When we first moved to the farm last August we made the haste decision to plant a fall/winter garden. We rented a tiller from the local Tractor Supply and sowed some seeds into the beautiful loamy soil. The reward of having a bounty of winter squash, cabbage, swiss chard and numerous other veggies that we worked so hard on was all so very exciting!
The excitement dried up real fast (just like all the ponds that summer) once we realized we lost the fight against the grasshoppers, extreme heat and bermuda grass.
First let me explain something about these grasshoppers; they were ridiculously huge and very VERY abundant. I mean there were at least 10 that flew every step you took in the yard. Disgusting. We put over 15 plugs of cabbage, bok choy and broccoli in the soil and those suckers ate every single one. We were pissed. We tried a pesticide (not proud of this but we were desperate and time was not on our side to try and find an organic substitute…) and no luck.
Regarding the extreme heat we watered and watered..and watered. Thank the heavens above we have two wells at the farm because I couldn’t even imagine what type of water bill that would have been. Even though we watered and kept the soil very moist we still had burnt leaves.
Lastly the bermuda grass. The gah dang bermuda grass. We love it in our yards but we don’t love it in our gardens. It took over our garden and not matter how long we spent ripping it out of the ground we just couldn’t get it under control. Damn.
Soooooo there we were late fall with nothin but a mess of garden (if we can even call it a garden) and no bounty. We were heartbroken. How can two people with bachelors degrees from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources not be successful with a freaking garden. UGH.
We thought about our garden over the winter and what we learned. We researched, discussed, planned and came up with an experiment (cause we’re scientist) for our spring garden: raised beds.
I’m familiar with raised beds and used them for my environmental education programs at the nature center I interned with in Texas. We knew that we would have more of a controlled medium for the plants to grow in and most likely more success. Here is the OSU fact sheet on the benefits of raised bed gardening. There are tons of kits out there for raised beds but hey they ain’t cheap. So we built our own! We went to our local home improvement store and bought 2’x8’x8” untreated (very important to get untreated so the chemicals won’t leach in the soil) yellow pine boards and made four 8’x4”x8” beds. Here are some pics of our beds:
We ripped up the top 3 inches of the ground each bed would be over to prevent the bermuda infestation.
This little piece of hardware holds the beds together.
We filled the beds with a top soil compost mix we bought at our local nursery. We then put untreated (always untreated..chemical leaching people is not cool) red cedar mulch on top to prevent soil water loss through evaporation.
Our beds with a two foot walkway so our wheel barrel can get between the beds.
The beds weren’t hard to build once we figured out how the hardware worked. Total price for the lumber and hardware was $76. The soil for each bed was around $35. Mulch was $10 per bed. Total cost per bed was approximately $65. Pretty good considering some kits I found range from $85-$350 and these don’t include the soil (which is the most expensive part)!!!
We are hoping that these beds solve the problems we had with our fall garden. Of course we will still have to weed occasionally and compensate with more water due to the soil being above ground but hopefully the mulch will decrease these issues. Plans and funds are being formed to build hoop house framing around each beds for shade cloth this summer to address the heat and even the grasshopper infestation. We are pretty proud of our beds. We are hoping that with the benefits of the raised beds we will have a high yield of produce this summer. This is our hypothesis anyways. Let the test begin!