Friday, June 10, 2011

Raised in a garden bed

On Friday afternoon, June 3, the American Family community garden opened for planting. Jay and I got out there on Saturday morning. In the weeks leading up to opening day, I planned, started seeds, collected materials, asked lots of questions and sketched several ideas to make the most of the 10x10-foot plot. Watch a video of Jay and I building our community garden plot.

The community garden plot before we started to work in it. The soil had been tilled three times, though not very deep at all.

The ease of access, fertility and loose soil of raised beds are so perfect for gardening  that naturally I envisioned building raised beds, even in the tiny community garden plot. I sketched out two 3 1/2-foot beds with three 1-foot rows, one down the middle and two down the sides for full access. Then I did the math - that design dedicated 30 square feet to non-productive paths  (1-foot x 10 feet x 3 paths). There had to be a better design.
I grew up with raised beds; my mom's garden is made up of eight 3-foot by 20-foot beds she has been cultivating for more than 35 years. I learned early on that once the plants go in no one, not even mom, steps into the beds.

I next divided the 10x10 plot into quadrants with 1-foot paths down the middle of each axis. This design involved a bit more stretching but only dedicated 20 square feet to paths (1-foot x 10 feet x 2 paths). I still wasn't happy with paths that occupied 20 percent of the bed.

 The final design with a path from the main garden aisle (bottom of photo) that lead to a small inner rectangle allowing access (a bit of a stretch to the far corners) to the entire bed. The paths only occupied 15 square feet of the 100 square feet of bed.
I wanted to create reinforced raised beds, but didn't have enough lumber to do completely surround the bed. So I have a hybrid of reinforced raised beds in the center so soil doesn't fall into the path access area, and unreinforced on the outside, sloping down to my three adjacent neighbors. This autumn, after the beds are cleared out, I plan to add structure to the outside so the compost can be full depth all the way to the edges of the plot.
We brought in 30 bags of compost ($6 from the Dane County compost site 11 minutes away). Here Jay is planting a perimeter of marigolds to keep out rabbits and beautify the bed.
At the time, we had the only raised bed in the garden. We started to feel a bit awkward, as Jay put it, building Trump Tower in the middle of the prairie.

The bed mulched with marsh hay ($3/bale) from a local farmer who delivered a huge load of hay to the garden. Delivery was much more sustainable than all of us making individual trips to local garden centers to bring back hay for mulch.

American (Family) Gothic


  1. Love this Josh! The details are terrific and I adore the American (Family) Gothic photo. THANKS :)

  2. Great idea, the keyhole access. Consider… perhaps a sunken path. I did this once when I gardened on the RR right-of-way on Norwood Place. I found the soil in the path area was wonderful from the mulch and would dig it out to pile on the beds. I ended up with paths a foot deep.

  3. I love the carpeted paths in your mother's garden. I'd like to find a supply of green carpet, though the opportunity for decorative themes is tantalizing. Right now we have grassy paths that need mowing and weedwacking and the roots creep into the veg beds.

  4. BTrue - thanks for both of your comments. We dug the paths very deep and filled them in with wood chip mulch, I'll see what the soil is like under next spring. Also, my mom will love your comment about the carpet. She uses only jute-backed carpet (no synthetic pad stuck to the bottom) so that as it breaks down there isn't lots of foam in the soil. She got hers from an old theater in Viroqua, Wis.

  5. You're younger than I am with that keyhole access! I would fall right over into the spinach!

  6. Your garden looks yummy already...a feast for the eyes.

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