Catching up

May 9, 2011

It is now the Spring of 2011 and I have not posted for a while. I’ve been working on relocating households and so postings have slipped.

The New Garden now has six 4′ by 16 ‘ beds and one 4′ by 8′ bed with several more beds getting ready.  The soil in Oberlin is very deep clay and it does not drain well at all. The raised beds are therefore essential.  Just getting the soil in the beds to break up requires a huge amount of humus. We put several rhubarb crowns directly in the ground last year and within weeks they were starting to rot.  I quickly dug them up and moved them to the 4′ by 8’ bed I installed. They recovered right away. With an extremely wet Spring this year, the asparagus was extremely slow to emerge and may have been damaged.  My wife and I agreed that we would do a new Asparagus bed also in a raised bed for the same reason.  These are the kinds of things that you have to consider when you start a garden. But controlling for variables is just so much easier when you do beds.

Pictures may follow if I can get to it.


Here is where I stand right now.  I have three beds from last year … all 4′ X 16′,  that are boxed in.  One has garlic planted last Fall (garlic is up and looks good), one has just had keeper onions planted in it with space for red onions next week. One has been turned over for potatoes in a week or so (fairly wet soil …. I need to loosen it up with sand, pea gravel and lots of humus.)  One bed from last year that wasn’t given wood sides was covered with lots of newspaper and wood chips. I turned it over on Sunday (3/21) and I’ll board it up next month. Two other beds have old dry-wall on them just killing grass.  I;ll turn them over and build sides also next month. That will effectively double the size of the garden beds.

I am also digging out the old privet and other bird-dropping shrubs along the east side of the garden. It is very hard work. I cut the shrubs down and then use my adze hoe to grub out the roots to mow-able levels. I have to do this for several reasons. The first is that these shrubs will run roots into my beds and cause havoc. Secondly, they have poison ivy intertwined in them and I need to eradicate that. Finally, when I get it all under control, I want to plant red and black raspberries along a fence here.

The start of 2010

March 19, 2010

I will be planting out keeper cooking onions this weekend (Stoke’s Fortress – 110 days). I started them from seed about 6 weeks ago and they are big enough to handle so big enough to be set out. They won’t mind cool temps in the evening. I hope to do about 4′ X 16′ of them … enough for the following Fall/Winter/Spring.

Update on 3/22/10

I got about 4′ X 12′ of a bed planted. That was all the onions I had. I’ll fill in the rest of the bed with red onions (Stokes’ Red Zeppelin … an exceptional variety for me in Ohio). I transplanted the reds into small plastic six packs last weekend so in a week or so the root structure will make them easy to transplant. I’ll try to do about 4 dozen. They keep really well for reds. I cut up the last ones from last year in early Feb, grilled them and then froze them.

Late in year one

August 31, 2009

Year one was mixed results so far. Some things did very well and some not. The biggest reason for the variability was that we were not in residence all of the time and the garden had to contend with some serious dry spells with no one to water it and with some critters.

Remember that this is not my primary garden … that is still at our Poland house. The only things grown here that are unique are storage potatoes, storage carrots, leeks and winter squash.

Red onions were terrific. We got about three dozen very large ones (big navel orange size). I started them from seed in early Feb., transplanted them into 6 pack cells about six weeks later and then set them out in early May when the beds were constructed. Had I set them out earlier they would have been even better but they were so good as it was. They did better here than in Poland … better sun.

Leeks are also doing well. Neither the onions nor the leeks were bothered by any critters.

Potatoes did OK … we got about 50-60 lbs from a 4′ X 16′ bed.  I expected about 100lb. They suffered from the lack of rain.

Fall carrots are doing OK … something (rabbit or groundhog)  keeps munching on the tops. Not fatally.  I’ll bring some row cover down to give them a good Fall growing.

The tomatoes did poorly. The uneven moisture in the ground was too much for them. I’ll be lucky to get 10 lbs out of four plants. The peppers are so, so.  I’ll get about 4 peppers per plant from 6 plants. Winter squah were mixed. Butternut did really well … must have 10 from 3 vines. Acorn did poorly with maybe two fruits and delicata died.

The brassicas I did in a non-raised bed are not doing very well either. They are just not growing quickly. However, several really big rains recently may spur them on to greater heights in the Fall. But, this is all gravy. I planted them just as a head start on a raised bed in this space next year and so whatever I get is OK.

I am already starting to improve the soil. I put a cover crop on the potato bed – legumes (on-sale bean and pea seed), oats and buckwheat. I’ll turn it under in late October when I put in garlic and shallots. I’ll covercrop as much as I can as things come out.

As of June 15, 2009

June 18, 2009

I’ll try to get some pictures in as soon as I can.

The original three beds are now planted and growing. Since we are only in the house from time to time we are planting things that take little maintenance. Remember, my beds are 4 feet wide and 16 feet long. One bed is all potatoes and they are filling the bed. We’ll use them as winter storage potatoes. Potatoes are a great first crop in a new bed for several reasons. They are easy to grow. They crowd out weeds and, since  they need to be mulched (mounded), the mulch will further control weeds.

