Sunday, April 28, 2013

Square Foot Raised Bed Delineated

The square foot raised beds were completed, filled and covered with plastic mulch on April 15.  To prepare for planting, it was time to layout the squares of the square foot garden.

The inside of the beds measure 4' x 4' / 1.2m x 1.2m.

The beds will be divided into 16 equal size areas. Each 1'/ 30cm square.

Mark the frame every 1' / 30cm.

Do the same all around the frame.

Using a straightedge, draw lines on the plastic mulch from one side of the frame to the other. Once all the lines are drawn you will have a grid. Each square measuring one foot by one foot.  Thereby the name, square foot garden.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Raised Bed Growing Medium Recipe

Traditionally the growing medium for plants has been soil, dirt, earth, ground, loam or what ever you to call it in your neck of the woods. The composition and structure of soil can vary widely from place to place. To take the guess work out of the composition and structure of your local soil it may be better to create your own growing medium. Start from scratch. Play God a little bit.

According to the original Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew, the growing medium consists of: 

  1. Sphagnum Peat Moss
  2. Mushroom Compost
  3. Vermiculite
Also recommended are organic sources of nutrients. Above you see:
  1. Blood Meal
  2. Bone Meal
  3. Wood Ash for which I substituted Green Sand
In the photograph is enough peat, compost and vermiculite to fill two 4' x 4' x 1' / 1.2m x 1.2m x .3 m raised bed. That is 32cu ft/ .9cu m of material.

To start mixing the medium I dumped two bails of sphagnum peat moss onto the patio. The peat is very dry and light in weight. I then added three bags of mushroom compost to the pile. This bagged mushroom compost is almost wet and very heavy. Then it was time to mix the two together.

Using a square mouth shovel, slide the shovel under the close edge of the pile and place the shovelful atop the pile. Continue that action moving the pile away from you. The clumps of compost and peat will fall from the top of the pile and settle at the edge. Smash those clumps with the flat of the shovel to make small pieces of the large.

Be sure to move all the mixture in the pile and not leave any concentrations of components.

Once the medium is homogeneous add one bag of vermiculite. 

Using the same shoveling technique, mix the vermiculite until the medium is again homogeneous.

Add 1gal/ 3.78L of green sand and mix again.

The next step will take some time. Add water to the medium. Shower the pile with water. 

Both the peat and vermiculite will absorb a great amount of water. Use the same shoveling method as before to mix the water into the medium.

The medium will have enough water when squeezed 

it holds together in a clump. The mixing is finished.

It feels good to create.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Monday, April 22, 2013

Preparing Second Raised Bed Site

The second raised bed was to go on a new area of lawn. That meant much more labor than the first site. My back already hurt, and my right shoulder and both knees. I don't want to complain but, from what I remember of my youth, that is what old people do. I will, however, spare showing you my surgical scars.

I wanted the second raised bed very close to the first. I also wanted a reasonable amount of space between them because, I am big boned. If you know what I mean. So I chose an area just NE of the first bed with 30"/76cm between for the path. This placement will facilitate extending the drip irrigation system, if it ever arrives in the mail.

I started the prep by measuring 5'/1.5m from the concrete patio. As I did with the prep of the first bed. That measurement would include the 4'/ 1.2m bed plus 1'/30cm for a buffer zone between the raised bed and the lawn. That buffer zone would be covered with wood chips or some other material that would make weeding easy.

I measured along the concrete patio 7'/2.1m. That measurement included 30"/76cm for the path, 4'6"/1.3m for the bed and 1'/30cm for the buffer zone of wood chips along side the raised bed.

The next step was to remove the grass/turf from the soil. To do this I used a border shovel. That shovel is flat and cuts a straight line. It also gets under the grass to cut the roots. So I tried to keep square to the patio and I cut into the turf a straight line 5'/1.5m out from the patio. Next I cut a straight line parallel with the patio to meet the cut-out buffer area at the first bed. Then I cut lines the shape of a grid approximately 1'/30cm apart in both directions.

Lastly, I cut the roots under each square of turf and piled the squares around the dug out area.

Reminded me of the turf houses built on the prairie in the mid-nineteenth century when there wasn't much else with which to build.

Last was to level the frame. Above you can see its proximity to the first bed.

I could hardly wait to mix the 16cu ft/.45cu m of soil to get the second bed filled. But first, I had to go inside and sit down. My back was hurting. I fell asleep in the recliner until after dark. Too dark to continue. As my mom always said, "There is always tomorrow." I didn't like it when I was eating cookies but, it works for me here.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Friday, April 19, 2013

Hate Weeds - Plastic Sheet Mulch

I hate to weed my garden. This time of year the dandelions are in bloom and the Norway Maples will soon be dropping their winged seeds. With virgin growing medium in my raised bed there is no better time to act. 

