Monday, September 6, 2010

How to Build Raised Beds (and Keep the Chickens Out of Them!)

Pictured above is the sight that used to greet me every time I walked out my back door and looked left. Not pretty. Realizing that this spot gets the most sun in our entire backyard (if only for a few hours a day), in early August I set about cleaning it up just in time to make some beds and plant fall (part sun) vegetables like spinach, lettuces, peas, and swiss chard.

I went back and forth regarding what type of wood to use. I really wanted to use cedar, but I priced it at numerous places, and the cost was almost four times as much as the white wood. If we were going to be in this house for the next ten years then I probably would have gone with the cedar. But I doubt it will be half that, and since price for us right now is a huge consideration, we had to go with the unfinished white wood. We (i.e. mainly Jason) made three 4'x8'x12" beds using 8'x6"x2" boards. There were hardly any cuts to make - most of his time was spent screwing the boards together. Below is a picture of the finished product. We ended up spending just over $15/bed. You can see that I already cleared the ground of all excess vegetation (though there wasn't much to begin with).

I really wanted to keep expenses down as much as possible, so I set about trying to fill the beds at least part way with free materials before having to buy the bulk soil/compost. To begin I put down a layer of unwaxed plain brown cardboard (not pictured) that we got for free from a local irrigation company that had used it in packaging. This was then given a good soaking, and I added a layer of finely shredded hardwood mulch that we also received free from a local tree trimming company - and they delivered it to our house! Sometimes they charge a minimal fee for this delivery, but we got lucky because we have done business with them in the past. On top of the mulch I added some Alfalfa Hay. The bale cost $8 and I have more than half left. So up until this point it only cost $4.00 total (plus our time) to fill all three beds about 1/3 of the way. Not bad!

Little did I know that the chickens would take to these beds like Jason takes to Ranch Dressing! More on this in a minute...(the chickens, not the Ranch).

On top of the hay I placed another very thin layer of the hardwood mulch. Then I cleaned out the chickens' pen of half-decomposed hay, leaves, shredded paper, and of course, manure, and put this on top of mulch layer #2. These layers were then given another good soaking. This is pictured below.

Below is the cleaned out area with the beds in place and partially filled. I'd say this is a major improvement over what the area looked like before!

We finished filling the beds with bulk "Specialty Planting Mix" from Living Earth Technology. It is recommended for raised beds by the General Manager of North Haven Gardens (in Dallas, TX) on her personal blog Grow Lively. Below is a picture of the finished beds.
  • The wooden trellises in the far back bed are ones we had from last year. The peas planted at the base of these are just now coming up. I planted 'Oregon Sugar' Snow Peas and 'Sugar Sprint' Snap Peas. The rest of the bed will have 'Bordeaux' and 'Tyee' Spinach.
  • The white trellis in the middle bed was found on the side of the road a few months ago (score!). It's probably a long shot but I'm going to try to get some cucumbers to grow on it. I had some 'Straight Eight' and 'Sumter' seed leftover and thought "What the heck?" To the right of the white trellis, just now coming up (from left to right), we have Organic Swiss Chard 'Rhubarb', Organic Green Oakleaf Lettuce 'Salad Bowl', Organic Red Grand Rapids Lettuce 'Red Sails', and Red Oakleaf Lettuce 'Malawi'.
  • I just planted the right 2/3s of the front bed with 'Bull's Blood' and 'Golden' Beets. In a few more weeks I will plant the left 1/3 with garlic, though I haven't decided what type yet.
  • To the left of all of the beds I have some large 30 gallon containers that will hold a variety of onions, leeks, strawberries, and some herbs.

And as for the chickens? Well, their unsupervised free range of 100% of the backyard days are over. They seem to be taking it in stride though. Jason set up a temporary run enclosure for them using an old tarp and a rope, and it's working just about perfectly. It's not ideal, but will work in the short term while we hunt for a more permanent and visually pleasing (and hopefully still free or close to it) solution. -Carrie

1 comment:

  1. Thnak you for describing this so well. I'm in the process of shopping around for the soil for our three beds my husband built earlier. I am planning on ordering a garden mixture with all the "good stuff" in it. South east Texas soil is not great for vegetable gardens so the "good stuff" is a must.
    Love the trellis idea for the cukes so will try that, also. Great idea so I'm stealing it!
    We are also interested in getting chickens so in the words of Ahhh-nold, "I'll be back" to see if you have a post about your chickens. ~Joy