In our next major step toward self-sufficiency and greater preparedness for tough times, we wanted to have a garden. Now, mind you, we could have saved ourselves great expense and just tilled up a plot in the yard for a regular row garden. Except that we do actually want to grow something besides rice.
You see, this yard was engineered some 60 years ago as a kind of overflow for water coming down the neighborhood hill. Why, I have no idea. It would seem to make sense that you channel the water toward the street, and then into the big drainage ditch behind the neighborhood. Of course, that would require that you put the right sized pipes in from the beginning (um… no, they didn’t… they ended up replacing them with larger ones some time ago), but maybe designing the drainage correctly so that somebody doesn’t end up with their yard being used as a detention pond makes too much sense. Maybe there’s something more to this design that I just don’t know about and understand. *sigh*
(Oh, and making sure that the big drainage ditch is maintained well enough that it doesn’t have trees growing in it would help. My grandmother spent many an hour bending the ears of the local officials trying to get them to do their jobs. Especially since their lack of action periodically flooded people’s homes. Eventually, they did clean the ditch out, and the larger drainage pipe keeps the bottom of the hill here from flooding as badly as it used to. But I digress.)
So what happens here when it rains heavily is this: for a while, all looks normal. It’s raining, stuff gets wet, water puddles and runs down driveways to the streets, water runs down the streets from the top of the hill to the streets at the bottom of the hill. It takes a while, though, for the water to collect in the yards at the top of the hill enough for it to start flowing. You look out of our back window to see wet grass, and you move on. The water reaches the channel at the side of our yard, and, once it reaches a certain depth, it suddenly breaks through into the back yard. You pass by the back window again five minutes after you looked before and glance outside, and you now have a lake where the yard once was.
Our last heavy rain was almost two weeks ago. Yesterday was our first rain at all since that day, and it barely rained enough to get everything damp. Yet the yard has just dried out to the point at which you no longer sink into it as you walk.
So now you have a clear idea of the challenge of having a garden in our yard. Well, unless, like I said before, we want to grow rice. I have no doubt that rice would do very well here.
Not to be deterred from self-sufficiency (and fresh veggies), I began looking into how to have a garden in an area that holds water. The key to it, apparently, is to build a raised bed that is 18-24″ in depth. Wow, that’s big. And… *sigh* it’s expensive.
One of the highest points of the yard is right beside a fig tree. My uncle had built a grape arbor there some 20 years ago. It was roughly 4′ x 19′, and the grapevines had not survived but a few years (maybe because they still got too much water — it is one of the highest points, but it still floods). So Shay decided to turn the structure into a raised bed for me.
I looked at different methods of raised bed gardening, and settled on Square Foot Gardening. I got the new book, which is updated and easier than the original method that the author developed some 35 years ago. I have read that not all of the plant information in the new book is as accurate, though, as one would like, so it is recommended that it be paired with a book like the Garden Primer, which I already have, thanks to my mom and my uncle.
This method has many great reviews. People can’t seem to glow about it enough. There is the occasional person who tries it and doesn’t care for it, but the vast majority love it.
Unfortunately, I can’t build the 6″ deep raised bed that the method calls for. Mine has to be 18-24″ deep. So mine will cost significantly more. But we’ve been selling stuff on eBay, and pooling unexpected checks and such, to build up enough money to do it.
So we went and bought the lumber, screws, twine, and other supplies for the garden. Shay handpicked every piece of wood for it.
I know about the debate about treated lumber for vegetable gardens. That was because of the arsenic compound that was used to preserve the wood. They don’t use it any more. The new copper azole preservative is supposed to be safer. Still, many home vegetable gardens have been built with lumber treated with the arsenic compound, with no ill effects. It’s my understanding that it doesn’t leach out very fast or very far, and, just because it is in the soil, that doesn’t mean it will end up in your bell pepper.
When Shay took another look at the grape arbor, and found out how old it was, he decided it would be better to replace it than to use it and have to start replacing parts of it in a few years. So we tore it all down. Shay figured since we weren’t using the original structure, he could make the garden to the largest dimensions allowed by the wood he had bought. This turned out to be 5′ x 20′. The author of Square Foot Gardening suggests that it really shouldn’t be more than 4′ wide (for the sake of easy access), but it isn’t that hard to reach in 2 1/2 feet rather than 2 feet. Adding one foot to the width and one foot to the length adds 24 square feet to the garden, while using an additional 16 linear feet of wood (one foot per side, four planks deep) — wood we already had; we would just be cutting it longer. Adding 24 square feet to the garden without making it one foot wider would have taken an additional 48 linear feet of wood (six feet on two sides, four planks deep) — wood we would have to buy if we wanted that space. That was pretty hard to argue with.
Anyway, then it was time to lay out the garden. With Shay’s construction experience, he was able to get it square and level, in spite of the fact that the ground is quite uneven.
Now that most of the building is finished, we can start filling it. We’ll put down newspaper first, then chicken wire (for moles), then line pretty much the whole thing with landscape fabric both to keep the mix in, and to keep weeds out. I then need to put at least six inches of sand in it, to allow ample drainage for the garden. Excess water needs to be able to drain out, something that would most certainly not happen otherwise. The rest I will fill with a concoction known as “Mel’s mix” — a 1:1:1 mixture of compost, coarse vermiculite, and peat. I may go deeper on the sand, depending on the prices of everything involved. For now, it appears I will need approximately 2 cubic yards each of the sand and the three ingredients of Mel’s mix. Cha-ching! Now I get to start calling around…