My other three raised beds safely arrived yesterday. By the time you read this, Alan and I will probably be in the backyard putting them together.
But as I said yesterday, you don’t have to spend money to grow your own. We choose to do this because 1) we are scaling things up so quickly due to the current crisis and its long term impacts and 2) our total self-isolation limited what we had on hand to work with. We will be building one other one using pallets that we have on hand, though.
But when I said ‘making your bed,’ I am not actually referring to putting them together. They come with instruction sheets (I hope). And there are loads of excellent videos and articles online on how to make your own.
No, when I say ‘make’ I am referring to the layout. What to grow and where.
Growing up, my stepfather always planted things in nice neat rows. Usually twelve to eighteen inches apart. We would walk the pathways compacting the earth as we weeded, watered, and harvested.
Obviously, you can’t easily walk in raised beds. That is why ideally, everything is no more than an arm’s length away.
But to maximize your production, traditional rows don’t work as well.
So, how do you plant out your raised bed?
The most popular method is called square foot gardening.
It is pretty much as it sounds. You map out your beds into twelve-inch squares.
3 feet square bed = 9 12-inch square blocks
2 feet by 7 feet = 14 blocks
3 by 6 feet (standard bed) = 18 blocks
This is 2020 Spring-Summer. Of course, drawing it on paper is easy. But how do you actually mark it out in your raised bed? That is your choice. Some people like to use thinner strips of wood to actually build semi-permanent frames in their beds. Others use nails and string to accomplish the same thing. Others just draw temporary lines in the soil with their fingers or a bit of sand. You do whatever you like.
Yes, but how do I know what goes where?
A couple of rules of thumb:
- Where is the sun? – If you have tall plants like peas, runner beans, cucumber, and tomatoes, they can block out direct sunlight. Maybe this is what you want. I am certainly using that to plant out a mixed bed of peas and kale. But most plants want loads of sun, so these taller plants should be planted in such a way that they don’t block the sunlight.
- Does a plant run? – Plants like courgette/zucchini, pumpkin, most squash, and even cucumbers (if you are not going to train them to climb) need loads of space to spread out. Planting them in a corner will allow them to spread out and even over the sides if necessary.
- What type of soil does it prefer? – Okay, this one is confusing. Are there four to ten types? Most of us don’t need to know all that. What we do need to know is how wet a plant likes it. Tomatoes and cucumbers love water, but sitting in waterlogged soil will give potatoes and other root vegetables the blight. And carrots need a loose mix of compost and sand to grow straight-ish. If you are really curious then I found this article to be the most helpful. And some plants like acidic soil while others like alkaline. How do I know all this? Google it before planting. The thing that is relevant here is that unlike your container gardening where you can give each the soil it likes best even if they are right next to one another that is not as easily done when it is all one bed. So, ideally, you have a couple of raised beds with different types of soil in each. And do what is called Companion Planting – planting together things like the same soil and may be beneficial to one another.
Okay, so now you have drawn out your bed layout. You have googled those items on your food security list to see which go best together in what soil. Your next question is:
How many can I plant in each square to maximize production?
These are a couple of the charts that I found, but there are hundreds online. Thankfully, for once there seems to be some agreement on the amounts of each. So, if you don’t like those charts then look for others whose format you can read better.
One final word…
So, how do I write/draw these plans?
There are three basic options:
- Draw them by hand – There can be something completely cathartic about this whole process; it just feels more creative. But a word of warning – I highly recommend that you use a pencil when writing in those plants. You are gonna change your mind, several times.
- Use a spreadsheet – I started out drawing mine by hand but switched to this method because I was making so many changes. Changes are quicker and easier this way, and you can use the same spreadsheet template over and over again.
- Programs – There are several computer programs out there that with a bit of tweaking does this for you.
I have tried one – and gave up in less than 15 minutes. Too complicated! Maybe if you had all winter long, knew graphic design, and had absolutely nothing better to do with your time. I don’t. One good thing about them is that they give you those numbers to plant and messages about good and bad companion plants. For a beginner who does not have time or interest in researching those things, this might be a good option.
One word of warning though – do a bit of research. Are your plans stored in their cloud? Or can you download them to your computer? This could be important if that computer firm goes out of business, then you could lose all your hard work. Imagine five or ten years of garden plans disappearing. Of course, that could happen to the other two in the case of computer crashing or fire, but those are less likely events.
Okay, time for me to put my time and effort where my mouth is and get out there into my own garden.
I hope that you have enjoyed this series on basic food security. As this crisis has shown us all, our fast and convenient food supply chain is incredibly fragile. If it were not for our friends and neighbors, then even as prepared as I thought I was, we would quickly find ourselves in dire straits.
While most of us cannot keep chickens for eggs or goats and cows for milk, butter, and cheese, all of can and should do more to grow our own fresh fruit and vegetables. Not only does it cushion our food security in times like this, but it also:
- Reduces your food costs
- Provides better tasting and fresher/more nutritious products
- And it is also more sustainable for our planet, reducing food miles and plastic packaging.
No, this is not the last time you will hear about the issue in the coming days, weeks, and perhaps months. I will regularly be updating the progress of our @HomeCrazzyHome urban farm.
But it is time to move on to other issues as well including:
- Staying Positive and mental health during crisis
- Parenting and educating your amazing little humans
- And, of course, how to preserve, prepare, and cook all those wonderful things from your garden.
Until then, goddess bless, provide for, and keep you and yours,
From our @HomeCrazzyHome to yours
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