Jerseygator's Blog


One garden ends, another begins

Posted in Garden by jerseygator on October 10, 2009

The sad garden is ready for a rehaul

The sad garden is ready for a rehaul

It’s funny how the gardener’s cycle turns.  Excitement in January, hard work in June, harvest in August, and tear down in October.  I’m usually more than ready to end the season, as I’m getting tired of the physical work, but it’s melancholy.  I’ve only been a gardener for 3  years or so, but it’s become a big part of how I see myself.  To see the shriveled up tomato plants and pull out the last of the squash vines is sad!  However, on the remains of one garden grows the seeds of next year’s.

After 3 years, despite rotating the crops, it seems our soil is somewhat depleted.  I’m judging by the lack of earthworms, something I had tons of over the last 2 years.  I’m still a novice, but I feel that the soil needs some amendments.  The garden is 100% organic, so no chemical fertilizers.  I can’t seem to make enough compost every year… there are so many uses for it!  Then, while at the gym one morning (where I get my HGTV fix while on the treadmill) I saw a gardening show about creating raised beds.  Hmmmm…

Our garden’s already had raised beds… 15 foot rows raised about 8 inches with pathways.  We never walked on the beds themselves, so the soil was loose, but it was difficult to keep the rows contained and weed free.  Perhaps raised beds will make it easier to maintain the garden.  We also had raised beds with wooden frames from our first year here in NJ.  We recycled some posts we found in the yard.  They are definitely showing some wear and will need to be replaced next spring.

Front garden beds with old posts for sides

Front garden beds with old posts for sides

Evidently the ideal wood for raised garden beds is cedar.  It’s said to last 10 years with little maintenance.  After going to Lowes, Home Depot, and 84 Lumber (only Lowes had cedar, but in small boards), I found a cedar supplier, Medved, which is only about 30 minutes away.  Fortunately, I called them first; the cedar planks I needed (2X10X12) ran about $33/plank.  Each bed would need 2 planks… youch!  I wanted to make 3 beds, but it’s an experiment so I decided to start with some less expensive lumber, knowing I will have to replace them within 3-4 years.  No pressure treating, as that could leach chemicals into the soil.  I ended up with fir boards for about $11 each.  Kenzie and I loaded them up at Lowes, where they cut each board once, into an 8′ and 4′ board respectively.

Once we brought the lumber home, I started preparing the back garden by pulling out the old plants and leveling the ground .  I pulled up as many weeds as possible and then started building the beds.  With 2 8′ boards and 2 4′ boards, I created the beds, leveling them and attaching the boards with 2-1/2″ galvenized nails.

Once the first bed was created, I started layering the beds to prepare them for next years crop.  The layers started with newspaper, to smother any weeds that were still in the ground, followed by 4″ of straw.  Straw is plentiful in south Jersey at this time of year, as it is an integral part of most folks autumn decorating scheme.  Winnowing the straw over a tarp or sheet allows the seeds to fall out, thus preventing a wheat field come spring time.

After the straw I put down about 2 cups of blood meal to add some nitrogen to the mix.  This is a porcine product and is the funkiest smelling stuff ever. Definitely not kosher.  Then a covering of burlap to smother any straw seeds that may have made it through the winnowing.

Ground is leveled

Ground is leveled

First bed built

First bed built

First layer - newspaper

First layer - newspaper

2nd Layer - 4" of winnowed straw plus 1-2 cups blood meal

2nd Layer - 4" of winnowed straw plus 1-2 cups blood meal

3rd Layer - burlap

3rd Layer - burlap

Once the burlap is down, I put 5 bags of a composted manure/humus mix into the beds.  This should renew the existing soil by adding any depleted nutrients.

A layer of shredded leaves topped the manure.  No matter how many leaves my trees drop every year, I never seem to have enough!  I have taken to collecting and shredding leaves every week on my day off in order to try to keep up with my garden’s needs.  I’m a compost slave!

Another 1-2 cups of blood meal go over the shredded leaves.  As the leaves are almost pure carbon, the blood meal adds the nitrogen for this set of layers. Then I put a bucketful of my quickly depleting supply of finished compost over the leaves.

If I were starting this bed completely from scratch, I would have added about 6 bags of potting mix next, but instead I added garden topsoil.  As we’ve been careful not to compact this soil, it has a nice, loose, crumbly texture.  Finally, I added some corn meal gluten.  This is a slow release nitrogen product (the by-product of making HFCS, I believe) that inhibits seed germination for about 6 weeks.  As this bed will be sitting over the winter it won’t affect the garden but should keep down any of the fall germinating weeds that were in the garden soil.

The final piece of the garden bed puzzle was a grid of bamboo sticks and metal grids.  How does this help the garden, you ask?  Well, it prevents Boo-Kitty from thinking that I’ve just created the most awesome outdoor litter box EVER!  I could also use chicken wire or bird netting, but reduce, reuse, recycle, right?

Manure/Humus mix... no chickpeas

Manure/Humus mix... no chickpeas

4th layer - manure/humus mix (5-6 bags)

4th layer - manure/humus mix (5-6 bags)

5th Layer - shredded leaves

5th Layer - shredded leaves

6th layer - bucket of finished compost for microorganisms

6th layer - bucket of finished compost for microorganisms

Finished garden soil on top

Finished garden soil on top

Kitty protection

Kitty protection

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