Raising the Bar
October 23, 2012, 9:37 PM
Filed under: Community Gardens | Tags: , , , , , ,

We finally got around to planting  a small fall garden last month, and tomorrow I plan to harvest the first bok choy from it, with kale and lettuces hopefully by the weekend. Take a look:

A second raised bed, with brick sides, is filled with cabbages and broccoli, but I’m not sure if they were planted in time to produce full heads before freezing weather. So I’ll put a hoop house over them soon, where they’ll continue to slowly grow until very cold weather settles in. (The stakes shown on the wagon were soaked in the bucket of wood preservative and are drying there.. they’ll be used to stabilize the new bed.)

  After gardening both with and without raised beds, I definitely prefer ‘raisin’ the bar’. Here’s the pros:

1. No soil compaction: if you’re walking around on top of your raised beds, well, you’re an idiot.

2. No soil erosion: The soil stays within it’s boundaries and doesn’t get scattered into the paths or other areas

3. Easier on the back -’nuff said

4. Less Labor: Raised beds require more initial labor than traditional beds but less labor once established. Constructing the bed takes time, but once the bed is constructed and filled with soil, it only requires minimal maintenance.

5. Raised beds typically have fewer weed problems
6. Raised beds drain well, so they don’t become soggy or waterlogged in areas with heavy rainfall. Since you fill the bed with the best soil, you don’t have to worry about overly wet clay soil.
7. Raised beds require minimal preparation before spring planting. The elevated soil in the bed warms and dries out earlier than in traditional gardens, allowing you to plant some vegetables and flowers earlier. You can also plant more densely in a raised bed, since you don’t need room between plants to walk or move tilling equipment.

There are some disadvantages too, such as being more costly to install rather than planting directly into the soil, needing more frequent watering (due to better drainage), and densely planted beds can be more prone to fungal problems. Nematodes and disease organisms may also buildup in the soil, although you can diminish these issues by growing different plants in the bed each year, which is wise to do in traditional gardens as well. And obviously, tilling is out of the question, unless you have a small hand held tiller. We donated our big Troybilt Pony tiller to the community garden a couple of years ago where almost all the beds are traditional, and only do light tilling now, with our Mantis, when absolutely necessary. The earthworms and frogs are spared because of the no till methods, and the soil structure maintains its integrity better as well. All in all though, we’re raised bed advocates.

One major hurdle in building beds with wooden sides, is preventing the rot that can occur when using untreated wood. I don’t advocate using treated wood when growing food, unless you line the whole thing with a heavy duty landscape fabric first, but even then I’m not convinced that all those chemicals that are used to preserve wood aren’t leaching through that fabric and into the soil, where my plants roots can absorb it.  I came across this recipe for a natural wood preservative in Organic Gardening magazine a dozen years ago, and the beds at our last place were still in use after ten years, so if applied properly, this stuff is pretty long lasting. Here’s the recipe:

Wood Preservative
Recommended by Organic Gardening Magazine

1.   Slowly melt 1 ounce of paraffin or bees wax over low heat in a double boiler (do not heat over a direct flame).
2.   Outdoors, carefully pour just under a gallon of solvent (mineral spirits, paint thinner, or turpentine, at room temperature) into a bucket; then slowly pour in the melted paraffin, stirring vigorously.
3.   Add  1½ cups boiled linseed oil to the mix, stirring until the ingredients are blended.
4.   When the mixture cools, either dip your lumber into it or brush it onto the wood, making sure that you thoroughly coat all surfaces, especially the cut ends.  Dipping the boards for 5 to 15 minutes allows the repellent to soak more deeply into the wood.  

I haven’t found a way to dip boards in a one gallon bucket but I’ve found that five coats seems to offer adequate protection. It soaks into the bare wood quickly, so ‘dry time’ between coats is minimal. Here’s what it looks like in the bucket and on the wood:
I’m taking full advantage of this week’s warm, sunny days to get all the wood coated for a 4’x20′ bed we’ll be building in our community garden plot next week. Next up: improving the soil. 

3 Comments so far
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Beautiful & bountiful!

Comment by overtlysimple

Hi there! My family and I recently moved downtown and I a wondering if you know of any community gardens within walking distance? We have 2 small children a d would like them to be involved in gardening too so it would need to be pretty close for them to walk as well. I just started a Window Farm and I’m excited about getting food from it, but I think I will need even more. I have always lived in Johnson city. We had our first garden last year and I’m really going to miss gardening. Thanks for the help! Do you have a Facebook? I would love to keep up with your blog. I’ve enjoyed reading it today.

Comment by Crystal Danielsen Moore

Hi Crystal, If you go here: https://tennesseetransitions.wordpress.com/ you can click on the “Follow This Blog via email” link on the bottom left corner of that page. I do often post to FB too, but by pressing ‘follow’ you won’t ever miss one like you might if you just read it through FB feed. The Carver Community Peace Gardens are located within walking distance from downtown, and I happen to be the coordinator for that garden. If you’re interested, please email me privately, at simpleintn@yahoo.com

Comment by simpleintn

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