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Making garden beds  RSS feed

 
Posts: 11
Location: Coastal BC
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Hi :) Ive been reading here for ages, but this is my first post. I've been soaking up all the soil microbiology knowledge and loving it! I'd like some input about the best way to approach this area of my property.

I live on 12 acres of coastal mountainside in zone 7-ish. I had three little raised beds this season and want to expand and develop one of the few flat spots on the property this fall, for an annual garden. The soil is ROCKY and it has been worked by an excavator in the last 10 years so that the zone around the house looks like mostly subsoil, and even grass often struggles to grow. Wild plants growing well here are alder, wild cherry, blackberry, thimbleberry, salmonberry, ferns and pearly everlasting. What I have that could help are fir sawdust, seaweed, alder and maple leaves and wood, good well water and a partner with an excavator and a sawmill. I'm in the process of figuring out hot compost with mostly sawdust and seaweed, and would like to set up equipment for aerated compost tea. We have 3 pigs for meat and will be getting chickens soon. The climate is very rainy fall to spring and droughty in summer.

So I want to build healthy soil in this place, and I'd like to grow something in it this spring. I've had good results with sheet mulching/lasagna beds in the past (I buried some wood in these too) so one idea I had was to have my guy scrape 12 or 18 inches off the surface with the excavator which I can fill up with rotting wood (alder and maple) and then do couple layers consisting of leaves, cut weeds etc, and topped with some dirt mixed with what compost I can make, maybe some horse manure from down the road. I would plant a fall cover crop and plant some veggies in the spring and see what grows. I feel like I want to do this to the whole area, not just bed shapes, but I'm not sure why... maybe beds would be better.

My partner wants to build me cedar raised boxes and buy me a dump truck load of "soil" from the local landscape supply. He thinks excavating the rocks is crazy, because then I have to deal with them (it does seem like we have more rocks than dirt. And no, they are not the nice kind you can build rock walls with. We would rather not use them as bed edging because they're kind of ugly). This method has the appeal of him doing most of the work for me, and more or less instant results. The wood for the boxes is here already and he can mill it and build the boxes. I'm sure I could amend the lame topsoil blend, but I feel like my idea would result in healthier, more diverse soil, in more time.

I'd love to hear any other ideas or advice anyone may have to help me build soil here :)
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This flat area is where the new garden will be
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This is to give you an idea of our dirt
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master steward
Posts: 4860
Location: Pacific Northwest
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You might enjoy looking through Tracy Wandling's thread. It takes place in coastal BC, with lots of rocks, too. She made a very impressive market garden in just a year! https://permies.com/t/56720/permaculture-projects/garden-fence-finally-finished-rainbows
 
Posts: 79
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In my coastal BC garden summer drought is just as bad as spring and fall flooding.  I've tried 2 foot raised garden beds 8 inch raised beds and a bed dug 8 inches deep then filled 4 inches above grade.  I like that bed best of the three because of its water retaining and draining properties.  It needs much less water than the raised beds.  Also, as a bonus, keeping it lower let me define the bed with rotting wood planks then surround it with rocks (dug from the bed mostly).  I think the rocks help heat it spring and fall, and they give me a niche for things like oregano and lemongrass, plus a slug eating garter snake has been seen hanging out.  The rotting wood seems to act like a sponge.

As for soil boosters I dumped a load of semi rotten sawdust, leaves and fine branches in to top up the beds and agonized that it would rob all the nitrogen out.  Frequent urine dousings all winter long might have helped that out although at the end of summer things were starting to loose that ultra green look.

Next time I would make the beds longer but narrower for easier reaching and pay more attention to laying them out down hill from the water source in concentric semi-ovals.
 
Posts: 559
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
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When it comes to happy plants we need to picture how deep their roots go, and that's way below any raised bed.  So embracing your soil, learning what it has (which is a lot of good stuff), and what non-native vegetables need is a good start to "being where you are." 

Rocks have really great minerals that make food taste even better and be more nutritious.  Plant roots love that kind of soil with rocks in it because the roots can breathe.  Just look at the big trees on the edge of your clearing.  Those big trees need substantial nutrients and water, and it's already there.  Do you know if those rocks are granite, or ...?  They might affect the pH of the soil, but those evergreen trees imply you've got an acidic soil.

How fast the soil drains is an important factor.

Your weeds tell you what's in the soil.  They grow because what they need is already there, and understanding those weeds tells you a lot.

Your larger rocks have the potential to add art to your garden, define paths, etc.  You might really get into making rock walls, there are some great posts at this site of great rock work.  Just be sure there is a deep foundation under walls.

Compost and manure and thick mulch is the gardening trifecta.

:-)



 
Posts: 298
Location: SW PA USA zone 6a altitude 1188ft
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You said:

"We have 3 pigs for meat and will be getting chickens soon.".  And also: "fir sawdust, seaweed, alder and maple leaves and wood, good well water ...".

These are your keys to your gardening future. Also you mentioned manure from down the road.

You haven't said how big an area your garden will be.

Seems like you have every thing you need to improve your soil tremendously. As I worked the garden I'd keep a wheelbarrow with me to toss some of rocks into and perhaps sort them somewhat for size. In the future you may find a need for big rocks to build a wall or smaller stones for a road into......

I'd fence in the garden area and run the pigs inside the fence. I'd always use, at least, one of the borders of the permanent garden as the side of the fence where the pigs are at the moment. I'd leave the permanent edge posts in place. My posts would be harvested from the property if possible. One of the problems I have is that I have no idea how pigs would flourish if I dumped large quantities of sawdust of seaweed before they were put into an area. But I'd experiment. Spread sawdust in one area and seaweed in another and then watch what they do. Google can be your friend on that issue. I'd suggest you keep moving the pigs as they loosen up the last area. Then I'd dump manure and what ever soil amendment I had on top of the just vacated area.

As far as fencing I used to buy 360 foot rolls of "stock fence" inexpensively. Is that still available cheaply? Looks like it's now 330 foot rolls and 50¢ per foot about half the price of the 50 foot 5 ft high fence I've been using lately. I once rented a post hole digger and drilled 84 posts in one days rental, trying to get my moneys worth out of the rental. I said once, that was 30 plus years ago. But all the posts for those 84 holes came off the property, some came from the garden area itself. One of the posts, a 4 or 5 inch 12 foot high Wild Black Cherry rooted.

I would plant into the ground I have never built a raised bed in my life. Admittedly I've never dealt with all that rock... boulders.

If I did bring in a "dump truck load of "soil"" I'd use it for root crops, especially carrots. I'd also mix that with manure so that next spring I wasn't growing root crops in fresh manure. Even if it was "well composted". I'd be happier if it was in the soil for a half a year or so.

Good luck with your gardening adventure.

 
Karla Jaeger
Posts: 11
Location: Coastal BC
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Genevieve Higgs wrote:In my coastal BC garden summer drought is just as bad as spring and fall flooding.  I've tried 2 foot raised garden beds 8 inch raised beds and a bed dug 8 inches deep then filled 4 inches above grade.  I like that bed best of the three because of its water retaining and draining properties.  It needs much less water than the raised beds.



Exactly, it doesn't rain for two months and our property gets especially dry. I was hoping digging down a bit would retain water (as well as spongy rotten wood). But in the spring, our micro climate takes forever to warm up, so raised beds make sense in that respect.
 
Karla Jaeger
Posts: 11
Location: Coastal BC
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Cristo Balete wrote:When it comes to happy plants we need to picture how deep their roots go, and that's way below any raised bed.  So embracing your soil, learning what it has (which is a lot of good stuff), and what non-native vegetables need is a good start to "being where you are." 

Rocks have really great minerals that make food taste even better and be more nutritious.  Plant roots love that kind of soil with rocks in it because the roots can breathe.  Just look at the big trees on the edge of your clearing.  Those big trees need substantial nutrients and water, and it's already there.  Do you know if those rocks are granite, or ...?  They might affect the pH of the soil, but those evergreen trees imply you've got an acidic soil.

How fast the soil drains is an important factor.



I'm sure our soil is acidic, this was an evergreen forest not long ago. The soil drains well, given our slope and the low organic matter in most places.
 
