Yesterday I got the empty space between the two raised beds ready for planting. I had already weed whacked it down to the dirt as best I could, so all I had to do was fork the area up to loosen the soil, cover it all with wet cardboard, and top that with leaf/pine shavings/etc mulch.
Last night it rained an inch and a half, so everything was nice and wet for transplanting. Maybe too wet under the cardboard? Muddy. But I think it’ll dry out soon enough and not drown my transplants.
I put four Better Boy tomatoes at the far end, and four Black Krim on the end nearer the gate. These seedlings are from the farmers market. I only have four tomato cages, total, which is something I should fix before the plants get too big. (I will most likely fail to address this in time, if my past performance is any indication.) In between there are six collard plants that I started in the cold frame and moved over today.
The left bed, viewed from this distance, still doesn’t have a lot going on, but the lettuce is popping up.
Things are looking good in the right bed. Peas, radish, spinach all growing well. I squeezed four more strawberry plants in there on the far end, because they were a dollar at the farmers market. Wasn’t sure where else to put them. I think they are the “Sweet Charlie” variety. On the near end, I spread the remaining collard plants out a bit, and added oregano and thyme along the edges.
I could have documented more of the process of making this little raised bed, but this shows what the sides are constructed from, and the upside down pots at the base to improve drainage, since it’s for alpines. March 2020.
Not always the pretty, flower filled pics you see everywhere online. Here at our cottage in Leitrim, it rains. A lot. Nearly every day. That’s why Ireland’s so green and lush..all the rain!
But what it means for my wee acre of land is that the soil is sodden clay. Really HEAVY sodden clay.
The front of the garden has been beautifully landscaped by the previous owners..
But the back is a field that hasn’t been worked, sadly, for at least a couple of decades….
As a result, it’s overgrown with brambles, bog grass and bracken. I’ll cut back the brambles and bracken but am not laying a hand on the trees or hedging around it…they stay, because they harbour wildlife and birds. The septic tank is placed in one corner of the field. Of the rest of it, only a wee bit in the middle is currently useable. That’s where I’m placing my four raised beds. I’m using those because when I tried digging the soil, I almost gave myself a stroke. Not joking…the soil is so waterlogged it’s pointless digging it as I don’t have enough manure or bulking (like straw bedding etc, ) to help make it lighter, more friable. Once I’ve had the hens I’m getting for a few years, aye, then the waste they produce can go into the soil and it’ll help a great deal.
But for now, if I want to grow vegetables..and I do…it’s raised beds. Two are built and in place already, two more will be put there next week. And I have a tiny polytunnel, near the trees for shelter from the increasing storms Ireland’s getting, for things like tomatoes, salad veg etc.
The irony is, clay soil is often GOOD soil, packed full of nutrients and minerals just right for crops. But if I can’t dig it I can’t use it. In the years to come, I’ll save to hire a man with a tractor or rotovator to til the soil for me, digging in bulking agents. Til then, raised beds it is.
But the front, well…I can manage to dig into the lawn areas to plant things, and since the front is beautifully landscaped with topiary and huge Leylandii to one side, firs, spruces and our gorgeous Cedar tree outside the sittingroom window and other bushes and shrubs, I planted, yesterday, a few Hydrangeas and Violas alongside the path from the gate to the door. I hope they survive the coming storm. They’re still small so they shouldn’t suffer too much from the winds and no snow if forecast for this area, so hopefully that also means no frost damage.
I also planted a Buddleia, to attract butterflies in summertime.
I’ve no real complaints about the house or field..to be honest, we’re just so happy to have a roof over our heads, and our family intact, given what we’ve been through.
I wish I was younger though. It isn’t until now, that I’m not, that I realise how damn fit and strong I used to be. And, I miss that…
But aye, there *are* ways around issues like this. If you can’t, for whatever reason, dig where you are, try raised beds or if there’s no room, container gardening or even vertical gardening if you’ve walls. Sunshine, air, water and food are all plants need to thrive. And the benefits of growing in beds and containers is, of course, less weeds to contend with.