I planned ahead, a bit, and purchased plastic sheet mulch online from  This is the kind of plastic seen on vegetable farms. Plastic mulch keeps out the weed seeds, warms the soil by a few degrees and keeps the moisture in the soil. This red "Tomato Mulch" is suppose to increase tomato production 20% by reflecting the red light up under the leaves. I will settle for keeping out the weed seeds and preserving moisture in the soil. A major reason I purchased the red mulch over any other kind is because it was 4'/1.2m wide. That width will cover the bed completely with no seams under which weed seeds could find their way to the soil.

I laid out the mulch on the bed from side to side. I cut the length adding about 3"/76mm to the 4'/1.2m needed. Just to be safe.

I pegged down the corners to keep the mulch in place. I don't need to be chasing it around the yard. Besides it won't be of much use if is not held in place. 

I might still hate weeds but I will not have to pull weeds from the garden.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Preparing My First Raised Bed Site

There are many choices to make when deciding where to place the raised bed vegetable gardens - Sunlight, physical access, access to water, visual appeal, amount of labor needed. 

The first step in preparing the sites was choosing the locations. One site was the double dug location I prepared a few years ago. There are a few reasons I chose that site. The first reason was sunlight. This location gets at least 6 hours of full sunlight each day. The second reason was access. It is just off the concrete pad behind and in full view from the family room. Second reason was it was close enough to the house and has easy access to a water supply.  Third reason was that a great deal of labor has already been expended to create it. If I chose a different spot I would need to do a that work again.

The next step was to level the site. First I removed the weeds and any excess soil. 

The area needed for the raised bed was 4' x 4' /1.2m x 1.2m. Above you see a board 4'/1.2m in length placed at the edge of the concrete patio. I extended the leveled area to include a 1'/30cm wood chip or mulch border around the plot to suppress weed growth.

The next step was to cover the leveled plot with landscape cloth to resist weed growth under the raised bed. I laid out the cloth allowing it to cover the border and cut it to length.

I then folded the length in half and creased the fold. This crease gave me a straight line on which to cut.

The roll of landscape cloth is 4' wide. Cutting in half length-wise produced two 2'/60cm wide pieces.

Those two pieces covered the border areas, overlapping in the corner.

I rolled out some more cloth, covering the cloth on the end border and part of the side cloth. I didn't cut the cloth off the roll because I will be continuing the cloth under a path and under the second raised bed. The fewer breaks in the cloth the less likely something will grow from under the cloth.

I made a few staples to hold down the cloth before I put the beds over them. The wind might have blown them around if I didn't. (You can see my instructions for making the staples in an earlier post.)

Then it was time to place the frame over the cloth.

With the frame in place, the next step was to level the frame. Why? Because water seeks its own level. I didn't want any puddles or low, wet spots.

Here you can see the frame is way out of level with the bubble on the right side of the vial. When the frame is level the bubble will be within the two black lines. Perfectly level the bubble will be evenly spaced within the black lines.

The air in the vial is lighter than the liquid. So if the bubble is on the right side of the vial that is the high side. To get an idea of how much the left side must be raised to level the frame I raised the left side of the level. When the bubble moved to a position within the black lines on the vial, the left side of the level was a good 1/2"/12mm higher than the frame. That meant I had to raise the left side by at least 1/2"/12mm or lower the right side by as much.

I opted to lower the right side. I initially tried to do that by whacking it with an engineer's maul. I placed a board between the maul and the bed frame to minimize damaging the frame and started to pounding.

You can see the damage to the sacrificial board from the maul. The frame just wasn't going down and I was hitting it hard. Maybe, I needed to remove some soil from under the frame?

I moved the frame and saw there was some older landscape cloth under the frame. That old cloth was spreading out the force of the maul blows and not allowing the bed frame from compressing the soil. So I pulled up the old cloth, removed some soil, replaced the bed frame and went back to whaling on the board.

The frame still wasn't going down, so I sat on the frame to keep it from bouncing as I beat the board. After a few minutes of continued bludgeoning I had it to where the bubble was almost within the lines. I settled for that.

With the bed frame back in place and almost level, I noticed some light coming in under the far side of the frame. Not good. This might allow weeds to grow under or soil to escape.

