Category Archives: raised beds

Do I dare trust my GUTS?

While I do suspect I may be trying to get the Flu, fear not! there is not a single BM pic in this whole post.

Some of the GREAT people at the orchard!

Some of the GREAT people at the orchard!

The University of Nevada Cooperative Extension runs an amazing demonstration orchard here in Las Vegas, the Master Gardeners are absolutely amazing! Over a close to 20 year span they have tested almost every fruit and growing method you can think of and are truly the authorities on growing fruit trees in our harsh conditions. Every year they bring in fruit trees from Dave Wilson Nurseries for sale to interested gardeners. They focus on making available the varieties that produce good fruit here, which aren’t always easy thing to find.

Due to a slope in my orchard that I ignored last year I lost nine trees due to wet feet. The remediation plan was laid out previously in my What to Do? post. Basically I built 2’x2′ raised beds for the new trees to minimize the slope and give the new trees and area above the mucky soil below.

The raised beds started as 6' cedar dog eared fence planks

The raised beds started as 6′ cedar dog eared fence planks

 

My nephew Steven was a huge help. He is always a pleasure to be around!

My nephew Steven was a huge help. He is always a pleasure to be around!

Steven and I cut up all the material then assembled all of the boxes. Originally I had planned on using steel T-posts but my cheap side kicked in and we ended up using 1″x2″x24″ wooden grade stakes 25 for $7! During the planning of this modification of the garden/orchard area I came to realize that for me function is more important than form/style. Over engineering had been bogging me down until it clicked that last years “Grand Plan” was all being changed and for me “pretty” comes from healthy trees, healthy chickens, and tasty veggies. I am truly jealous of those that are able to create a masterpiece/showcase in their garden but I finally came to the understand that my mind doesn’t work that way. Basically I am CHEAP and hate spending money on something that I can’t wrap my head around it’s contribution to productivity.

Yeah there's only 3 stakes holdin that box up, I told you I was CHEAP!

Yeah there’s only 3 stakes holdin that box up, I told you I was CHEAP!

 

A good overview of the Orchard

A good overview of the Orchard

A secondary goal was reconfiguring my narrow raised beds that I installed last year. The idea was they were situated to the downhill side of my irrigation lines and would therefore require minimal supplemental irrigation. Come midsummer in an effort to minimize the soggy ground at the base of my orchard area I actually ended up diverting my Grey Water irrigation supply to a separate cobbled together system that didn’t really do anything well.

The Upper end of the "raised" bed

The Upper end of the “raised” bed

The plan for the area between the rows has morphed into a traditional raised bed 4′ wide and 10′ long. As can be seen in the above picture the upper end of the bed is actually only slightly above grade.

Truly "raised"

Truly “raised”

The bed is level both side to side and end to end, consequently the lower end of the bed is slightly above grade. Hopefully by the time my trees shade this area out in several years the level of the surrounding soil will have leveled out via the copious additions of mulch.

The sun is going down and the days work is done.

The sun is going down and the days work is done.

The raised bed was filled with the last of the compost and the accumulated muck from the floor of the hen-house. Last year about this time I put about 6″ of mulch in my 10’x10′ coop. Two bales of straw, a couple bags of shredded paper, and a bale of alfalfa had made it’s way in there during the intervening months. It had dried out quite a bit (I wet it down weekly during the summer) and I realize it is probably very “hot” due to all of the chicken poop, so I watered it down well to kick start the composting action.

The two little boxes are Comfrey plants that fell outside of the new bed.

The two little boxes are Comfrey plants that fell outside of the new bed.

Today we went back up and staked the new trees, did a general cleanup, mulched the first row, and then planted the new bed. To try to mellow out that “hot” soil I sowed several handful’s of red wheat and oats, then I planted bush beans, swiss chard, and beets Square-Foot Gardening style through the pasture seeds. Why? I’m not really sure, it just felt right and that’s the theme I’m trying to stick with. Educate yourself as much as possible then go with your gut!

 

 

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What to do?

Humidity is dropping, temperature is moderating, and sadly motivation is waning bit. Shoulda got up and got a load of mulch but didn’t, coulda headed up bright and early to clear out vegetation but just veged. I did make it up to the homestead kinda later in the afternoon and found 10 eggs, woo-hoo. Yeah it’s kinda like that but it won’t last, motivation is right around the corner. I can feel it bearing down on me like……….well I don’t know like what, but it’s comin! Mother Nature took another swing at the Orchard/Chicken Ranch but thanks to my sweety Karen & daughter in law to be Shanda it was a swing and a miss. They braved raging flood waters (4″of rain in an hour) to clean out the grate on the storm drain and narrowly diverted a repeat of the Great Flood of 012! I still have a soggy stinky mess in the chicken run though, primarily in the juvenile pen so my goal tomorrow is to relocate it. The chickens have done a great job of turning the compost piles and I need to get all of that mess back in to the bins.

