In the spirit of environmental education I encourage you check out the program at commonground University. They have classes on a variety of cool topics. Check ’em out!
Now on to today’s environmental post…
So you have lousy soil or limited space, but you still want to garden? Got cinder blocks? Build a raised bed garden!
The advantages to raised bed gardening are many:
- easier to weed
- no tilling required (no soil compaction from stepping on the soil)
- easier to work (no bending over)
- build your own soil
- warms earlier in the spring and stays warmer in the fall
The disadvantages are that they require extra labor and cost to construct, and they tend to require more watering. People build their raised bed gardens in a variety of ways. The super rich posh people may use red cedar or stone. Some use pressure treated lumber while others refuse. It’s largely a personal choice. The lowest cost option to build raised beds is actually free, you just pile the dirt into mounds. For flower gardens you can use railroad ties (if you like chemical shit leaching into the soil). Ranger Man uses concrete blocks.
Why concrete block raised bed gardening?
- Blocks are surprisingly easy to salvage from random places: vacant lots, behind barns, and wherever else.
- They provide a nice, wide platform that you can sit on to plant, weed and water.
- No drilling or screwing required, just drop into place.
- Easily adaptable to form hoop houses, screen plants, etc.
- I think they look kinda cool.
I began construction of the first bed late last summer so it’d be ready for spring action. Take a gander:
What may not be apparent in the photo is that I actually dug out dirt for the first row of concrete blocks so they’d sit in the ground. I thought this would help stabilize the bed. If I was making this bed over again I wouldn’t do that. I’m not sure it was necessary, it took more time, effort, and concrete blocks. You could also build it just one block high if you’re looking for something closer to the ground.
In the background you’ll see 4 piles of dirt. The one on the far left is aged horse shit. In the center at the far back is screened loam. The smaller, darker pile to the right of that is home made compost sweetness. And the pile in at the right, with the shovel sticking out of it, is the total CRAP I dug out.
To make soil of the Gods I mixed the aged horse manure, screened loam and compost together in the wheelbarrow (1/3 of each). Check the action:
You’ll see I had to fence the thing, because it’d be at perfect munching height for the damn deer. Know that you don’t have to cap the walls with additional blocks if you don’t want to. I just like the look (and I had some on hand). They also provide convenient sitting. I also find myself walking on it for various tasks. Some people fill the holes with soil and plant strawberries (or whatever) there. I’ve read people have mixed success with this. Call me lazy, but I prefer seating.
Here are some additional ideas you may want to consider if you’re building a concrete block raised bed:
- Concrete blocks may wick some of your water. You can line the inside walls with plastic if you want to prevent this. Hold the plastic down by the resting the top under the flat, seating capstones. Cut the plastic off at the wall’s base. Never run plastic under the bottom of the bed. You need the drainage.
- For super duper stability, you can drive rebar inside the block holes and back fill it with gravel. That was my original intent, but then the “can you say ‘overkill'” voice was ringing in my head. Besides, if blocks do move, they’re easily re-aligned. Because the soil doesn’t compact, it’s simple to shovel dirt away from the wall and fix any blocks. The soil stays fluffy.
- If you want to get raging cool, you can insert pieces of PVC tubing into the block holes every several feet then backfill around it with sand. I did this. Then you can buy pex tubing at your local Lowe’s or Home Cheapo and bend it across the bed and into PVC tubes on each side. Then run a PVC pipe with a small diameter lengthwise down the center of the bed, attached to the pex, for stability. This will create the frame for a mini-hoop house. You can cover it with plastic in the Spring and Fall, and substitute netting when the bugs are flying. It’s raging sexy. I had actually taken a picture the set up in action, but now I can’t find it.
Here are a few pics taken about 3 weeks ago:
C’mon, frontal view!
Food – it’s what’s for dinner. Pictured in that action is some eggplant lovin’, pepper insanity, broccoli action, and yo momma. Already harvested from the raised bed was radishes, carrots, 2 types of lettuce, spinach, and yo momma. The plants are all much bigger now. I planted the broccoli too close together. They’re freakin’ huge. Inside the bed you’ll see strips of scrap lumber I zipped off to measure square feet. Oh yes, I coupled the raised bed with the Square Foot Gardening technique of the garden ninjas. It’s a technique that’s similar to the long used “French intensive” approach.
– Ranger Man