When the pandemic first came to our shores and we were faced with a surprise vacation and then a transition to work at home, the non-commuting lifestyle left me with what seemed like a mountain of extra time to spend in the garden. ‘Let me get some building materials delivered’ I said, and ‘build a few raised beds’ I thought. The boss gave her approval and things began to move. Slowly. A thousand things had to be moved first, plans needed to come together, but I think it’s finally at a point where I can show it off a bit, if only to get it over with rather than build some unwarranted, over-blown hype.
The front entrance to the potager. A slight downward slope ends at the pergola, the beds are leveled into the slope, and the blocks will hopefully help with keeping the lawn edge neat just in case we get enough rain for it to grow again.
The first dilemma was choosing lumber. As usual I went with cheap and selected eight foot pressure treated 2x4s, but it wasn’t all that easy. Naturally rot resistant cedar or redwood would have been nice, larger boards would have been nicer, but the costs were way higher than I was comfortable with so it was a compromise between expensive all natural, or cheaper with a vague possibility of copper leaching… well I say that but actually the compromise was lower the cost or it’s not going to happen…
Overall I hope to get at least ten years out of the wood because although it’s pressure treated it’s not rated for ground contact. Eventually it will rot, but the treatment should give at least a few years more than untreated, and funny story… the pandemic caused a pressure treated lumber shortage, so we will see exactly how much faster au naturel rots, since all I could find for the last two beds was untreated wood.
The view from the trampoline. We are into the annual zucchini tsunami and each morning a few more line up on the counter. Someday I hope to level this bottom part of the garden. The beds are built level but the grass paths still need some fill to bring them up.
Besides being cheap with materials, I also got a little greedy with the bed space vs path width. Between beds is about two feet, and even if it were wider there was still no way (add laziness to the growing list of personal faults) that I was going to wrestle a lawnmower between each bed. Enter the wonderfully gritty sand pile. I knew I didn’t want lawn, wood chips need replacing (and why add organic matter to your paths when it should be going onto your beds?), bare landscape fabric is ugly (and violates my no new plastic policy), so I wanted it to be something inorganic and long lasting (and yet again, cheap). So I grabbed my face mask and was off to the quarry to look at stone dust, crusher run, and sand. Surprisingly the sand looked perfect. It was sharp enough to pack down well for a solid footing, and coarse enough (up to about 1/8″ particles) to not wash away in a heavy rain. So far I love it, and in the future I might even get sand to top off beds rather than buying ‘topsoil’ that turns to rock the minute it dries.
I removed the grass from a few of the pathways and used the turf to fill the beds. Sand paths will hopefully be low maintenance with great drainage, and if worse comes to worse I can just dig them over and replant grass.
Cinder blocks are also cheap, and at about $1.20 a piece I lugged a few carloads home to use as edging and to form a little paved area under the pergola. So far I like it. It’s an honest concrete look rather than concrete pavers trying to pass off as something fancier. Of course stone would have been another nice permanent edging but again spending a bunch of money was not part of my pandemic response.
With the beds built and the lawn edged and sand down on the paths I was super surprised to see that I still had leftover sand. I tried to calculate for extra sand for an additional pathway up alongside the fence, but to actually have a plan that worked out was a little bit of a surprise. After years of collecting and lugging random stones I could finally use them to line a sand trail that gives access to the back of the pond.
Finishing the pond is still on the to-do list but for now I think it looks good enough. The shallow end is in constant use as a birdbath, so it’s really more of a watering hole than a pond…
The pond path is surprisingly popular with the kids and our little garden bunny. I’ve caught both zipping back and forth, and in the morning there are all kinds of footprints in the sand.
Pond path’s entrance. Yes those are mostly weeds. Weeding went onto the back burner as I lugged load after load of lumber, blocks, and sand.
To sum it all up I love the new beds and I feel like there’s so much more useable space with it set up this way. I have a total of eleven 4×8 beds and for now it’s all vegetables and I’m trying not to give in to the temptation of planting flowers… except for the one bed which I gave over to chrysanthemums… but my resolve may dissolve since I still need room for phlox and tulips. At least I’m trying to be firm with the usual sunflowers and verbena bonariensis seedlings. -for the record I’m not sure why I needed a bed of chrysanthemum, but after years of neglecting them and abusing them in horribly weedy, infertile, and dry sites, I thought it was about time to do them right. We will see.
Yes, more weeds. The weeds exploded with last week’s rain and this bed was the next one to need attention.
With everything under control in the potager, there was still enough sand to upgrade the dirt ditch of the rain garden with another nice, stone-lined, sand path. If you recall, last summer this area received a small paved area and path with all the leftover flat stones liberated from the industrial park construction. It was nice, but I didn’t like the dirt gully which channeled the runoff, and when I don’t like something I kind of neglect it, and when you neglect a garden the weeds send out an alert, and when they all show up to answer the call things go downhill fast. The weeds are out now, the sand is down, and although I’m short on rocks along the one side, the other doesn’t look bad at all. We will see how it holds up. If you look closely at the paving joints you might notice the joints are neatly filled with sand rather than dirt, and both of those are a pain to keep weed free when all you have is this narrow joint that the roots can hold onto. Truth is I threw some leftover polymeric sand in there, and when you wet the sand the polymer sets up and solidifies it. I don’t know how it will hold up but hopefully I’ll get at least a few years of no-weeds-in-the joints enjoyment. The weeds will be fine elsewhere though, so if you’re worried don’t be.
Another step forward I hope. Mulch would be nice now.
That’s where we’re at going into the weekend. The weather forecast is promising another heat wave so I’m not worried about mowing, but watering will be on my mind. I don’t like watering but it does beat lugging cinderblocks and digging turf so I’ll keep the complaining to a minimum.
Traditionally I usually meet the hottest days of summer with a pile of mulch in the driveway. Hmmm. I hope you have a more relaxing weekend 😉