I really had no intentions of adding any new garden beds this year. We’re busy, I’m traveling more for work, more house projects. Hadn’t even started any seedlings.
But gardening, as they say, is a gateway drug to … more gardening.
And that’s how I ended up with a new 4′ x 15′ bed for the onions, a rebuilt hugelkultur 4′ x 12′, a 5′ x 7′ bed for the squash, and a new long strawberry patch.
It all started with one of the tomato beds from last year. I mistakenly planted it too close to the lawn, and the bermuda grass saw an opportunity to colonize fresh new ground.
The restoration of this bed I detailed in a post a few week ago (“Gardening Interlude“). It was essentially to surround the bed with an impenetrable barrier/moat, and dig down almost to hardpan level to rip out all the bermuda roots.
I quite enjoy pulling out bermuda roots, by the way. A bit like setting out choke traps for moles, another garden nemesis. Every time I pull a rhyzome or root cluster out of the soil, I fancy to hear little bermuda “Noooo” screams. I then toss the bermuda roots onto the lawn to bake and die in the sun. Just a little vindictiveness for flavor, yes?
Once I had the dig-down-and-rip-out operation well underway, I moved on Forrest-Gump-like into trying the hugelkultur technique (“Since I’d gone this far, might as well run across the great state of Alabama”).
All the wood used for the bed borders beds is recycled and re-purposed wood, hence the difference in appearance and sizes. For the one above, you can see that the north end is 4″ x 4″ treated timber, while the west side is bordered by regular 2″ x 6″ x 8′ fir. The untreated wood will rot out in a couple years, but by that time I might replace with rocks (free from Craigslist, of course).
Hugelkultur, for new readers, is a permaculture method pioneered by the renowned Sepp Hulzer on his Austrian alpine farm (hence the Germanic moniker). The inner timber layer eventually decays and acts as a sponge, absorbing and retaining water. The plants, for their part, sink down long tap roots and wrap around this source of moisture. In essence, this means less watering over time.
I may have made a small tactical error in putting down relatively new oak timber, instead of well-rotted and more sponge-like deadfall, but it’s what I had on hand.
After backfilling, I spent some time “charging” up the bed with a water hose. I’ve since done this a couple of times, and will again. Deep watering, indeed.
Next up, the onion bed. I had impulse bought three bags of onion sets (red, sweet white, and yellow), and they needed a home. Using onion sets, by the way, is a way of short-cutting raising onions. They’re packed in bags of little bulblets, typically 40 or 50 per bag. At $3 to $4 per bag, not a bad investment.
For this bed, I used the 4 x 4 treated wood posts that came from our old fence from our other house. The whole north side of the fence blew down last year in a typical Oklahoma thunderstorm. Replaced it with a new fence, but kept the posts to use as … something. This something became the new garden bed.
As an experiment, I decided to lay cardboard only under the retaining timber border, to deter any stray bermuda. The ground was mostly weeds. After pulling up the major part of the weeds and tossing them onto the growing compost pile (prior to putting out seed heads, weeds make for useful biomass), I hand-tilled the clay soil with a spade and pick, adding old manure and old rotted hay.
The clover and purple henbit and other assorted weed growth that had covered the ground will add a good foundation of organic matter to the bed. The eight inches or so of soil on top, plus two to four inches of mulch, will keep it from sprouting up.
That’s it for today. Come back in a day or so for Part 2, more thoughts and tips and tricks on this gardening season’s garden bed building.
How about it, readers? Are you planning to put in a garden this year? First-time newbie? Shoot me an email if you’d like some insights in what not to do. Chances are I’ve already done it, and regretted.