Jun 27, 2011

Sq Ft Gardening - Choosing a Layout & Building Raised Beds

Welcome to Day One of our Adventure in Square Foot Gardening.  I spoke a bit about our new garden plans last week so this week let's get to the fun part of actually building your garden step by step.  Remember - you can do this garden ANYWHERE - even a balcony for you city dwellers - so grab a pen (or a pin if you're on Pinterest!) and let's get started...

Step 1 - Decide Layout and Build Your Raised Beds

Materials needed:
  •  Pen & Paper
  • Measuring Tape
  • A Brain - FYI - It doesn't need to be yours.  Mine is rarely functioning so make sure to eat your Wheaties before planning.

Deciding on a layout came pretty easy for us.  We already have the 25 wide x 18 deep area sectioned off from our regular yard.  We knew we would be building around those dimensions but weren't sure the exact width and length we wanted each box to be.  Ultimately we wound up with (2) 2x8 boxes  built specifically for the trellises as well as a privacy screen from the alley once the trellises are covered in veggie bearing leaves.  Directly below we put (4) 3x8 boxes.  Each pathway is between 2.5 - 3 ft to make sure it is easy to get at your garden from all sides.  You can kneel, squat, do jumping jacks - whatever - you have plenty of room to move through and even bring in a wheel barrel if you so desire.  

My only regret is we didn't leave much space for composting.  I want the garden to be all encompassing so everything we need is in a central location.  The other layout we were thinking of was pushing the top 2 boxes together to create a 2x16 box and cutting the bottom 4 boxes down to 3x6's.  Once the bottoms were centered with the top that would have left a nice wide area to the right where we could put our composer and an additional 2x8 box going vertical from South to North.  We ultimately went the other route to save on construction costs (cedar ain't cheap) but I have a feeling next year that will all be switched up!  

Another tip we learned is to save wood costs by sticking to the multiples of 2 when building boxes.  Each board of cedar came in 8 ft lengths.  I am sure you could find 12 footers or 6 footers then it wouldn't much matter but for our garden 8ft lengths was all we could find.  By making the 2x8 boxes we used 2.5 pieces of wood or 5 total for both 2x8 boxes.  When making the 2  3x8 boxes we used 6 pieces of wood but had (2) 2 ft scraps leftover.  I suppose next year when we add the last 2 3x8 boxes that will give us 2 more 2 ft lengths which we can then build one 2x2 box somewhere...hmmm....

Anyway - my point is to be wise when doing your layout to get the biggest bang for your buck.  A 4x8 box only takes 3 pieces of wood making it double the capacity of our 2x8 boxes with only half a board more.  Make sense??

Now that we have the layout down let's get ready to make our boxes...

Step 2 - Building Your Raised Beds

Materials Needed 
  • 2x6 boards of whatever length needed No need to have a saw as the lumber store can cut them for you...in most cases you don't even have to bat your eyes!
  • 3 inch Rust Resistant Screws (deck screws work)
  • Screw driver.  I suggest borrowing an electric one if you don't have one yourself. 
  • Optional - Weed blocker.  Not so optional in my opinion, OK, just do it...$22 to save time on weeds is so worth it!  
  • Optional - Staple gun for above weed blocker!  If you don't have a staple gun - no worries.  Just lay the box on top of the weed blocker.

With your grid in hand it is time to go to your favorite lumber store to grab your wood.  I HIGHLY suggest using cedar for its rot resistant capabilities but it is much cheaper to go pine or something similar.  You only need your garden to be 6 inches deep but I love the look of a deeper box.  Again, to keep costs down we stuck with 6 inches and will possibly add on once we win the lotto...totally keeping my fingers crossed for that day to come!  

Due to untimely weather we have no shots of actually building the box but you want to rotate the corners at each end and drive 3 screws into each corner.  We made sure to drill pilot holes first to prevent splitting.  Here is the after once they were put together...

Now grab your weed blocker.  Not using it...did I mention it is HIGHLY recommended by yours truly??    Alright - Ill let it slide this once but might I just add that we bought a 4x50 ft roll for $21.97 at HD.  It would probably be cheaper else where but I was in a rush and couldn't wait.  Even so - it is totally worth the investment.  

Take the corner of your weed block and staple to the corner of your box.  Roll the weed blocker down and staple taught as you go...  TIP - If you plan to mulch or gravel your walkways leave at least 4 inches overhang on all sides of your box.  This will help when you lay your pathways to overlap the weed block for extra weed blocking protection.  You will see I didn't do it on the first 2 boxes but I realized it for the last 4! 

When you get to the edge and it is all stapled grab a scissors and trim off the roll

When you get the first length done move to the next section and overlap by a few inches...

 And here you go - 2 boxes completely weed blocked and ready to add to your layout.

Since we are working in an already planted garden (seen HERE) I had to be strategic in regard to moving things and building walkways as to no upset our already blossoming plants.  Luckily, our already existing path was close to where the new boxes were going so I just rolled up the weed block with the mulch in it and cleared a path for the new box.  It took a bit of muscle but I got er' done...

The dirt below was extremely hard (like dry clay) and uneven so I gave it a go with my garden Claw...don't laugh, the CLAW rocks!!

Once it was all broken up we raked and got it smooth then walked all over it to pat it down.  A nice smooth even area for our new boxes...

TIP - If you dont have a staple gun to staple your fabric to the actual wood beds then now is the time to lay it out before placing the beds on top...

E Being Manly

And there you have it.  Steps 1 and 2 are complete.  Here is a breakdown of costs thus far:

  • 11 - 2x6 8 ft long  cedar studs at $11.94 each = $131.34 (From Lowe's)
  • 4x50 ft weed block from HD = $21.97
  • 100 ct 3 inch screws from HD = $6.71
  • Staple Gun and Staple = $0  (Already Owned)
  • Man Power From E = $0...but I did have to cook him dinner...
Total Cost including 9.5% sales tax (highway robbery, I know) = $175.22

Tomorrow we will focus on the soil mix to add to your brand spankin' new boxes!  The book suggests something called "Mel's Mix" (named after Mel Bartholomew who is the creator of Square Foot Gardening) but for costs sake I had to thrift it down a bit and tweaked the mix to now be B's Mix named after me, of course!  

If anyone else doing the Square Foot Garden thing?  Any tips and tricks you would like to share?  Feel free to email me or leave a comment so we can spread the word!

See you tomorrow bright an early for Day 2 of Adventures in Square Foot Gardening...

**Update**  See what started it all HERE, See how to choose a layout and build your beds HERE, See how to make Mel's soil mix HERE, and See how to grid your garden HERE!are f
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