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Raised bed gardening and creating soil  RSS feed

 
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Hi All,

I finally have found the funds to install a fence and am trying to figure out which type of material to use for raised beds I'll build. The reason I'm going with raised beds is to protect against gophers. I would like to go with the most affordable option but I also don't want to use wood that will break down quickly.

I have been considering using either cedar planks or cinderblocks. I will be laying down poultry wire underneath the beds to protect against gophers and am wondering how tall my beds need to be. I would prefer to use cinderblocks because they will last and I can move the beds around later on if I want to but it will be more expensive than cedar planks if the beds need to be 12" and I need two rows.

Anyone have tips on how high I should make my beds?

I'm also looking for advice on the best way to prep my beds for fall planting. I live in the Central Valley in CA and there are a lot of crops that grow well here in the winter so I would like to build beds and prep them soon so I can plant in the fall, but I don't have the money to buy topsoil. Looking into sheet mulching, it looks like that would need to sit for a year to be ready so I'm wondering if I could add materials to the beds and then plant cover crops to prep for the fall?

I have easy access to manure, composted manure and lots of dead leaves. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.
 
pollinator
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Alicia,

Are you composting?  Any soil is good soil . . .  if you add enough decomposing carbon/bio-mass.  Most commercially available "top soil" is just regular old dirt that is dug up from anywhere, and then mixed with a high ratio of compost.  So step one is to accumulate as much compost as you can.  If you can get a bunch of biomass accumulated (leaves, grass clippings, coffee grounds, a cover crop, etc.), build a massive compost pile -- something 5 feet tall.  Turn it every 3 days until it's done.  That'll give you enough compost or three 4 x 8 foot raised beds.

Once you've built your raised beds and situated them where you want them, dig down 15 inches or so.  Throw the soil onto a tarp or a couple of pieces of plywood (which will make it easier when you go to re-fill your bed)..  Lay a good 6 inches of wood/branches/rotting boards into the bottom of your trench.  Basically, make your garden beds a hugel bed.  If your raised bed is taller than 6 inches, then put a corresponding amount of wood in the bottom of your hole.  Thus, if the height of your raised bed will be 10 inches, put 10 inches of wood into the hole.  On top of those branches/sticks/wood, I like to throw a couple of 5-gal. buckets of coffee grounds.  Throwing some extra nitrogen into the bottom with the wood will aid in decomposition.  

Mix the soil you took out of the hole with your finished compost.  With the wood that you placed in the bottom of the hole, it should raise your soil up to fill your raised bed all the way up to the top.  Back-fill the hole with your compost-amended soil.  Hopefully, it'll raise the level of the soil in the bed all the way up to the top.

Is all this necessary?  It will make a HUGE difference in the performance of your garden bed.  It will significantly enhance the water-holding capacity of the soil and will increase the fertility of the soil for years as the wood breaks down.

 
steward
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I like to check out craigslist when I am looking for gardening stuff. If you have a way to haul soil you can sometimes even find folks who want to get rid of some. Just be careful that it isn't full of chemicals or garbage. You might even find some cheaper cinder blocks, bricks, or wood.
 
pollinator
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 I vote for cedar boards, staked in place.
That way you can move things around.
 
Alicia Metz
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Thanks for the suggestions so far. I have not set up a compost pile yet that I can use on a large scale since it needs to be fully contained to be animal proof in my area. I do have a worm bin where I am able to compost most of my scraps.

I’ve been doing a little more research and it seems that it might be even better in my area to do sunken beds rather than raised beds. It seems like I would need less materials if I could dig the necessary space out and line it with poultry netting to keep gophers out and then just stack some conderblocks around the top or ground layer to hold the netting in place.

Does anyone have experience or suggestions?
 
gardener
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hau Alicia, were are you located on planet earth? In the Control panel there is an area where you can enter this sort of information so we can give better suggestions specific to where you are located.

Raised beds serve several functions, ability to not be on your hands and knees, more soil depth (root vegetables usually), above the high water table and so forth.

Sunken beds are great if the water table is low, if you are in an arid area with little rain fall.
you can use cinder blocks to hold the wire in place or you can staple it to the planks if you use the cedar planks for the surround.

Burrowing critters will need to be screened out (as you have mentioned doing) just make sure the screening material is going to be effective at keeping the critters out but still let roots through.

Cedar planks work great but unless you are using 4x4 type material, you aren't going to want to sit on that edge. (not an issue for young people, but us ancients really like the built in seat)
Cinder blocks also allow for extra planting spaces, we are going to use these for a few of our beds and the holes will be filled with soil and herbs and flowers planted in these for a border that attracts pollinators.

We have been having mole problems but our Catahoula has started taking pleasure in catching and killing these lately.
Gophers will tunnel much deeper and that can become part of the issue of being able to keep them out of the gardens. I like your idea (we use 1/4" mesh instead of chicken wire for longevity).

Redhawk
 
Alicia Metz
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I’m located in the Central Valley in California and as I migrate to the higher elevations to live in Sequoia National Park during the summers, I plan on using my garden in the winter. People around here typically have different garden beds for the summer and winter since the growing season lasts so long.

There is typically very little rainfall here which is why I’m thinking sunken beds would work well. I also spoke with someone a little while ago who did hugelkulter beds nearby and they were destroyed by squirrels. I think they buried the wood and then placed mesh overtop so I am thinking that if possible I would place a layer of mesh down and then put wood on top of that.

Gophers are the reason I’m not planting directly into the soil without protection because they are rampant here.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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I like your ideas, they will work well in that area. I am familiar with it, I lived in California for 10 years.
Yes with long growing seasons you need two sets of gardens, one for summer plants and one for the winter crops.
I do not envy your animal issues with gardens, ground squirrels, chipmunks, gophers, all can do devastation if you don't prepare well for them.

Good luck and good growing

Redhawk
 
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Alicia Metz wrote: The reason I'm going with raised beds is to protect against gophers.


We recently moved from northern California and gophers are not my favorite animals. I tried cinder-block raised beds stacked two high - so that was 16 inches in height I think. They got in by digging under the blocks.
The next season we dug up the bed and laid 1/2 x 1 inch hardware cloth down, then put the bed back in.
It worked for a year, but then they were back. Later on, we re-dug that bed again and found a slight separation between two layers of hardware cloth that didn't overlap enough and had been enlarged (with teeth) to become a two inch hole the gophers could use as a doorway. And they did.

I gave up on that area and went largely to container gardening even though we lived on a full acre. Cinder blocks worked great otherwise -- though I've read the newer ones are from China and may include some toxic materials that aren't allowed in the USA sourced blocks. Can't say for sure. Might be worth checking around for used cinderblocks that are a few years old though, just in case. If you want to minimize cost, try a U-shaped raised garden bed. You can harvest more easily too.

Just re-read your more recent post. Strongly recommend against poultry wire. Even with the 1x1 tighter type, the gophers will get through. 1/2 x 1 inch hardware cloth (galvanized!) would be the minimum - otherwise that's a lot of work to re-do.

Good luck with everything.
 
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