I decided to tamp some excess soil under the frame to keep both of those events from happening in the future. Using one of the 3'/.9m lengths of 2x12/50mm x 30cm, I pushed the soil under the landscape cloth that was under the frame. 

All ready for the soil.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Friday, April 12, 2013

Constructing Raised Bed Frame

I want to make the raised beds as close to 1'/30cm deep as possible. Mel Bartholomew, author of The Square Foot Garden claims a 6"/15cm depth of soil is OK. I think 1'/30cm is required. Therefore, my choice of lumber was 2" x 12"/ 50mm x 30cm boards.

The finished dimensions of the beds will be 4' x 4'/ 1.2m x 1.2m. There were only two lengths of 2x12s available at my home improvement store, 12' long and 16' long. I didn't want to have any waste but that wasn't possible with only those two lengths available. I calculated the most efficient purchase to be two 2" x 12" x 16'/ 50mm x 30cm x 4.9m and one 2" x 12" x 12'/ 50mm x 30cm x 3.6m for the sides. Adding one 2" x 4" x 8'/ 50mm x 101 x 1.4m board to connect the corners.

I had the boards cut at the home improvement store in order that they fit into the car. The 16' 2x12s were cut into four 4'6"/1.37m, two 4'/1.2m and two 3'/.9m lengths. The 12' 2x12 was cut into four 4'/1.2m lengths. The 8' 2x4 was cut into eight 1'/30cm lengths. The 3'/.9m lengths of 2x12s will not be used and are therefore, waste.

When you are buying the lumber choose the straightest boards with as few knots, checks and cracks as you can find. This is not absolutely imperative but will get you the best product and keep the splitting on the ends to a minimum.

The first task is to check the ends of the boards for squareness. To do that use a framing square. The one in the photograph is a 2'/ 31cm square. The reason to check is that the saw may not have been set up correctly. If it was not, the ends will be out of square. Out of square ends will make construction more difficult. You can see in the above photograph the end is square. 

Next task was to screw one 1' length of 2x4 to each end of the same side of the 4' 2x12s. I used three 2-1/2" exterior deck screws to attach each 2x4 length.

To keep the end splitting to a minimum place the screws in the above pattern. The top and bottom screws are spaced about 1-1/2"-2" from the top and bottom of the 2x12. If the screws are placed closer to the edges they will probably split the 2x12 reducing the holding power and stability of the joint. Place the middle screw to the inside of the 2x4, as you can see in the above photograph. If the three screws were placed inline with each other, the 2x4 may split from end to end if you kept the screws inline. If the 2x4 split in half, it would need to be replaced.

Attach all the 2x4s to all the 4' 2x12s completing that part of the construction.

Next task was to screw the 4'6" lengths to the 4' lengths. So why are there 4' and 4'6" lengths when the frames are 4' square, you ask? Well, I will explain. If all the lengths were 4' long, only the inside edges of the ends would touch. There would be no overlap so the two boards can be fastened. 

Then you may ask, if the boards are a nominal 2" thick, actually 1-1/2" thick, why didn't I cut the other sides at 4' 3"? Well, here is the answer. End grain does not hold nails or screws well. The fasteners would just pull out of the ends. So, increase the lengths of the sides by 6" or 4x the 1-1/2" thickness of the boards and you can fasten the sides into the 1' lengths of 2x4s I fastened to the ends of the 4' lengths. Get the idea?

Next step is to fasten the corners. Stack several of the 4' lengths atop each other and then stand one of the 4' lengths up right next to the stack. This will help keep the upright 4' length standing upright. Then bring one of the 4'6" lengths to meet at one of the corners.

This is what the corner will look like. You can see that if the surface on which you are working is level and flat the corner will come together squarely. If not you will need to shim one of the sides to the corner meets squarely. You can see the end of the 4'6" length is already cracked. A screw placed near that crack will weaken the joint. Be careful of the screw placement.

So now is the time to screw the two boards together. If the screws are placed too close to the end of the board they will split it. Start the screws in from the end more than the thickness of the 2x4 on the 4' length and place the screws at a shallow angle. An angle that will go into the 2x4 but not exit the 2x4.

Get the picture?

Originally I wasn't going to paint the frames. But, after speaking with a few friends and my wife, I decided to paint them. Start with an exterior undercoat. Make sure to get paint on every bit of board that can be reached with the roller and then use a brush to get in even tighter crevices. 

Still there were places that had gaps. Gaps that needed caulking. Fill the gaps with paintable caulk before applying the finish coat. Two finish coats, if necessary.

To be continued ...

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved