Gardening With Nancy... Starting A Garden and Raised Beds Raised beds can be built in several ways. You can recycle old chunks of cement and untreated timbers into raised beds put together to hold soil about 14” high. Likewise you can use lumber. I use 2” x 12” x 12’ planks joined at the corners with lag screws, angle iron or nails. You can cut stakes, cut and drive into the soil at the corners so that the end board and the long board can be given extra stability. Using a short piece of 2” x 2” works well, with one end cut to a point to facilitate driving it into the ground at the corner. Another option is a bed made of dry stack blocks or other cement blocks. These are a bit more expensive with a 3 block high bed 4’ wide by 25’ long running over $200.00. The lumber beds can be constructed 4’ x 12’ for about $60.00. You will not want to use treated lumber as the preservatives can leach in to the soil and into your food crop. Often recycled untreated lumber can be found at farm sales or garage sales. Its nice to have at least a couple raised beds against south facing walls, where they get the benefit of reflected heat off the wall, where tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers will do their best. A final option is to simply work up your soil and then rake it into a 4’ by 12’ raised bed. This is not the best option as wind and time generally will cause the bed to break down. It is easy enough to restructure the bed at the beginning of the growing season each year. Once your beds are in place you can begin to think about fertilizers and whether or not you will want to use chemical or natural fertilizers. The local gardening stores carry both and local stockyards or feedlots can be the source of animal manures that can be used in gardening. Animal manures need to be composted for a good 6-8 weeks before being applied to food crops. Getting them into the garden in the fall can work, you will lose a little of the nitrogen value from winter leaching but you will know for sure it is not too hot and the bacteria have been destroyed through composting. Most gardening stores will be able to advise you on the types of fertilizers available. I tend to avoid the chemical fertilizers as they don’t improve the soil over time. Historically, gardens were part of survival for families. As modern life got a bit easier more and more foods were available through the local grocer or market. Less growing and canning were needed. Large commercial operations could do it cheaper and quicker. Interest in home gardens and preserving began to drop off. World War II saw the advent of the Victory Garden, which helped families deal with shortages the war caused. Many people quit gardening as the War ended and there has not been a large interest in gardening over all, but some folks never quit gardening, preferring the fresher, better tasting foods they could grow for themselves. A classic example is peas, once you eat your own fresh frozen Little Marvels from your garden you are hard pressed to ever buy another frozen pea. With the economy as it is now, interest in gardening is growing. Central Oregon gardening can be a challenge. There are Master Gardener courses offered every year for those who want to learn more, and help others garden in this challenging part of the state. In my naiveté I moved to Central Oregon 35 years ago to return to the rural life and a big garden. A little growing season research prior to the move might have been a good investment. However, I have managed to garden successfully in Central Oregon for most of the years I have lived here. There are some tricks to growing a vegetable garden successfully that I have learned from experienced gardeners in the area as well as from trial and error methods. I have abandoned row growing almost completely and grow everything in raised beds. The advantages of growing in raised beds are many. You can confine water and fertilizer to actual growing areas. You can grow crops more thickly in a raised bed increasing over all production. More dense crops mean less weeding and raised beds will warm more quickly to give you an earlier start for cooler Spring crops. The last advantage I have found is that you do not have to till the beds every year. By keeping them in frames or raked into beds, you avoid walking on the bed and the soil does not compact. Simply stirring the soil with a claw or rake in the Spring before seeding works without tilling. Commercial fertilizers both chemical and natural will generally have information on the containers as to the rate of application. If you are using beds of 4’ x 12’ (48 sq. ft.) or 4’ x 25’ (100 sq. ft.) how much to use will be easily figured as most companies will put information about application in 100 sq. ft. amounts. In addition to these fertilizers I like to add mushroom compost or other composts to amend the top 8 or 10 inches of the bed. This will improve the water holding capacity of your soil as well as nutrition that breaks down a little slower. I will add 3 or 4 bags to a bed for the first couple years after the bed is established. Central Oregon soil is so poor, I swear it robs nutrition from the plants!! The three big gardening rules in Central Oregon are: Amend, Amend, Amend!! Once your garden is well established your soil still can use compost and fertilizer each year. Some gardeners fertilize every 3-4 weeks of growing season, some a little less frequently than that and again your garden center can advise you. Another method of fertilizing can be done in the Fall, when you can plant a “green manure” crop also known as a cover crop. I plant it in most beds each fall. It contains Austrian pea, winter rye, buckwheat, and a couple other annual grasses. These will grow through the winter and in the late winter I spade them under. Another way to manage them is to pull the crop by hand shaking both dirt and fine root hairs off into the soil. This again adds both fertilizer and organic matter. Organic matter helps with the quality of the soil and water holding capacity. The green manure crop below is ready for turning in February or even late January if the weather is mild enough. If I am not turning the grass under, I will pull it, shake and cut the roots off into the soil. The grasses then can be added to the compost pile or as mulch between the rows. The fine root hairs on the cover crop I try to leave in the garden bed either by cutting them off or turning the whole crop under, as they are quite valuable for improving your soil If this is your first year gardening, you can look to the fall to plant a cover crop. Local garden centers may carry cover crops. CHS Nursery in Madras has indicated they will be adding it to their inventory. Redmond Greenhouse and Round Butte Seeds may carry it or would probably carry it if you asked. If you cannot find it locally, you can contact www.outsidepride.com in the Willamette Valley and they will ship it. Over the years, your garden soil will become more efficient as you add composts and cover crops. You will see improved plant growth as well as lessening water demand. The soil will hold the water longer and plants will benefit. The other thing that impacts water loss is the more dense plantings you can do in a bed, which will shade the soil reducing evaporative losses. Pay close attention to building your garden soil. The more organic matter the better, but it will take some time to build super productive soil with better water holding capacity than the native soils that are present. While you can use grass clippings and shredded leaves, putting them in during the gardening season is not a good idea. It is better to compost them with some manures, soil and straw and let them sit for a year, turning the pile once in awhile and then adding the composted pile in the early spring. If you use them before they are broken down, they will rob nitrogen from the plants you are trying to grow during the gardening season. If you can’t wait for your soil to be rich and full of nutrients, you can buy a whole truck load of half compost and half soil from Hershey Cattle Company on Highway 97 south of Redmond. This mixture is hot, so I cut it down by using half this mix and half plain soil I had on the property. You don’t want your tender seedlings to burn. On another note, I noticed in The Bend Bulletin January 13, 2009, Doug Stott from Redmond Greenhouse is recommending dormant sprays for fruit trees this month or next. The day you spray should not be windy, no rain forecasted and at least 40 degrees at the time of application. There are several organic sprays for trees at Redmond Greenhouse, Round Butte Seed Growers, CHS nursery or any gardening center should be able to advise you. Follow label directions fully, even organic sprays you do not want to inhale or get in your eyes or on your skin. The seed catalogs are arriving and local stores are putting up their seed racks. Now is the time to get out and play in the dirt, you will get excellent exercise and some great vegetables. Don’t be surprised if they taste completely different than what you have been buying. Happy Gardening. by nancy Petersen email@example.com SALVAGED cement blocks and old timbers also work well for building raised garden beds. RAiSED GARDEn BEDS can be fastened together in several ways. One method of driving 2” x 2” stakes in the ground. Addition of metal corner bracess, shown below, is also a good idea. CinDER BLOCkS can also be used to make raised garden beds. This 4’ X 25’ bed shown RAiSED GARDEn BEDS, 4’ x 12’, are constructed with2” x 12” x 12’ untreated boards. Winter contains a winter green manure crop. green manure crop will improve your soil.
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