I started gardening with a few containers I bought when Smith & Hawkin had a going out of business sale. I wanted to test the gardening waters, but didn't want to get too crazy. After researching a bit about easy plants to start with, I planted some cherry tomatoes, green beans and herbs. I thought my handful of harvested vegetables were award-winning and took photos like a mother with a newborn baby. Embarrassing proof below.
Fast forward a few years and a lot of trial and error later, and I have vegetables coming out of my ears every year. Thinking back to my first year of gardening now makes me laugh. Most people who see my garden say they can't grow plants to save their life, which I will almost always disagree with. It just takes a few bits of knowledge and a good setup.
Jodi and I headed out to Granville, Ohio this past weekend to help our friends build some beds at their new place. After only a couple of hours, we had almost completed six raised beds. It made me think you can make your setup as easy or as hard as you want. Here is a look at the various configurations I have at home:
MiniGarden vertical planters are the containers I got started with. I love them because you can stack them on the ground or hang them up. After some trial and error, I found they worked best for me hung individually on the fence. These are located right outside my kitchen door, and I only plant herbs in them. While cooking, I can just walk out and cut a few stems.
My deck is enormous and takes up half of my yard. I wanted a way to gain additional growing space and have a barrier that separated one area of the deck from another. I landed on a steel stock tank. You can find these at farm supply stores or online. They come in a handful of different sizes. I drilled a few holes in the bottom and added a layer of gravel before filling with soil to ensure good drainage.
Let me preface this part by saying I am a designer. Aesthetics absolutely mean as much to me as functionality. So for my own home, where I was entertaining and trying to grow vegetables at the same time, the look was very important. When I had the deck put in, I enlisted my handy neighbor to build the raised beds right into the deck. After about eight years of heavy use, Jodi and I did have to rebuild a few areas of them last year. While we were at it, we also doubled up the front edge so we could sit our big butts on them more comfortably.
But, as I mentioned, raised beds can be really easy. Here is the setup we helped our friends recently...
1. Buy some wood
Cedar is best, but also the most expensive. Just make sure you buy untreated wood if you plan on eating what you grow in the beds. We used 2x8 pine here. You'll need three identical boards for one bed.
2. Build the beds
Cut one your boards in half and pre-drill the two short ends. Screw the four boards together with deck screws. Done.
3. Plan your plot
The biggest issue I see with garden spaces that fail is the location. Make sure you are paying attention to how much sun your plants need. Those tomatoes of yours need a ton of sun. My face, on the other hand, will swell to a cat-like complexion after about 5 minutes in it. Also, make sure there is no standing water after a heavy rain in the area you are hoping to use.
4. Dig up the grass and loosen the dirt
This is probably the biggest pain in the process. I'm lazy and just till it up a bit and compost the big chunks. You really should be digging it up, so you don't have to deal with a considerable weed issue. Don't use chemicals to kill the grass. You will then be eating those yummy chemicals in a few months. Just give the grass excavation your best shot and loosen up the dirt a bit.
5. Move your boxes in place
Place the boxes on the plot you've dug up and stake the corners into the ground. Screw the stakes into the beds.
6. Pump up the volume
7. Fill with dirt
If sun is the number one issue with gardens, soil is number two. Not only should you start with a good mix, but you need to replenish your dirt every season. If you can find a good mix by the truckload, do it. It will save your back and your wallet. I have one magical bed at my house that performs better than any other bed. I used a mixture of peat moss, topsoil and manure. Jodi tops it off with compost every year.
8. Start growing
Listen, you're not going to be coming out the gate like Martha Stewart or Oprah. Chose varieties that are easy to grow and start off small. Jodi and I are finally at the point where we can handle a bunch of different varieties at once, and it's taken us years. You will learn more and more as time goes on.
There is nothing like going outside and picking dinner for the night. It's completely addicting and rewarding. Build something this year. Check out my Pinterest board for more ideas and let me know how it goes for you.