We’re determined to get seeds into the ground this spring. Determined! As you know, we’re new to this homesteading “thing” and we have a lot to learn. We also have a very limited budget and we always need to figure out the most cost effective way to achieve our goals. The veggie garden was no different.
Overview of Our Situation
1) We have clay soil. It’s black and beautiful, but it’s WAY too dense and holds moisture too well.
2) We have limited tools – ie. no tiller, and clay soil is TOUGH to dig.
3) We’ve had a lot of rain, so the soil is even stickier and denser than normal.
4) We were going to need to improve the soil in the beds.
4) Fancy, raised bed kits are not a financially viable option for us this year, and the lumber needed to build the lovely cedar ones you see on Pinterest is also prohibitively expensive right now.
We spent about an hour walking the aisles of our local hardware store considering options. Somewhere on Pinterest I had read a post about using fence planks for the wood frame, but I can’t find the post so I cannot link back to it. If you know who it was, please shoot me an email and I will insert it here. (ros @ chickengateway.com)
What We Needed
We needed these beds to be cheap, easy to assemble, and quick to get going. They didn’t need to last a lifetime, because we plan on building something more substantial next year. Whatever material we used needed to deal well with our hot and damp environment and not leech chemicals or anything crazy like that. While they aren’t our “forever beds”, they still needed to be fairly sturdy as they’d be holding a lot of soil and water and (hopefully) plants over the next year.
While walking the aisles at McCoys I remembered that Pinterest post about using the fence planks, and when I saw how inexpensive the planks were I squealed a little! Cedar fence planks were $2.19/each and to build the size bed we wanted, we’d only need 6 of them, so we had our sides for under $20! Our plans were to build a bed that is 6 x 12, (a mistake we won’t make again when we build our “real” beds next year, but more about that in a future post).
The planks themselves are 6′ long. (1″ x 4″ x 6′) so our sides would be perfect as-is. The longer sections front and back would require a bit of work and reinforcing. We found these metal corner brackets (3″ Inside Corner Brackets which we used on the outside, by Hardware House $2.59 for 2), and braces (6″ Mending Plates, by Hardware House $1.29 for 2) and decided they would be perfection for this project. The hardware cost $6.47 in total, and brought our grand total to… *drumroll*
$6.47 + $13.14 = $19.61!!
which means we’d have a perfectly good 72 sq ft raised vegetable garden bed for less than $20… (okay $20 and some change after tax). Our budget was $40 for the project, so we threw in a roll of landscaping fabric for about $20.
The build was incredibly simple so I won’t go into too much detail here. I think the pictures are pretty obvious:
Next we spread out the landscaping fabric and laid the fence planks out. (Roddy wants me to mention that this is not his standard screwdriver of choice. His regular driver had no battery and so he was forced to use this gag Christmas gift driver – which worked surprisingly well actually!)
Once we had everything lined up, it was just a matter of screwing the braces into place on the longer pieces.
Being fence planks the wood has notched edges on one side this prevented us from using both screw holes on the corner brackets, but we found that the joint strength was not compromised. Honestly, once we filled the beds with dirt we don’t even notice the notches.
We’re really new to gardening, and the information we found online was just SO overwhelming. Who knew there were so many different ways to improve dirt quality! We went back to basics on this – if you’re a long-time gardener you may have some hints and tips for ways we can improve our soil for next year – but so far this year our method is working for us. Again, truckloads of soil were not in the budget for our modest raised garden beds and we had to work with what we already had.
Here’s what we did:
Then dumped a thin layer of partially mulched leaves on top.
Next we went to my father-in-law’s lovely compost pile that he has been building on for years in preparation for his own vegetable garden when he retires. And we also grabbed some of the beautiful compost from our worm bin – but our bin is sadly too young and too small to have yielded enough for this bed – we’re thinking of expanding our worm operations to keep up with future beds. We also poured a healthy amount of “compost tea” from the worm bin over the dirt at this point.
The worst part came next – we knew we’d have to start bringing in some of our own soil from the yard, but again, because of the rain and clay soil coupled with the massive tree roots all over this property, this was going to be a nightmarish job… until we had the bright idea to raid the old abandoned pig pen where we’d still be dealing with wet clay, but at least tree roots would not be a problem – and we hoped that pig pen dirt would be a great source of nutrients for the plants as well.
Mama told us about an old pile of topsoil that they had had delivered many years earlier. We went to check and yes, it was still there, but grass had claimed it and made it part of the general yard landscape. We dumped this in and mixed it with the clay and the compost and the mulch and watered it well and left it to sit for another 2 weeks – watering and stirring it up a bit about every other day – hoping that we’d get the soil types to “marry”.
Finally a couple of weeks ago things looked good and we had time to plant. We have our first spring seeds in the ground and we’re already seeing shoots peeking out of the dirt. Weirdly for us, Arugula, the thing we were told was a “fast crop”, has leisurely sprouted and continues modest growth every day. While our Brussels Sprouts are really going for gold! I am wondering if this has anything to do with our soil combination? It’s early days and only time will tell.
I will post garden updates next weekend and show you our seedling progress.