Garden Makeover

We had a garden last year (you can see/read about it here), but we didn’t love it. The soil we had in our backyard was kinda awful. Lots of stones, even some pieces of clay pots when we worked the soil. My guess is that there used to be a tree in that space. On top of that, it wasn’t a very easy garden to work in since it was surrounded on three sides by fence.

On the positive side, that area of our yard gets a TON of sun, so it’s an ideal garden location.

So, as we were slogging through April and the Spring that seemed like it would never come, we started to talk about a garden makeover. We had a whole pile of 2×6 lumber in the basement that was left behind when the previous owners remodeled. That stock, combined with the knowledge that there wasn’t much we could do to rescue our existing soil (oh, and some inspiration from our neighbors who have been doing this for a couple years), led to the idea to create some raised beds.

I did some research and ultimately picked up the excellent All New Square Foot Gardening book by Mel Bartholomew. A couple of design iterations later and I had a plan. On Sunday, April 17th, I decided to gather supplies. This included:

  • A trip to Stein’s Garden and Gifts to pick up the necessary ingredients to mix our own soil (Peat Moss, Vermiculite and 5 different kinds of compost), weed cloth, and trellis netting. That filled the back of the truck completely.
  • A trip to Menards for wood screws, conduit pipe to build a trellis, wood lath to create the square foot sections, and nuts and bolts to join the lath

After a bunch of sawing, it was time to assemble the beds. I drilled some holes and screwed in the first 3 screws. And my cordless drill was struggling in a big way. So… one more trip to Menards to get a corded drill, which was an awesomely necessary purchase. The first box I built was the one that would go on the left side of our garden. It’s 2′ wide, and sits at three levels. A 3′ section at the front 6″ off the ground, a 3′ section in the middle that is a full foot high, and a 4′ section in back that is 18″ up.

Our garden looked like this:

It was a start, and a nice sign of things to come, but let’s face it: our backyard was still pretty ugly.

We were busy the next two days, and it was rainy. Meanwhile, we were heading out of town for Easter weekend and a big pile of soil materials were sitting in bags in our backyard. Luckily, Wednesday evening was nice, and we made a ton of progress (while Nabisco peered out from the kitchen window)

Pulling up the bricks and moving our cheap fencing:

The main bed in front – 4′ x 6′:

Leveling the soil (and you can see the 2′ x 8′ rear bed here):

That’s weed cloth sitting under the beds — hopefully it will keep the old weeds from invading our new garden boxes.

For the portions that were more than 6″ off the ground, we used some “paver base” (basically a sand/rock mixture used below pavement and patios to allow for good drainage, but leveling) as fill so we only needed to add 6″ of soil. Since we only needed 6″ of soil, this allowed us to raise the altitude for a fraction of the cost. Of course, it did require the procurement of a lot of paver base. Which Menards sells in 50 lb bags. 50 lbs is 1/2 cubic foot. All told, our garden now contains 27.5 cubic feet of paver base. No need to pull out the calculator. That’s 55 bags, or 2,750 pounds. My muscles ache just thinking about it.

Then it was time to mix the dirt. We did this in two batches, using a tarp as our mixing bowl. It was a strenuous little workout.

Those two batches (24 cubic foot of soil total) filled up the left hand and front beds, and just in time, as the sun was dropping rapidly.

At that point, it was starting to look like something.

Pictureless steps that happened next?

  • Adding the wood lath cross sections to the beds
  • Transplanting our surviving chives from last year
  • Planting a few pansies
  • Planting some onions and lettuce
  • Taking a wonderful trip to the in-laws in Michigan
  • Hosting my parents for a rare overnight stay in Milwaukee
  • etc

Then. as the calendar flipped to May, we had some weekend time to make some major progress.

The back bed is now raised up 12″ and there’s a mirror image bed on the right side to match the one on the left (there’s a 3′ x 3′ section missing from the front right).

PLUS — we planted a bunch of herbs, strawberries and blueberries!!!

Just this evening, I added the trellis in the back, but again, no pics yet… Plus, due to small supply and heavy-ish demand, we’re in need of 4 cubic feet of Vermiculite before we can mix our final batch of soil.

I’ll try to keep updating this blog with our garden successes (and failures) this year.

View the thumbnailed imaged after the jump

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