The second bed has 2 feet of red onions, 2 feet of leeks, two feet of some red amaranth (got it free and it looks great but we will NOT let it go to seed since it is a self-seeding PEST)  and  two feet of Belgian Endive (yet to be planted). The last 8 feet are late carrots which were planted around Memorial day and came up about a week ago.

The third bed is a mis-mash. It is primarily winter squash (acorn and butternut) with some peppers and tomatoes on the northern edge, a few of the left-over onion plants from the other bed and a small row of lettuce. My goal is to let the squash over run the bed and give some root shade to the peppers and tomatoes. The tomatoes, by the way, are for consumption when we are at the house and the peppers are to fully ripen and freeze for the winter.

In addition we created a few new beds that do not have wooden sides. We simple removed sod, added compost, turned over the soil and the compost and then added wood chips. In this manner Marilyn and I  did a 2′ by 12′ bed for asparagus (all are up now), a 2′ by 8′ bed for rhubarb we transplanted from our Poland house with a sunken pot at the end for a horseradish plant (which a groundhog has nibbled on already but so what, horseradish is VIGOROUS) and a 2′ by 8′ bed for some transplanted gooseberries and currants.

I should mention that an invaluable tool for removing sod, as well as for digging out roots from unwanted shrubs like privit, is an adze hoe. Here is a picture from the Ben Meadows company:

adze hoe

Mine is old but I did replace the handle. It has a heavy steel blade than can be sharpened with a file. It is great for getting several inches under the soil and lifting sod in large pieces.  It is also great for chopping roots under the soil line.

Finally, and in a similar manner, I did a 4′ by 16′ bed where I placed many thicknesses of newspaper down and put wood chips on top. This bed will likely get some brassicas in this summer and next year it will be developed into a raised, wood-sided bed.  All of these beds are in the same line and parallel to the original wooden-sided beds that were originally constructed.

As you can tell, we are adding beds slowly and building the garden in stages. Much of what we did beyond the first three beds documented previously on this site were due to two reasons. The first is that we wanted to give plants that take a long time to get established an early start. Certainly rhubarb and asparagas which take 3-4 years to get established fall into this category. In addition, the availability of lots of wood chips and community compost encouraged us to do some advance work on future beds. We’ve been spending a lot of time now working on the inside of the house so with respect to the garden we’ve been following our rule of do what you can, when you can.

My plan, as it has always been with my new gardens, is to start modestly and build up after that. So, I thought that I would start this garden by putting in the first three of what would eventually be nine to twelve raised beds. Each of my raised beds will be 4 feet by 16 feet. They will be made of treated ( ACQ not CCA treated) 2″ X 4″ X 8′ s.  So, for each bed I will need 16 sticks of lumber plus one 2″ X 6″ x 4′ to join the 8′ boards into a 16′ length.  I had the lumber company deliver 48 2X4s and 2 2X6 pieces for the three beds. NOTE: none of these boards will be exactly 8′ long … mostly a tad or two longer. Trim them to 8′ so that everything fits together squarely.

Tools: shovel, post hole digger (optional), electric circular handsaw, two  power drills (one of mine was hard wired and did the drilling and one was battery powered and did the screwing), 3′ level, extension cords, string.

Here is the site … the southeast corner of the yard.

This is looking along the eastern (rear) edge of the yard.

This is looking along the eastern (rear) edge of the yard.

The first bed is 3′ inside the property line and will have the length of the bed running east-west. It is also about 9 feet from the former Silver Maple clump … can you say “roots”. I had to dig out more than I had hoped in these first beds.

One starts out by measuring a 4′ X 16″ rectangle and marking the corners and also the midpoints of the 16′ sides. Care is taken to check for square and for alignment along the property sight line since this bed will determine where all the other beds are to go. I actually snapped a line along the length of the bed and down the property line so that I was sure it was lining up where I wanted it. Next, one digs holes at the corners and the midpoints of the long sides. The holes will hold the upright posts that anchor the bed in place and that secure the side rails. Dig the holes about a foot in diameter so that you can move the bed posts around in them them to align and square the bed properly. They should be about 15″ deep. Then cut one 2X4 into 4,  24″ lengths and mark a line 10 & 3/4″ from the top of each. These are the corner posts and the line is where the bottom of the side rails will be attached so that the top of the third side rails and the top of the corner posts will be flush. Cut the 2X6 into 24″ lenghts and mark it 10 & 3/4 from the top as you did for the corner posts. These are the mid-point posts.

First side going in.

First side going in.

Attach one side rail to a corner post by putting the bottom of the side rail on the line ( the bottom of the 10&3/4″ segment) and then attach them together with  four 3″ deck screws (pilot holes drilled first). The butt end of the 2X4X8′ should be flush with the side edge  of the corner post (see the icture lower down). Then attach the midpoint post (the 2X6) to the other end of the rail. The  end of the rail should take up 1/2 of the width of the 2X6 leaving the other 1/2 for the other rail. Attach them with four deck screws. Attach the other side rail butt to butt with the first side rail on the 2X6 and then attach the far corner post. You should now have a side rail that is 16′ long with posts at the ends and in the middle. The posts, by the way, will face into the bed. If you have them facing out, just carefully move this assembly to the other side of the bed so they face in. Then carefully set the posts into their holes. Repeat for the other 16′ side.  Then cut a 2X4X8 into two 48″ lengths. These are the lower end rails. Attach them so that they cover the butt ends of the 16′ rails. Screw them with four deck screws, two into the corner posts and two into the butt end of the side rail. Here is a picture of the corner joint.

