You’ve probably read somewhere that vegetable seed sales are up 30% this year and it’s not just Michelle Obama who is starting a vegetable garden. After seeing us build our fifth raised bed, our next-door neighbors joined in with two, and we’ve offered advice to others (check out the link on the left to the crazy husband blog). So here’s our quick version:
– build raised beds. They work. Go to the lumber store/Lowe’s/Home Depot and get two 12-foot x one foot boards. Have them cut into an eight-foot piece and a four-foot piece. Screw them together (we’ve used deck screws, which admittedly aren’t cheap). We’ve added blocks at the corner, but I’m not sure they’re needed. Our first beds also had a bar across the bottom for stability, but we’ve since dropped that, even as the beds have gotten bigger.
– protect yourself from critters. We have deer as well as rabbits, chipmunks, a groundhog and squirrels. So we used old metal wiring (some of it found at a garage sale), scraps of wiring and even broken deer netting to line the bottom as a way of keeping them from digging their way in from underneath. We also tried thick white plastic sheeting the first year. Maybe you don’t need to do this step, but if you do, it’s OK to be cheap. We also added four-foot poles at the corners (generally 2x2s), nails to serve as hooks at the top and bottom and then strung deer netting (comes in seven-foot-high rolls). It’s not 100%, but good enough. One thought for this year is to staple the netting at the bottom of the strawberry bed so the squirrel can’t slip in that way.
– we had soil delivered; you might have a truck and save yourself the delivery charge or buy it by the bag. A cubic yard (27 square feet) is a lot! It’ll come close enough to filling one eight-by-four bed.
– grow plants close together so there’s less room for weeds (and therefore less work for you). We are converts to the square-foot gardening method (your library probably has the book: Square-Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew) and the idea of successive plantings. Our other favorite book is The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith. Among its many tips are what plants go with what (or don’t go). He’s also a big proponent of raised beds. They’ll both tell you to water deep and only if you don’t get an inch of rain that week. (Rain gauges are cheap.) Mulch too (with compost).
– start small. Be realistic about what you can do. (See Square-Foot Gardening.)
Finally, is it worth it? We obviously think so. Will you save money? Some of it depends on how much money you pour into the beds and garden design and of course if you last beyond one season. I haven’t read The $64 tomato by William Alexander and find the idea ludicrous. (His web site has pictures and a blog; I wonder if the cost of the fancy sundial contributed to the $64.) I also found the grumbling by one columnist difficult to take. (His wife wants a vegetable bed. This will cost money. Oh no! He remembered when his wife planted flowers and what that cost. Oh no!) Heirloom tomatoes cost $2.50 a pound at the farmers market, and that’s what we grow. I don’t know how many pounds of tomatoes we had last year, but if my new bed cost $100 (I think that’s high), I’m pretty confident I will have at least 40 pounds of tomatoes from the 12 plants that will go in there. (Plus I’m learning to save seeds so even the seeds are free. Otherwise a packet will last you several seasons.) We had more salad greens (not iceberg lettuce but the “expensive” stuff) than we would otherwise eat. (seeds — cheap. And have lasted several years.) The rosemary plant at the Master Gardeners’ plant sale cost $2.50. One packet will cost you that much at the supermarket. This lasts all season (and if we had arrived early enough to snare an Arp variety, more than one season). And where am I going to find purple green beans (one of this year’s experiments)?
Obviously you are eating wonderfully fresh food by growing it yourself and you have a great reason to spend lots of time outside. You’re super-busy? Read Square-Foot Gardening and you will realize that you should start small and that it doesn’t take a lot of time. (Heirloom: Notes from an Accidental Tomato Farmer by Tim Stark is a fun book, but he was also a bit extreme.)
What’s your take?