Taking stock in this year’s garden
Gardening is something that gets in your blood.
My father’s fondest memories were of being on the farm, though the family lived in town and
only worked in the fields during summer months. Unfortunately, his father died at an early age when
my father was just six years old. But those memories never left him, and he tried to get back to the farm
the rest of his life. He did succeed in getting out of the town where they had lived, but it wasn’t a farm.
See, he had farming and gardening in his blood too.
Each year, gardeners ply the soil and coax plants up from the tiniest seeds to sometimes
magnificent plants. I do the same, but I’d prefer to grow plants that produce food rather than ones that
just make pretty. This year, I’ve made a few changes to methods and crops.
For more years than I can remember, I have tilled the soil both with tractor and with a tiller.
This year, I gave the tiller away and decided to put in raised beds. The first of these was for
strawberries, and was constructed of concrete blocks and stood just two blocks high. The second was
more comfortable three-blocks high and it made a big difference in comfort for an old back. I have seen
some that are four blocks high, and that appeals to me more all the time. The only problem with the
four block models is that the amount of soil to fill such a behemoth is considerably more. Perhaps some
large rocks in the bottom could solve that problem. Fortunately, with this type construction, it is easy to
go one more course high by just adding blocks to the top.
To give you a general idea, the area was first leveled to the best of my ability. Then a course of
1/2″ expanded metal was laid down to prevent burrowing critters from coming up through the bottom.
Then the blocks were laid out atop the wire and succeeding courses set one atop the other. Though
there is little chance of the blocks moving about, I used expanding foam instead of grout for the joints to
help lock the blocks in place. The design has worked pretty well.
We started with a load of manure spread across the bottom and followed that with a layer of
straw. Then it was another course of manure followed again by a layer of straw and finally a layer of the
best soil we could find. Both the manure and the straw fertilize the beds, and the straw helps by holding
moisture in the soil. Now that the crops are established, watering is a minimum. It also helps to keep
the surface of the beds covered with straw.
As the summer wears on, the soil surface sinks. That will be corrected during the winter months
with another layer of straw and manure. That will be a never ending process.
What has this method done for my garden? The soil is looser and easier to plant. Once
established, the plants take less water than if grown conventionally in the ground. The straw covering
helps retain moisture and serves as fertilizer. Bending to pull weeds is no trouble because the bed is
I also used PVC pipe to build a watering device simply by gluing pipe together and drilling holes
along the length of the pipe. Sprinklers are OK, but this seems to take less water and is much quicker.
Each of the beds (4′ x 16′) takes about 15 minutes. When building the beds, I lined them with plastic
sheeting to hold in moisture. It seems to have worked.
Each of the cells in the bricks was filled with soil because I use those for some of the smaller
things like beans and onions. Had I to do it over, I would line the cells with something like PVC pipe to
help retain moisture.
One of the beds I built with just two courses of brick and it is a bit low, but the remedy is easy,
another course of block will be added and glued to the other two. Then it will be filled with more of the
mixture of straw and manure.
PVC pipe is wonderful for the gardener because you can shape it any way you want. There are
all sorts of fixtures to work with and you can even bend it to make anything you should want. It is easy
to cut and glue for any purpose. You can even build a greenhouse frame from the stuff, given you have
the right bracing and know a little about construction. I have found that there are occasions that I do
not want to glue pieces because it can then be taken apart for winter storage. Sometimes leaving it out
when it freezes can damage the pipe. A nice thing about stores that carry parts is that there is a little
connection that can screw right to a hose.
I’m converting all my gardening to the raised beds, and expect to grow much more of what we
consume. Raised beds make it much easier. You can even place sheet vinyl over the bed and punch
holes for your plants, if you wish to. Black plastic helps warm the soil in the spring and also helps retain
moisture when the weather gets hot like it has been during this summer.