The 2X4 on the right is the end and the one of the left is the side.

The 2X4 on the right is the end and the one of the left is the side.

Here is a picture of the whole bed with one course of rails on it.

new bed 2.JPG

At this point you should level the bed. Using a mason’s level or similar, find the lowest corner and backfill it in with dirt. Then dig dirt out from under the side rails until the whole bed can be made level. This is a bit tricky but not brain surgery. Once it is reasonably level then back fill all of the holes. You are almost home now.

Now just start putting rails on until you have them three high.  This is just a matter of drilling and screwing.

new bed 4.JPG

new bed 5.JPG

Once the bed is built then there are only a few more steps. The next step is to turn the soil over in the bed … often called double digging.

Rich black soil here in Oberlin.

Rich black soil here in Oberlin.

Finally, add soil or compost or whatever you have to bring the soil level to the top of the bed … it will sink over the course of the year. I had to buy topsoil.

new bed 8.JPG

Then, to have three beds, repeat two more times and put down something to control the grass and weeds in between the beds. I used Black Walnut mulch.

three beds 2.JPG

This was a weekend project start to finish. I will add more beds one or two at a time. As it stands, I now have a little under 200 square feet of prime garden planting space. And, one can plant very intensively in raised beds.

Since this is my future primary but currently secondary garden, I am using it for “little care” plants. One bed is all potatoes for winter storage. One bed is onions, leeks and storage carrots (they go in in June). And, the third bed is mainly winter squash.

Let me know if you have questions.

Beginning a Garden

May 12, 2009

This is the sometimes diary and pictorial description of the beginning of a garden, or perhaps I should say gardens. The location is 49 Spring Street in Oberlin, Ohio. Oberlin is about 40 miles southwest of Cleveland and is probably zone 6. Marilyn and I bought an older house there last year and one of the selling points was that the quarter acre lot was just the right size so that we could garden most of it and be left with really minimal yard upkeep.

This is the fourth set of gardens we have created since,this is the fourth house we have owned. We still own our third in Poland, Ohio and I have written extensively about gardening there in Advanced Vegetables.

This blog will be more about starting gardens from what is really a blank slate … a typical lawn yard. I’ll try to point out features of the garden and issues that I think are important to anyone starting out in gardening. And while I will focus on my part of the gardens which feature fruits and vegetables, I’ll also document Marilyn’s gardens which feature shrubs, perennials and annuals.

Here are two pictures of the back yard taken in the winter. The yard was dominated by a huge Black Walnut tree that filtered/shaded most the yard from sun after 2 PM and did other messy things that  the owners of black walnut trees readily understand … like attract squirrels who dig holes in your newly planted Spring garden beds to bury black walnuts . Also in the back yard was a huge old Ash that was just spreading out of control, over hanging power lines and our neighbor’s garage. Ash are also living on borrowed time around here due to the effects of the Ash Borer. To the south of the property, my neighbor had a clump of Silver Maples (not in the pictures). Finally, the back yard was surrounded by old, overgrown, 6′ high Privet with the smattering of  wild crab apples and other weedy shrubs.

Black Walnut on the right

Black Walnut on the right

Ash on the left.

Ash on the left.

You notice that I used past tense. The Walnuts (a second dead one is at the rear of the yard) and the Silver Maples came down this spring and the Ash was severely pruned. Which brings up the first principle of gardening … you can have full sun for gardening or you can have trees and shade but, if they are in the same place in your yard, you can’t have both.  We chose the garden and so we chose to call the arborist. We used a local man who came in with a bucket truck and who left us a lot of firewood and three piles of mulch. WARNING … if you are taking down a Black Walnut, you can’t use Black Walnut chips as mulch where you want things to grow. Black Walnuts secrete a chemical that inhibits the growth of nearby plants. I will use the Black Walnut mulch on the paths between my beds where I don’t want anything to grow.

Southwest looking northeast

Southwest looking northeast

Looking down the southern property line

Looking down the southern property line

We asked that the neighbor let us take out the Silver Maples for two reasons. The first is that they were on the south side of our property which means that they would block prime sun. The other is that Silver Maples are water seekers and therefore they would send roots into my garden and suck up any available water which is needed by the garden plants.. Silver Maples are trash trees and are the number one causes of problems with homeowners sewer lines clogging … so getting rid of them is good all around.

Note the small shrubs. We “rescued” them from a local limestone strip mine’s spoil area. They are Russian Olives and some fruiting Honeysuckle that we put in to attract birds as payment for our neighbor’s permission to take out the Silver Maples. While we were clearing out the Privet along this fence line we also uncovered some spindly Clove  Currents that we will prune back to health. So, this is the canvas that the back yard garden will use. The next post will detail the construction of the first raised beds.