Posted by Mom on August 30, 2016
Here at our country home we have two garden areas where we grow our organic vegetables; one is a group of four raised beds and the other is a pair of ground plots.
I grew up with gardeners; my parents had a garden plot where they grew fresh vegetables for their family of 6. My dream was to one day own enough land to also grow vegetables for my family. When Dad and I took ownership of our first inner-city home, I tried to grow some vegetables and herbs in containers, but didn’t grow much beyond a few cherry tomatoes and some mint leaves. To compensate for our lack of home-grown harvest, we joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) food co-op and enjoyed fresh, local produce from June to October. We enjoyed eating our CSA-grown food for three years before moving to our country home and having an opportunity to see just how green our own thumbs really were.
We took up residence in November and through that first winter Dad and I were scheming about vegetable gardens. Our visions kept circling back to raised garden beds. In the end, we built four raised beds using lumber from the Western Red Cedar. This wood is naturally resistant to decay and does not require chemical treatments that could leach into our garden soil, and later, into our food.
Each raised bed is a rectangle 18 feet long, five feet wide and two feet tall. Before we filled the beds with soil, we lined the insides with landscape fabric and tossed in some logs, branches and leaves that would slowly decompose and replenish the soil over time. This organic matter also reduced the amount of topsoil for delivery. We oriented the beds east to west, giving the full 18 feet direct sunlight from dawn until mid afternoon. On the western end of each bed we erected a trellis to reduce the effect of the prevailing winds that blow in from the neighbouring field.
Within the raised beds we grow root crops and crops that are favoured by rabbits and groundhogs (i.e., peas, beans, lettuces, and cabbages) or that need to be supported (i.e., peas and tomatoes). I found that planting the veggies across the beds in five foot rows is easier to weed than rows running the 18 foot length. I can simply push a hoe away from me and then pull it back toward me and I don’t have to perform any contortions.
We’re now in the fourth year of using our raised beds and they are working very well for us. Just this spring we ordered four yards of triple mix soil to top them up; those leaves and branches are decomposing and nourishing the soil, but their decomposition is also slowly lowering the soil surface. We also placed a fence around the beds to demarcate them from the surrounding lawn and to protect the seeds and tender transplants during the early growing season from our free-ranging chickens.
Our second location for growing vegetables is a rectangular plot tilled up in an old hay field. For over a decade the field produced hay, but when our renters determined the hay-worthy plants were being out-competed, they planned to switch to growing corn and soy. We did not want to have those crops growing so close to our home and, having read a little about permaculture, wished to make use of the rich soil beneath the old hay field rather than having it disturbed annually by tilling. We re-claimed two acres of the field and, while pondering how to use these two acres, rototilled two rectangular plots. One plot is devoted to perennial crops, such as asparagus, rhubarb, garlic and strawberries. In the other we grow crops that either need plenty of space or are unappetizing to rabbits and groundhogs; these include potatoes, pumpkins, summer and winter squashes, and melons.
The challenge with the field plots are the grasses and weeds that sprout from all the seeds trapped in the soil that we’ve exposed by our rototilling. The little ones and I have spent a few sessions hoeing and pulling weeds but these times just make the harvest taste all the better. So far, we’ve enjoyed eating the zucchinis, watermelons, cantaloupes, potatoes and strawberries while watching in anticipation while our pumpkins and butternut and acorn squashes continue to ripen.