Broccoli is $2.99 a pound, artichokes as much as $5.99 each, snow peas and snap peas are $4.99 per pound, Yukon Gold potatoes are $1.50 a pound. And if you want these vegetables organic and pesticide free, add another 50% to these prices.
Building a raised garden bed and starting an organic vegetable garden might be a timely thing to do in 2009. In six more days a new president will be sworn into office. He’s even considering digging out part of the White House lawn and replacing it with a garden – an organic Victory Garden. Wow! At your own house a new vegetable patch could be your own personal Victory Garden. During such turbulent times as these, growing some fresh, organic vegetables might be just the change we all need.
Why leap into vegetable gardening? Several reasons. First, during tough economic times, it's important to trim food prices while maintaining high nutritional standards. Second, organic vegetables are rapidly increasing in popularity. Pesticides shouldn’t be on the things that we eat and growing a few of our own vegetables ensures that healthy, safe produce is on our plates. Third, they taste better.
But why a raised bed vegetable garden?
Easy. A raised bed doesn't take up much space and can be configured according to whatever space is available. Also, maintenance is minimal; the soil will be exactly as you want it and weeds will seldom be a problem. Finally, since it is a raised garden, it's easier to take care of.
But the most important advantage of growing vegetables in a raised bed is that it is more productive. Raised beds produce twice the volume as a conventional vegetable garden. That’s because raised beds don't require as much space between the rows, since no walking is done inside the bed to cultivate or harvest. Therefore, vegetables are spaced in raised beds at a distance just enough to avoid crowding, but close enough to shade out weeds.
Another reason raised beds produce more vegetables is the improved soil conditions. Soil doesn’t compact in raised beds, since there is no treading or heavy equipment on it. Compost and other soil amendments can be added in greater amounts with no waste. Raised beds also keep the moisture content of the soil more even, especially during wet periods. Finally, the soil in a raised bed warms up much faster, especially during winter and spring.
Building a raised bed needn’t be a lot of work.
The bed must be framed so it will hold the soil in. Raw, untreated fir boards are fine and should last at least five years. Redwood will last even longer and new composite materials, like Trex, will last a lifetime. If you have a supply of concrete blocks, especially the kind used for retaining walls, they’ll work just fine. Concrete blocks are durable and heavy enough so that they don't need to be mortared or secured, making construction simple.
Your Victory Garden will need to be placed where the plants get plenty of light. If space is available, a five or six foot wide bed is ideal. This will allow easy access to all of the vegetables, for planting, watering and harvesting. The length can vary depending on the available space and the amount of vegetables you want to grow.
Constructing a raised bed is fairly straightforward. For wooden boxes, assemble them in place and stake the sides to strengthen against the pressure of the soil. If using concrete blocks, simply place the bottom row in position and offset the row above it for stability. Raised beds can be as high or low as you prefer, but twelve or fifteen inches is usually about right.
Now, fill the frame to within two inches of the top with a blend of good garden soil or topsoil mixed with rich organic amendment or compost. Don’t use all planting mix or all garden soil in the bed, a blend is better. Now you’re ready for the vegetables.
The choices are almost limitless, but let the season guide you. Just like bedding flowers, the cool half of the year is right for certain crops, while others need the long warm days of summer. If you’re not sure, your local nursery expert will guide you. When planting, you will find that a north-south orientation is best for lower growing crops, allowing sunlight to both sides of the bed, while an east-west orientation is best for taller vegetables, like pole beans, corn, caged tomatoes and okra. Thus, lower growing vegetables could be planted on the south side of the bed and still receive full sun.
After a while you’ll be a vegetable gardening expert and you’ll be supplementing your diet with fresh, healthy produce, with the satisfaction of knowing that you grew it yourself, in your own personal Victory Garden.
Questions from Readers January 17.
Question: Have you watered your plants yet?
Robin, Newport Beach
Yes. Those of you that read last week’s column saw me write about how much less water landscape plants need during our cool winter months. I bragged that I had not watered my garden in almost two months. I wrote last week’s column on Thursday morning, two days before you read it. By the next day the Santa Ana’s were blowing and it was well over 80 degrees. Everything changed; and yes, I watered immediately, and again a few days later. But I think the recent hot spell, after several weeks of cool, damp weather underscore the watering issue. Irrigation needs are so unpredictable during the cool half of the year in southern California that a typical automatic sprinkler controller cannot be relied upon.
Ron Vanderhoff is the Nursery Manager at Roger’s Gardens, Corona del Mar visit his profile on the Mulch.