter as a fun family project. My materials list is below.
3 – 2” x 12” x 12’ treated lumber
1 – 100’ roll of weed guard/ground barrier
124 – Landscaping bricks (These are not really needed but I wanted it to look nice)
12 – Bags of raised bed top soil
6 – Bags of organic compost
1 – Box of #10 (3 1/2”) galvanized construction screws
8 – Bags of mulch (also not needed)
4 – Bags of landscaping spikes for the weed barrier
3 - Tomato cages (Heavy Duty)
Outside of it’s amazing ability to grow a wonderful clover field, I didn’t have a ton of confidence in the fertility of the topsoil in my backyard. I also live in the suburbs and would have needed to call the utility company to come mark possible water and gas lines if I wanted to dig out an area and replace the soil with a more nutrient rich option. These two factors led me to settle on a raised bed garden. My total project cost came out to roughly $500.00. The garden would have been much cheaper if I had fertile soil and wasn’t concerned with aesthetics.
I cut the lumber into 2’ and 4’ sections and made three 2’ x 4’ boxes. I then outlined an 8’ by 12’ space in my yard. The only digging I did was a 2” deep shovel wide outline of the perimeter. I leveled the dug-out perimeter and used it as a guide for my landscaping bricks. I then cut three 8’ strips from the roll of weed barrier. I overlapped and staked down these strips as I really wanted to avoid weeding the garden as much as possible. I placed the landscaping bricks around the edge stacking them two high. I placed the three boxes on top of the weed guard. I just eye balled the distance between the boxes and edge of the garden area.
I filled each box with four bags of topsoil and two bags of compost. The compost mixture was placed in last and then mixed in with the top soil. A side note for those of you making a garden for the first time, understand that there is a difference between topsoil and raised bed topsoil. Maybe I have fallen victim to some sort of marketing ploy but I thought I would mention it as I initially did not know this and bought the wrong type of soil which had to be returned. I then dropped in the mulch around the beds to make it look pretty. We opted to use transplants instead of seeds since depending on where you lived most big box stores were either out of seeds or not able to sell them for some odd reason. This project took us two days to go from lawn to a planted garden.
Planting the Garden
Below are several charts describing the spacing, planting depth, sunlight, and water requirements for your vegetables. The tables reference seed and bulb planting depths not transplant plants.
The start of our garden adventure was in full swing and the waiting game began. We planted the weekend before Memorial Day. My daughter and I went through the data we collected and made a list of plants we would like to try and grow. We based our plant picks on dinners that we like to make that used those vegetables. We also took into account the water and sunlight requirements, which helped us decide where to plant each plant in the box. The one metric we did not really give its due respect was plant spacing. The picture above was the nicest the garden would look for the rest of the season.
Vegetables we planted
2 tomato plants
1 cherry tomato plant
4 red leaf lettuce
2 green pepper plants
4 sweet banana pepper plants
1 zucchini plant
3 broccoli plants
2 red cabbage
Everything was fine for the first 4 weeks. After that we started to notice some of the mistakes we made. One of the first things we learned was that there is a large variety of different types of tomato and cherry tomato plants. If you go to a nursery and the plants are just labeled tomato/cherry tomato plant, ask a worker what variety they are. We ended up with large purple cherry tomatoes as a surprise. Our other two tomato plants ended up being some slicing variety which worked out fine since we love BLT's. It also gave us a chance to try our hand at canning.
We wanted to keep our garden free of chemicals and pesticides which for the most part worked out. We found out that the red cabbage was a favorite among the bugs who made quick work of the leaves. We didn't get to harvest any cabbage due to the constant assault on the leaves. This was our first plant failure which will require more research before next growing season. The broccoli was our second failure, it looked nothing like the broccoli you see in the super market. We had good growth and the bugs left it alone but we would get spread out florets that never came together. The florets would eventually turn brown and a new stem would start growing a floret above the old dead one. We still have no idea what was going on with the broccoli and will need to research that before the next growing season. Those were the only two plants that we did not harvest.
Our spacing might have been our greatest downfall. I say might because we are having a decent harvest but until we get a couple more seasons under our belt we won't know how much overcrowding hampered our yield. We had no clue that zucchini plants basically turned into a monstrous patch of land lily pads. The zucchini plant could have been in a box all by itself. It was also amazing how fast zucchini can grow from that orange flower. All our tomato plants grew very well but because they were so close to some of our smaller plants I think the pepper plants didn't get all the sun they could have if we had spaced them properly. We were able to get two full harvests from the red leaf lettuce before the tomato plant in front of it became too big and blocked out all it's sun.
Here are some of the dishes we made from our garden
Tuna Salad (Banana Peppers)
Fried Green Tomatoes
I have always been a hunter rather than a gatherer, but if I'm being honest I think I'm going to do both from here on out. It turns out that you get the same prideful feeling from making your family a meal from your garden as you do when you feed them some game you've harvested. I also had a blast with my daughter in the kitchen showing her how to make all these wonderful dishes. It reaches down and tickles a special part of the soul to teach and experience these things with family. This hunting season will be the first time my daughter is going with me into the woods and I hope it's just as magical. Stay tuned for our coming adventures in the woods.