Genevieve Higgs
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I have yet to be convinced that my true raised beds warm up faster in the spring.  Possibly because they lack a rock surround.  The semi sunk semi raised beds surrounded by rock do seem to get warmer surface soil and better spring growth near the edges.
 
Karla Jaeger
Posts: 11
Location: Coastal BC
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Nicole Alderman wrote:You might enjoy looking through Tracy Wandling's thread. It takes place in coastal BC, with lots of rocks, too. She made a very impressive market garden in just a year! https://permies.com/t/56720/permaculture-projects/garden-fence-finally-finished-rainbows



I've read through her thread and loved it! That was a while ago and I will review it again. Very similar climate, though Cortes is a bit milder in general. I love all the detail she includes.
 
Cristo Balete
Posts: 559
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
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It's early September and the daffodil bulbs are available...I use those to plant around perennials to stop the gophers, 3 per 1-gallon root ball.  In the spring they all come up and make everything very positive, especially on a gray winter day.  The gophers will go around/away from the bulbs planted at the 6" depth.

The picture you took with the little blue thing at the top, that looks like island garden beds with a wide path between them, and fits right in with your woodland area.

Shovel as much manure as you can before it gets too cold and let it sit there all winter.  If you can cover it with leaf mulch, compost, mowed weeds, that helps, too.  I've stopped buying straw bales even from local places because they brought in weeds I didn't have before, like teasel.  Although I like thistle, all bees are crazy about it, and it's easy to control with a mower after it blooms.  I put all of it in the compost pile.

This thread has a lot of nice woodland garden pictures.  I've always been inspired by Irene Knightley's garden in France.  Not sure if her pictures are still around.

https://permies.com/t/21211/art/Garden-picture-exchange
 
Karla Jaeger
Posts: 11
Location: Coastal BC
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John Duda wrote:You said:

"We have 3 pigs for meat and will be getting chickens soon.".  And also: "fir sawdust, seaweed, alder and maple leaves and wood, good well water ...".

These are your keys to your gardening future. Also you mentioned manure from down the road.

You haven't said how big an area your garden will be.

Seems like you have every thing you need to improve your soil tremendously. As I worked the garden I'd keep a wheelbarrow with me to toss some of rocks into and perhaps sort them somewhat for size. In the future you may find a need for big rocks to build a wall or smaller stones for a road into......

I'd fence in the garden area and run the pigs inside the fence. I'd always use, at least, one of the borders of the permanent garden as the side of the fence where the pigs are at the moment. I'd leave the permanent edge posts in place. My posts would be harvested from the property if possible. One of the problems I have is that I have no idea how pigs would flourish if I dumped large quantities of sawdust of seaweed before they were put into an area. But I'd experiment. Spread sawdust in one area and seaweed in another and then watch what they do. Google can be your friend on that issue. I'd suggest you keep moving the pigs as they loosen up the last area. Then I'd dump manure and what ever soil amendment I had on top of the just vacated area.

As far as fencing I used to buy 360 foot rolls of "stock fence" inexpensively. Is that still available cheaply? Looks like it's now 330 foot rolls and 50¢ per foot about half the price of the 50 foot 5 ft high fence I've been using lately. I once rented a post hole digger and drilled 84 posts in one days rental, trying to get my moneys worth out of the rental. I said once, that was 30 plus years ago. But all the posts for those 84 holes came off the property, some came from the garden area itself. One of the posts, a 4 or 5 inch 12 foot high Wild Black Cherry rooted.

I would plant into the ground I have never built a raised bed in my life. Admittedly I've never dealt with all that rock... boulders.

If I did bring in a "dump truck load of "soil"" I'd use it for root crops, especially carrots. I'd also mix that with manure so that next spring I wasn't growing root crops in fresh manure. Even if it was "well composted". I'd be happier if it was in the soil for a half a year or so.

Good luck with your gardening adventure.



Thank you :)
I love the idea of using the pigs to prepare the soil, and dumping some amendments in with them. I have electric fencing. My concern is pathogens... If I'm planting into this in spring, wouldn't that be a concern? I've read that the land should be left for one or two years before using it for food production.

 
John Duda
Posts: 298
Location: SW PA USA zone 6a altitude 1188ft
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Karla

I'm also concerned with pathogens. This fall I'm in the process of preparing my root crop beds in a new garden I hope to have ready by next spring. The manure I'm using is up to two years old and I'm applying it a good six months before I plant into that soil. There's another thread you may be interested on the subject ofmanure.

