Spring is in the air at Fort Hood, Texas…well actually with temps of 95 degrees, summer is trying to bully its way through. Nonetheless, it’s time to plant a vegetable garden. Ha! I made that sound so simple. Who am I kidding? I tried to plant a garden at Fort Riley, Kansas, once. I dug holes in the natural dirt, plopped the tomato plants in and watered them. But the few fruit that grew were puny and never ripened before the bugs got to them. It didn’t help that I planted strawberries next to tomatoes…something I just learned is a no-no. I also tried growing tomatoes in pots at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Again, no fancy soil, just a bag of potting mix. I think I forgot to water those a few too many times because they just fizzled away. But now, I’m serious. I try to buy local meat and veggies, and there is nothing more local than my own backyard.
I browsed the Internet for two weeks to see what I’ve been missing all these years. That’s when I learned about raised gardens and square-foot planting. Based on my research and some help from the organic nursery near Fort Hood, Oma’s Garten Pflatzen, I was on my way. The purpose of a raised garden is to create a comfy, fertile bed full of soil and moisture-locking ingredients that will help your plants grow to their peak perfection.
Recipe for a fruitful veggie garden
8 cedar fence boards
1 – 2” x 2” x 8’ piece of cedar
Galvanized deck screws
6 cubic feet compost
2 cubic feet coir fiber (coconut husk)
40 lb. bag of expanded shale
½ 5-lb. bag Mineral Plus
Thread or string
Veggies of choice
The first step is building up the walls to your bed. Cedar board is the best wood to use because its natural aroma helps resist insects. Cedar can be expensive, so I recommend you use cedar fence boards. They’re less than $2 a piece at Lowes and Home Depot (plus both stores give a 10% military discount all year long). I made a 4 foot by 4 foot garden. Since the fence boards are 6 feet long, I cut 2 feet off of the curved end. Next, cut the 2×2 cedar board into 12-inch pieces. These will be the corners to your frame.
To assemble, stand a piece of 2×2 upright. Place a piece of the fencing against the 2×2, making sure the edges are flush left. Then, drill in one screw about an inch up from the bottom. Be sure to use galvanized screws because they don’t rust.
Using the same 2×2 board, attach another piece of fence board to the left side. This time make sure the edges are flush right. Drill another screw near the bottom, but be careful to align the screw above or below the other screw, so you don’t hit it.
Continue working to your left, adding another 2×2 and more fence board until you have a square. Now, go around the square and drill a second screw in the side of each board near the top into the 2×2. For more strength, you can add a third screw in the middle, drilling it through the two adjacent fence boards. To add height, repeat this process with a second layer of cedar board. Place the fence board right on top of the other fence board and work around the square.
The final square should look like this.
You can place your raised bed on any flat surface. I found an empty spot in our planter area that could hold the 4’x4’ box.
Line the bottom with layers of newspapers. Be sure the papers overlap and allow them to fold up the sides of the box. Newspaper is a great natural weed preventer. I’ve found it works loads better than the expensive weed fabric.
Ready to get dirty? You can use gloves and a rake, but when working with nature, I find it more fun to just go with it. Standing inside the box, dump in the first bag (2 cubic feet) of compost. Spread it evenly over the newspaper.
Next, add a bag of expanded shale. This helps retain moisture in your soil. Many blogs recommend vermiculite, but when I went to the local nursery, I learned that vermiculite contains asbestos, and you have to wear a mask when you use it because the particles are dangerous to inhale. No thanks.
Now, add in 1 cubic foot of coir fiber. There are heated debates online on whether peat moss or coir fiber is a better choice. You could use either, but my nursery said that once peat moss dries out, it cannot be rehydrated. With Texas heat, I decided to go with the coir.
Dump in another bag of compost. Here comes the dirty part. Using your hands and arms, thoroughly mix the shale, coir and compost, so everything is evenly distributed. Add in one more bag of coir and one more bag of compost and continue to mix.
Since this is a square foot garden, it’s important to mark off the square feet. Using a tape measure along the top of the fence board, measure 1 foot, and press in a thumb tack. Continue measuring each board. You should end up with 3 thumb tacks per board.
Tie a piece of thread to one thumb tack and bring the string across to the other side. Wrap it around the tack and guide it down the same board to the next tack. Then, guide the string back across the board to the next tack. Continue until you have 4 rows of 4.
Ready to plant? I thought so. When you buy your plants, look at how they are supposed to be spaced. Tomatoes and peppers are generally one plant per square foot. The My Square Foot Garden blog provides a great list of veggie spacing. I decided to go with a variety of tomatoes and peppers, and I’m going to try to plant peas and haricot vert (green beans) from seed. I also planted geraniums in each corner to act as a natural insecticide. You could also use marigolds.
The soil is so loose and rich you can dig the holes with your hands. Plant the tomatoes deep enough so the first layer of leaves is below the soil. This helps create a firm stance for them. Fill the hole by pushing the soil back around the plant. Water well, and continue to water each morning. Voilà! That’s it.
Hopefully, this year’s garden will be better than all of my other failed tries. I’ll keep you posted. Stay tuned for exciting veggie garden recipes.
|8 cedar fence boards||$13.50|
|1 – 2” x 2” x 8’ piece of cedar||$4.00|
|Galvanized deck screws||$7.00|
|6 cubic feet compost||$10.50|
|2 cubic feet coir fiber (coconut husk)||$24.00|
|40 lb. bag of expanded shale||$10.00|
|5-lb. bag mineral plus||$10.00|
|Thread or string||$1.00|
|4 tomato plants||$10.00|
|4 pepper plants||$10.00|
|1 basil plant||$3.00|
|4 geranium plants||$16.00|
|1 bag pea seeds||$1.00|
|1 bag green been seeds||$1.00|