Last time I started a vegetable garden was 3 years ago. Despite planting about 25 different kinds of vegetables, all I got were some carrots, lettuce and swiss chard. Not because I have a black thumb, but because the deer, rabbits, woodchucks, and raccoons with access to our yard decided my garden was their own personal buffet.
After thorough research, I found the only thing likely to keep all of those beasts out of my garden was a fence. A tall fence, because deer can jump.
Here’s what I’ve accomplished so far.
March 15th – Ordered seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. If I’m going to go to the trouble of growing my own food, I want crazy stuff I can’t find at the store. Like purple carrots. I grew them last time and they were indeed purple, and very tasty.
Last time I went crazy and bought about $100 worth of seeds. This time I limited myself to a few things that I really really want (like sweet corn and tomatoes).
March 28-30th – I used stakes and twine to mark where my fence will go, and then started clearing the area of the weeds and small trees that had taken over since I last used that part of the yard. Mostly wild blackberry bushes, which are, aside from poison ivy and stinging nettles, the most vile plant I’ve ever come in contact with. I’d already spent two summers clearing the area of thistle. I learned this lesson the hard way: cleared yard doesn’t stay clear. Once you get rid of one weed, another will take it’s place.
I read a lot about getting rid of blackberries. Most people agree it’s difficult at best, impossible at worst. Nothing’s impossible, I say. My method was to cut the canes to a manageable length (some were over 10 feet long), toss those bits onto a tarp (to be dragged far into the woods and deposited somewhere they won’t bother me if they resprout), and then pull up the remaining cane stump, trying to get as much as the roots as possible. Some people say to till after you do this, and remove all of the root bits. After you till, you’re supposed to pour one gallon of boiling water over the area, PER bush. Well, I can tell you right now, one of the reason I’m doing raised beds with lots of mulching is because I don’t plan on tilling. So I’m not gonna start now. And that boiling water idea was never going to happen. I’d probably need 50 gallons.
So I am resigned to the fact that the blackberries will be back. But I will be waiting with my shears and my shovel.
I cleared some of the blackberries last fall, and after I was done clearing a section, I put down a layer of cardboard and raked all the leaves from my yard on top. Not only did it keep the weeds from growing, the cardboard has completely disintegrated by now. The decomposition of the cardboard and leaves left the soil full of that awesome organic matter you hear so much about. So if you’re clearing yard space and aren’t going to put something in right away, cover the ground. You can use landscaping fabric, but cardboard and leaves/grass clippings/straw acts like automatic compost.
April 1st – Put in the first of 3 raised beds.
Lots of people use lumber for raised beds. I didn’t like that idea for a variety of reasons.
- treated lumber has poison in it, and I don’t care how safe or how little gets into the food. I don’t want poison around my vegetables. Better safe than sorry.
- lumber rots.
- lumber has to be nailed/bolted/etc. together.
- lumber has to be cut to size.
- once you make your garden box, that’s the size of your box.
Suitable alternatives? Some people do freeform beds without any supports. Just pile up the dirt and organic matter and start planting. Some use old tires. Some go fancy and get landscaping rocks or bricks. I decided to go cheap and ugly with regular cement blocks. AKA cinderblocks. Standard 8″x8″x16″ masonry blocks.
- no chemical leaching.
- no nails, no cutting.
- they last forever
- Even cooler, if I decide to expand beds, change their shape, move them, or make them smaller, I just move the bricks one by one.
Did I mention they’re cheap?
Raised beds should be no more than 3-4′ wide so you can reach the whole bed from either side. I grabbed some scrap paper and a pencil and drew up some diagrams and found I could fit three 3’x15′ beds in the area to be fenced. (They actually wind up being about 4.5’x16′ with the bricks around the perimeter.) That’s about 28 bricks per bed. We’re lucky to have Menard’s nearby, because they have cement blocks for 98 cents each. The first bed only cost me $15, because I already had some bricks here around an old firepit.
Once I had the first raised bed in, I planted 20 asparagus crowns that had serendipitously arrived that day. April 1st was probably a little early to plant them, but I figured since they’re roots and not seeds, they’re probably happier under dirt than in my refrigerator, which is what people suggested you do with them if you aren’t going to plant them right away.
ng> – Started tomato, pepper, eggplant, and corn seedlings indoors. I really should have started the tomato, peppers, and eggplants sooner, but I was a little tardy this time around with the indoor seedlings.
Corn is generally not started indoors, but here in Michigan, we don’t have a long growing season, so I figured I’d give it a shot. Lots of people have had success doing so, so I figured, might as well give it a whirl.