But by using your pigs you get some nitrogen into that soil as they loosen it up. My concern is that there won't be enough soil improvement by planting time next spring. My concern with this subject is that not only is these crop applications in the hay that becomes the manure we use in our gardens; but that it's in the milk we consume... all the food we eat. But looking at your pictures I'd guess that your soil needs major improvements. The pigs will help. Can you borrow a cow.

I once had a large piece of land that was overrun by dirt bikers. I couldn't even keep them out of my veggie garden. We were here before you one of them told me. Well when I let a bull into the pasture that almost surrounded the garden that problem ended immediately. Some time later at a party I was being told a story about a similar situation. I asked if the area was fenced. They replied that it wasn't but wanted to know why. I responded that I'd had the problem that ended when I let my watch bull into the area. I said I was thinking of loaning you my watch bull. When the cow had the calf we got rid of the watch bull but since the cow hadn't been dehorned the kids thought she was a bull.

But I'm going to continue using manure in my gardens. I'm just going to be even more cautious about getting "well composted" product.

But another benefit you may get out of the pigs is turning rocks up to the surface where you can find and remove them.
 
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Karla Jaeger wrote:
My partner wants to build me cedar raised boxes and buy me a dump truck load of "soil" from the local landscape supply. He thinks excavating the rocks is crazy, because then I have to deal with them (it does seem like we have more rocks than dirt. And no, they are not the nice kind you can build rock walls with. We would rather not use them as bed edging because they're kind of ugly). This method has the appeal of him doing most of the work for me, and more or less instant results. The wood for the boxes is here already and he can mill it and build the boxes. I'm sure I could amend the lame topsoil blend, but I feel like my idea would result in healthier, more diverse soil, in more time.

I'd love to hear any other ideas or advice anyone may have to help me build soil here :)



Unless you really want the exercise I would suggest only trying to dig into that  soil and removing rocks in very small areas and for specific plants that need it. For a garden I would even skip the building of boxes and just lay the topsoil or better yet compost, if available, directly in your garden areas in rows that you intend to grow in. My soil is very similar to the point that I can't get a shovel into the soil farther than about 2 inches. I wanted a large garden and so just bought  a load of compost a couple of times a week, when driving by the soils seller, and dumped it in rows on top of my "gravel pit". I lined the areas between the rows with similar amounts of  wood chips and voila, instant garden beds. This worked very well for most crops, but then I didn't plant anything which had deep roots.  The strange thing is that  2 years later the compost rows have compressed down to about 3 inches deep, but I can now sink a shovel into those beds full depth. The rocks are still there, but who cares, the roots just go around them and the amount of labor that went into this is WAY less that trying to get all of the rocks out and improve the soil deeper than most garden plant roots will go.

 
Karla Jaeger
Posts: 11
Location: Coastal BC
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We do have a large excavator which would make short work of the digging. The rock moving and wood gathering would the the labour intensive part for me.

I'm totally fine with the idea of improving the soil from the top, I think that seems like a natural way to go about it and I understand it will improve the soil below. I wont be tilling anyway, and my soil is not compacted. Maybe I'll just sheet mulch the whole area and top it with a bunch of topsoil. I kind of don't want to be confined to my man's cedar boxes anyway ;) That would be the least amount of labour...

The reason I want buried wood is for water retention in summer (though I also have to worry about over saturation evey other month, but this area is quite free draining) and to add a lot of organic material to this soil. Is it worth the work? I don't know...


I looked up my soil type on BC's soil mapping web site (super interesting!) and I have sandy loam and loamy sand :)
 
Posts: 1354
Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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My dirt looks rather like yours. More clay probably. It was farmed for wheat for who knows how long so it's rocky and barren mostly. Anyway, I dug, put wood, biochar and manure/dirt. Then I mulch the top. I had corn 6 feet high last year. Unheard of here. Do it!
 
Been there. Done that. Went back for more. But this time, I took this tiny ad with me:
What makes you excited about rocket ovens?
https://permies.com/t/90100/excited-rocket-ovens
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