A garden is the best alternative therapy.

Knowing that our first-round planting would require beds for four different veggies, we decided to plant in two small beds and one larger bed divided in half.  I went with the design I used for the peppers and tomatoes and constructed the beds out of 2″x12″‘s.  I think this gives the veggies plenty of room to stretch their roots – even the cucumber with its extensive root system.  As the tomatoes did not do very well, we’ll be reusing that box, so I’ll only have to build one small box and one large box.

Materials Used:

I purchased four 2”x12”x8’ boards from our local lumber store, a box of 2 ½” galvanized nails, four steel corner braces and two packages of four count steel screws to construct the two boxes.

For the smaller box, I cut one of the 8’ boards in half, then cut it in half again, so that I had four two-foot sections. Then I nailed the boards together to create a two-foot-by-two-foot square frame one foot deep. For the larger box, I cut two of the 8’ boards down to 6’ and, using the two leftover two-foot sections, I created another frame six feet long, two feet wide and one foot deep. Because of the size of the larger box, I installed a steel corner brace on each of the top interior corners as reinforcement.

Site Location and Preparation:

After constructing the boxes, we had to figure out where to put them.  We already selected the seeds we wanted to plant, so we relied on the seed packages and internet searches to determine the solar requirements for each type.  All of the veggies we’ll be growing this round require full sun, which is at least 6-8 hours of direct sun.  We have several areas of the backyard, which provide adequate sun.

We picked the South side of the house as the site for two of the garden boxes because it receives full sun all day long without any shade.  After choosing the location, we arranged the constructed boxes on the ground. While standing on top of the boxes, I used a shovel to dig an interior hole, using the inside of the box as a template. After cutting the shape out, I removed the box and went to task removing all of the grass sod and dirt about five inches down. This was no easy chore with the thin, rocky topsoil we have here in central Texas. Each section I dug out revealed hundreds of small rocks and thick clay, as well as several huge limestone pieces – some nearly a foot across.

After digging out the holes, I spread about an inch of hardwood mulch across the bottom to discourage weeds, then I watered the hole really well before shoveling the dirt in.

The other box (reused from the tomatoes) is actually along the East side of the house, and while it starts to get shaded by the back fence after 4 PM, it still enjoys 8 hours of sunlight.

The Dirt:

Getting the dirt was a project all by itself. I obtained a half yard of dirt from a local landscaping company and decided that I’d haul it myself in the back of our Honda Element – because it was cheaper than buying it “by the bucket.”  A LOT CHEAPER.

Grower's mix - just the loose, nutrient soil we need.

Grower's mix - just the loose, nutrient soil we need.

The organic soil I purchased was called the “Grower’s Mix” – a blend of 40% compost, 40% loam (a mixture of sand, silt and clay), 10% bank sand and 10% granite sand. At $33 per yard or $5 per bucket, I got a great deal at $16 for a half yard. The half yard came out to be about 35 buckets full, and at the bucket rate, I would have spent $175 on soil. That’s also far cheaper than the bags of Miracle Gro Organic Choice Potting Mix I used in early summer for the herb garden, pepper and tomato plants, which is $6.99 for a sixteen quart bag!

Yet, a savings of over $150 comes with its own headaches, especially when you don’t own a pick up truck or a wheelbarrow!  (Yeah, I suggest you own both to make this step so much easier!)

I had to get the dirt in two loads as I could only fit a quarter yard in the back of the Element at one time. I popped up the back two seats and spread out some thick plastic sheeting and tarps in the back of the car to catch the dirt. Though it was a mess, the car proved a lot easier to clean out than I thought. I had to back the Element into the garage and push the dirt out of the back and then shovel the dirt into two five-gallon buckets, which I then had to carry about twenty yards to the backyard. That was a fun project that took me a few hours. But I had cheap dirt!

What a load of dirt ... am I proud, or have I gone insane?

What a load of dirt ... am I proud, or have I gone insane?

I added fresh compost to the dirt mixture, along with a cup or so of worm castings and a quarter bag of manure as I prepared each garden box. I filled each box to within a couple inches of the top. With the five inches that I dug down into the clay, I estimate that I have about fifteen inches of good soil for the plants to spread out in. More than plenty.  After filling the boxes, I let them sit about two weeks. When the two weeks passed, I took a hoe and mixed the soil up really well again and then let the soil sit an additional two weeks. As the soil was getting warm and happy, I ordered my seeds online and received them within a few days. I was anxious to start them right away, but the weather was way too hot, at temperatures at or above 100 degrees. So, I decided to wait.

[Note: This process of working the soil over twice is an organic gardening technique called “double-digging”, which I performed without even knowing what it was.  My thinking was that the double-working of the soil would help distribute the manure, compost and worm castings more evenly and allow for more aeration of the soil.  John Jeavons authored a book entitled, How to Grow More Vegetables, in which he states, “Double-digging adds air deep into the soil and enables roots to grow and the microbes to create good soil structure.”  As it turns out, I did this with about 12-16 inches of dirt, so this should be plenty of great soil for the veggies to grow in!]

Lady Bug Worm Casting - a great organic fertilizer.

Lady Bug Worm Casting - a great organic fertilizer.

In the meantime, I decided what seeds I was going to plant where and purchased some trellises and tomato cages to install onto the boxes before planting.  I also decided that I would plant the beans in the smaller box on the East side and the cucumbers in the other small box on the South side of the house.  The larger box will be split between the squash and zucchini.

Next: First-round Planting

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