Today’s Horticulture Learning Unit is on the topic of soil structure in your raised planting beds.
Here in the Maritime Northwest, we see constant rainy Winters and Springs. This rain, paired with the Pacific Oceans influence on the climate, causes our soil to be slightly acidic with an average pH of 6.0. Most garden vegetables won’t mind a pH of this number, however, if one wanted to have their soil a true neutral they could amend their soil with mature compost.
According to the Tilth Allience, “A gram of healthy soil is home to as many as 500 million beings: bacteria, actinomycetes, fungi, yeasts, protozoa, algae, etc.*” We as gardener’s try to maintain and assist these organisms by keeping our soils healthy and balanced with the right nutrients and amendments.
When early Spring comes around, it’s time to assess your planting soil and determine the structure and if it needs any amendments. There are generally four (4) soil types.
Clay: heavy, compact soils. Clay soil is rich in nutrients and is very fertile. Retains all water and in summer, will dry out and crack. Slow to warm up.
Sand: light soils lacking in moisture retention. Dries out, drains, and warms up quickly. Usually very acidic and lacking in nutrients. Sandy soil can wash away easily by heavy rains.
Silt: fertile soils with a silky texture. Silt soil drains quickly and holds moisture, but compacts easily if pressed or stepped on.
Loam: a mixture of clay, sandy, and silt soils. Moisture retentiave, fertile, holds its shape, and is easily worked with. Loamy soils are preferred for raised beds.
How can you tell if you have a balanced loamy soil? (Preform this test in sunny weather and not immediately after rain.) Go out into the garden and grab a handful of soil from approximately 1-2 inches beneath the surface. Squeeze it into your hand to form a ball like mass. Toss the compacted soil into the air and catch it in the palm of your hand.
If the mass breaks apart and crumbles in the air (or even in your hand before tossing), you might have too much sand in your soil.
If the mass stays intact and does not break when it hits the palm of your hand (or even splats like mud), you might have too much clay or silt in your soil.
If the mass stay intact in the air, and breaks apart into clumps when it hits the palm of your hand, you have a more balanced soil.
Of course, this simple test is an old farmers trick. If you want a in depth test, you can send a sample of your soil to a soil testing facility. They will be able to give you a in depth report of your soils structure, fertility, and nutrients. The photo below** lists a few soil testing facilities for the Maritime Northwest area.
*Elliott, Carl, et al. The Maritime Northwest Garden Guide: Planning Calendar for Year-Round Organic Gardening. Seattle Tilth, 2012.
**Elliott, Carl, et al. The Maritime Northwest Garden Guide: Planning Calendar for Year-Round Organic Gardening. Seattle Tilth, 2012.
My plan for the raised bed is to use all my various bits of chicken wire to sturdily close off the lower perimeter, but still make it so I can open the wire flaps to get in, and use softer netting to enclose the top. At some point plants growing in the bed will grow tall enough I will take off the top netting.
But this should do better for keeping seeds in the ground, while warding off squirrels, birds and cats. And if I have my parents’ dog over, she can’t wander through there.
This is where the vegetable garden will go. We’re gonna do two rows of raised beds, starting at the front by where I’m standing, and expanding backwards as materials and my ability to care for it allow. It’s a lot of space!
I’m starting by solarizing a section big enough to put three beds (that’s what the plastic is for) and hope to have them built and filled and planted for fall crops. Garlic, at least, but I bet I can get some quick/hardy greens in there in time.
I bought a few bags of soil to start me off, but I’ll be mixing it with the existing sandy soil in the beds, and of course the rabbits make their contribution.
Gardens in Santa Fe run from the casual to the very informal, and building materials are often equally unpretentious. Favored materials include railroad ties and other treated woods, cedar, undressed stone, and adobe.