Urban farming seems to be everywhere. I’m sure I see at least two articles a week this past year on the urban farming trend. There are more and more “concept” cities of the future that are not all glass and steel. Instead, they’re “vertical farms” with each storey having their own plant life. Of course, if we carry on with “business as usual”, then we’ll end up with a city that looks a lot like the bleak glass and dirty metal of Blade Runner, Star Wars, Dune, The Matrix or other futuristic sci-fi films.
We sometimes jokingly refer to our property as the “Homestead”, as we have tried urban chickens (and will try again this summer with reinforced coop to keep the predators out), and this year we will finally have our garden.
If you eat food, you need a garden – no excuses. Do you live in an apartment? You can get a small flower box of herbs or a few cherry tomatoes. Do you have a small city lot? Carrots and lettuce.
So do you want to be part of this movement? Here is a look into what we’ve done.
Raised Garden Beds:
In addition to some potted plants and a few flower boxes, our raised beds will hold the majority of our herbs and veggies this summer. There are many, many ways to have raised gardens, and I’ll lead you into some of my thought processes (good or bad).
- lumped earth: the simplest of raised beds, you just need to pile a bunch of dirt together, and you’re done. You may notice that some of your dirt washes away in the rain, and will want to hold it back. Below are some options on how to do this.
- rocks: edge your mound of dirt with some rocks. We used some recycled bricks at our last house, and they looked pretty good to me!
- Thin boards: I’ve seen many projects with a 1×6 or 2×8 standing on edge in the soil. If you bury the end a little bit, you get some support and they will not sag as much. I had concerns that this option would bow a bit, and wanted something a bit higher off the ground too (edge can be used as a seat while gardening).
- Crazy like me. Read on.
I was thinking about Aimee and baby this spring, and didn’t want her to have to stoop too much, so I tried to get them pretty tall, i.e. close to 18″ or so. That meant piling up a LOT of wood. Also, if she was going to be sitting on the edge, I wanted the edge to be relatively flat, i.e. not a board on edge, and sturdy (so thicker than a 1 x 8). The width of the garden was based on how far I though Aimee could reach without being too hard on the back. I figured she could reach 1.5 to 2′, so I made it double as she would be able to access the garden from either side.
The width was also based on minimizing waste when cutting the wood (I wanted to buy a bunch of boards and then cut exactly in 2 or 3 for the ends). The spacing between beds was measured with (not joking) our lawnmower and eyeball. I didn’t want to have to get between the beds with the edger.
The location on our yard was based on our looking at the sun patterns over the past 2 summers, and seeing that there was a spot on the side that seemed to get more sun than the rest of the yard. It certainly does not get as much sun as it would if it were in a field, as we have tall trees surrounding our lot (and a 25′ cedar hedge on one side that belongs to my neighbor that I’m not allowed to shorten). It remains to be seen what will grow in such a shady spot, but if we are not too successful, maybe we can lobby the local utility (there are power lines that run close to our house) to see if we can arrange a community garden underneath on their land as “fair use” or something like that.
Being a bit of a geek, I was hoping to run into someone who had a more sophisticated version of this app so I could quantifiably justify our garden location. No such luck. We put them close to the compost, so that we would be able to add the nutrients to the soil without too many wheelbarrow trips. Also, as the garden is towards the back of the yard where we plan on keeping the chickens, we’ll have even more fertilizer within close raking distance.
I was hoping for a somewhat rugged/country natural look and hoped to be able to find some old railroad ties and then overlap them like a log cabin. After doing some research, it turns out that you do NOT want to use railroad ties, as they have lots and lots of bad chemicals in them that you don’t want to have leaching into your soil or food. Our local DIY big box store did not have the wood I was looking for either. I ended up finding a lumber yard near my house that had 4″ x 6″ rough-cut hemlock, which I was advised would fare excellently in direct contact with the ground. The only stock he had, though, was 12′ lengths, and the only way he would sell to an “individual” was if I purchased an entire bundle, that is 49 pieces. In case that doesn’t mean much to you, here’s what it looked like on our lawn after unloading from the truck.
I figured I would just place them on the ground and then start stacking, but our ground is sloped, and they were really, really wonky. So I dug a small trench to even things out, which was not an easy task, due to the various-sized rocks in the ground.
As I didn’t want the stacked wood to tumble down on my kids or wife, I knew that I was going to have to attach them firmly together. Also, I wanted to ensure that they wouldn’t budge (yeah right) with frost and stuff, so I determined to fix them to the ground, not just lay on the surface. So I put 30″ stakes through the 4 corners. I used some scrap metal tubing and cut a point on them, and then drilled a hole into the corners and went to town with a mallet. Noah helped bang with a smaller hammer too. I realized that this would not completely secure the boards together, but figured that the weight of the wood and friction would be sufficient to keep it all together. It was not. I had to use plumbing strapping (on the inside for aesthetics) to keep the ends from popping out.
Our raised beds are 4′ wide by 12′ long and are 16″ tall with a 6″ bench all around. We heard that putting some newspaper or cardboard on the ground first would help kill the grass/weeds and prevent them from coming through. We used some of those large flat sheets between the pallets at Costco, and they seemed to work fine so far. Filling the raised beds took more earth than I would have liked due to their depth. Filling them in was easy, as our neighbor helped with his tractor (Mateo at the wheel).
Early this spring, we will be putting a cold frame on top to get an early start on our baby greens.
And that’s it!
Any questions? Let’s hear your tips for gardening – wherever you are!