I need that compost to amend the back-fill for the raised beds/boxes I am going to create for the replacement trees in the orchard. It would be nice to get those made, hung and filled so that I can put some winter crops in them to condition the soil before planting new trees next February. By hung I mean that the plan is to build 3’x3′ boxes out of 2″x6″‘s then hang them from 3’ T type fence posts on each corner so that I drastically reduce the relative slope of the orchard. The hanging boxes which will probably end up about 6″ above the existing ground in the lowest area then be filled with amended soil and surrounded with a heavy layer of mulch. Will this plan work? Hell if I know but it sure aughta.

Did I mention I got a 22 lb watermelon out of all that mess of vegetation? I’m pretty sure there’s at least on more in there along with some punkins and zucchini. So really it’s not a matter of “What to do” it’s more a matter of getting my butt up and doin it! Tomorrow, yeah tomorrow.

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Hugelkultur Fugelkultur

One of the basic pieces of permaculture is a raised bed construction practice known as Hugelkultur, to me that sounds about like that VW commercial from the 90’s but what do I know. Studying up on the practice of hugelkultur a bit I read claims about not having to irrigate your garden all summer, decreased need for fertilizer, and improved soil structure. While I am highly skeptical of growing tomatoes in Las Vegas without watering all summer any gardner here in the Valley should be striving to improve their soil structure. As previously mentioned in this Blog there is considerable open space between the trees in my orchard

So with the goal of putting in a couple of raised beds and the concepts of hugelkultur whirling about in my head I kicked Cammie outta bed, got in the Jeep and headed up to the Fruity Chicken!
Notice the Planks over Cammies Head
We stopped off at the local Lowes and picked up some 5/8″X6″X6′ dog eared cedar fence planks, I had used these same planks a couple weeks ago to make my sunken beds. Why these planks? Well they are cedar, but mostly they are cheap! Less than $2 a piece. I cut them to length and assembled them with gorilla glue and my brad nailer into 4’X4″ boxes, I did reinforce the corners with L-brackets because I had them.
 
The area chosen for my two raised hugelkultur beds is between the Eastern most rows of trees in the Orchard, I chose this location because of access and so that as the Fruit Trees grow they will give the beds some afternoon protection from the sun.
The next step after choosing the site and placing the frames is hugelkulture thingy of this project….filling the frames with rotten wood, wood chips, and coffee grounds. (the coffee grounds thing aint really in any of the Hugelkulture stuff I read but I figured it can’t hurt)
Above are my finished beds awaiting planting. On top of the wood and coffee I put about 6″ of compost. Bullshit you say! Those beds were only 6″ to begin with! Well I filled them with compost, watered them, pulled the frames up, backfilled around them, and repeated until the truckload of compost was gone. Tomatoes are going to be planted on North end of the beds with Peppers in front of them and I’m not sure what in front of the Peppers.
 
Cammie says all of this Gardening and Blogging is exhausting and it’s time for a nap!

Sunken Beds?






 As can be seen in these 2 pictures there is currently a lot of open space in my Orchard. This space both receives full sun and is irrigated. 
That got me thinking about how I could put that area to use. At first I tried pulling the mulch back from the area above the  dripperlines. That didn’t work out to well because the mulch was so deep that it would migrate back into and cover the cleared area within a day. That was when I thought of raised beds, but in reverse.

I built some 70″x14″ frames from cedar fence planks nailed together then reinforced in the corners with L-brackets. 
I installed these in between the trees and on the upslope side of the drip lines. I chose to put them there so that the majority of the water would still move through the mulch bed while water pulled uphill through capillary action would irrigate the crops in the boxes.

 Above is the first bed set into the mulch, in the foreground my Emerald Beauty Plan can be seen leafing out nicely. Below are the first 4 boxes installed between 2 rows of Plums, Pluots, Apricots, and Apriums.

Sweet Corn, Cow Peas, Pinto Beans, and Buckwheat have been sown in these first beds. The Sweet Corn is for us and the rest is for chicken feed and to help break up and improve the soil texture. I am now thinking that the middle row will be setup similarly to the first row but will be sunflowers mixed in with legumes and cover crop while the final row, where there is room for six boxes, I may fill the boxes and use them as true raised beds. The draw back on that is that I will need to irrigate them, the upside is fresh Tomatoes! 
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