Friday, June 13, 2014

My Raised Garden Bed of Doom

Ahhh nature. The sound of birds chirping, the smell of blooming hydrangeas, a basket of hand-harvested vegetables all washed and ready for display on a perfectly Pinnable summertime tablescape......and then of course, there's real life.

That monstrosity is - you guessed it - my raised garden bed of doom. 

It started simple enough. My whole family (including the manly husband) is now hooked on smoothies (they aren't disgusting jars of green scum after all) and we were spending a ton of money on produce. I wanted my greens to be organic and fresh. What better way, I thought, than to grow them outside in our own back yard! Brilliant and beautiful, I am.

Now they sell these awesome raised bed kits at Home Depot and on Amazon. They're beautiful, easy, and about $200 for a small one. No way, I thought. We can make one way cheaper. 

I grabbed my handy-dandy Pinterest feed and scoured blogs, websites, and DIY videos for tips and tricks to building your own raised garden bed. I wanted something durable, high off the ground (we have weed problems - and not your typical weed problems. These are mega-weed problems), and cheap.

We settled on cedar fence pickets. They were cheap and smelled lovely.

Aaron put the bed together pretty quickly. We stacked each plank one on top the other until the bed was four planks high. We chose the "u" shape because it allowed us to reach every inch of the bed without needing to bend or step on the bed. He later reinforced the edges with corner brackets because I was afraid the dirt was going to spill out everywhere. And yes, I am apparently 90 years old *wringing hands*. 

The ground isn't level and therefore the bed isn't level, but we didn't care. The object was not perfection as much as "get this done so we can plant."

I bought some discounted weed barrier for a song - it was faded and from last season - read: super-super cheap. Weed barrier went all around everything. I must've put like 7 layers of weed barrier down. It extended close to two feet out from the bed. The idea is that we will someday put down some sand, bricks, and pea gravel to make it look real classy. As of right now it's just some weed barrier and a couple bricks strewn about. We also laid down hardware cloth inside the bed to keep chipmunks and other critters out. 

And then we started buying dirt. And more dirt. And more dirt. We made about five trips to get dirt - it was ultimately cheaper for us to go and haul individual bags than pay someone to come drop a load of dirt in our backyard. I'm a dirt master. We used seven bags of dirt for every one bag of mushroom compost and every one bag of manure. Blended all together it's created a super nutrient-dense pile of growin' goodness. 

Now a smarter person would've filled the bottom of the beds with large stones and gravel. I put like three big rocks down there and then just started pouring dirt like a madwoman. The result? I have a four-foot-high raised bed completely filled with dirt, but am growing plants have, at most, 12-inch-long root structures. Insane Jen, blastoff!

The planting was the fun part. I knew what I wanted to grow like seven years ago. I wanted spinach and kale for the smoothies, cucumbers and carrots for hummus snacks, lettuce for tacos and burgers and salads, and then punkins. I had to have some punkins. I don't know what my deal is with those little orange orbs of goodness, but I am obsessed.

So we grabbed some seeds, mainly organic seeds, none of them heirloom. I found a really cool website right after I planted, though, that sells heirloom seeds for super cheap. Next year!

We also grabbed some marigold seeds. I read they help keep the bugs away and if there's one thing I hate more than weeds, it's aphids. I can't stand squash bugs/stink bugs/aphids/whatever you want to call them. They are terrible. I tried growing punkins (surprise surprise) in the plain old ground a few years back and the squash bugs invaded. The only way to kill them (organically) is to pick them up and literally squash them or put them in a bucket of soapy water. It was terrifying. They smelled. They had bug juices. GAH so gross. So about those marigolds!

After a few weeks of getting everything ready, we were good to go. The dirt was in, the temperature was right, and we were ready to start reaping the bountiful rewards of my husband's our hard work. I was going to look just like those farmer chicks on TV. I was going to be the epitome of the homesteading woman. I was going to be featured in a magazine and a self-sustaining how-to book. All the glory would be mine!!

Except I'm not so good with measurements. Those stupid seed packets talked about hills and spacing and clumps and inches. Not my thing. I went out there with the husband and he made the holes, pointed, and told me exactly where to plant. I may or may not have dropped 2-3 times the "recommended" number of seeds in each hole. Hey, not all the seeds were gonna catch, right?

A few weeks in we got some sprouts.

And then they took the next couple weeks to get to a nice, pretty, manageable size.

And then a few weeks later -  HULK!

Remember how I thought all the seeds wouldn't take? Remember that? Me too.

Here's the crazy part - I've harvested kale, lettuce, and spinach already.

I've harvested three times. It doesn't help - the plants just get more and more funky-looking and HUGE.

We almost lost the cucumbers to what I like to call "sunburn." I'm sure there's a real name for what happened when their leaves got all singed but am not a gardener, I just play one in my backyard. 

Turns out my spinach is "going to seed," which apparently means it will turn bitter and should be removed and composted. I guess I get to plant something else...maybe some squash? Not gonna lie, I didn't even know spinach went to seed.

And then there's the punkins. I mean just look at 'em.

What the heck is going on. They are out of control. I'm fairly certain they are trying to creep into my house and scratch me in my sleep. The leaves and stems are spikey and poke my fingers right in the soul. So far, no aphids...but I think I owe it to these little daddy-long-legs spiders:

They are all over my punkins. I don't mind them. They don't bite me or eat the plants, just chill underneath the leaves and do whatever they do. No damage yet and like I said, no aphids. Maybe the aphids are afraid to get Frodo'd by a huge friggen spider. 

But what now? What the heck am I supposed to do now? Plant new stuff? Can I even do that? The carrots are still going strong and the cucumbers have just started to develop their little leaves again. Is it bye-bye spinach, hello punkin room? And what the heck are these little guys??

Help me out here, all you garden-loving bloggers. What kind of veggies do you grow? What do you do after harvesting your spring veggies?

I'll tell you one thing - if I do plant again, it's going to be a single seed here, a single seed there. Time to reign in the doom!

So glad you stopped by today, lovely readers, and as always, thank you so much for reading!


  1. Amazing how quickly it all grew. Could you pick it and freeze it? We have a little bucket garden with Tomatoes, Peppers, herbs and marigolds. They are thriving. I suck at the details of planting also but hey that is why we have husbands right?

    1. Yep, that's the plan. And yes, thank gosh for the logical, prominently-number side of Aaron's brain! HAHA

  2. Awesome job! You guys are getting a lot of produce in a very small space! We used to have huge gardens, and I still remember a tomato worn infestation and because we were kids and not afraid of anything we were assigned to pick off every single tomato worn and smash them between two rocks. I'm glad that's no longer my job. :P

    1. HAHA wow! See I am dreading aphid season - maybe it hasn't hit yet?? But thanks for the vote of confidence - I'm hoping we can continue to get some good stuff out of our beds before cold weather moves in this fall!

  3. What a fab idea, Jen! I am always saying a want a garden but the task seemed to daunting! This would be a great way for me to ease into it!

    1. Why thank you! Be warned - it can sometimes get OUT OF CONTROL! HAHAHA

  4. Great idea! And it looks awesome.

    I don't plant things, as they'll die.

    1. Thank you :) As for the dying thing - that's what I thought too! I kill everything. Turns out I kill everything INSIDE my house, but OUTSIDE, it all just goes insane.

  5. The idea you had of saving money by growing your own food was a good one. I don't think that some people realise how much money they can save just on purchasing ingredients for their favourite drinks and meals at the market. Once you have the space to create a raised bed, you really should. It is better for your pocket.

    Bert Aguilar @ Rain Fill Tanks