One of my goals since being in my new house is to have a proper vegetable garden. Last year I grew quite a bit in containers, but this year I wanted to expand and make use of the space I had. After all, who needs all that grass to mow??
Last year I found a very interesting book in the library called Square Foot Gardening, by Mel Bartholomew. Unfortunately it always seems like it was booked out of the library when I wanted it again, so in the end I bought my own copy. I really liked some of the ideas in the book and decided that this year as an experiment I would follow Mel's method.
The main concept of the book is to garden in squares rather than traditional row gardening. Raised beds are used, and separated into square foot sections. NZ is a metric country, but I tend to work in both imperial and metric as I'm from the UK and I was taught both at school. Different numbers of plants can be grown in each square - for example you might grow one tomato plant in one square, but can grow 16 carrots in the same amount of space. The idea is that you plant what you need, when you need. Gone are the summers of my childhood when my dad's courgettes would all be ready at once and we would have a massive pile of them on the table to get through. Anyone wonder why I hate courgettes? That's why!
Mel's book had been around for several decades, but it was recently updated to include mixing up your growing media from scratch rather than improving your existing soil. This is great as my soil is pretty much all clay and I don't fancy my chances of growing much in it without some hard work! The bonus of starting from scratch is that you should be lessening the chance of weeds growing - and if they do get in there they are easy to spot and remove. I'll discuss the growing media in a separate post.
I decided that my raised beds would be best in the garden on the north side of my house, which gets all morning sun, and will get more afternoon soon in a few more weeks when the sun tops the neighbour's cabbage trees.
I had a few different ideas about the size of the raised beds I was going to make. Unfortunately as I only have my little car and no tow bar, I needed to get lengths of wood that would fit in the back of the car. Luckily the lovely guys at Placemakers cut up all my wood to the sizes I wanted, making it a lot easier for me! I originally intended to make 4 boxes, each 4x4ft. Later I decided on 3 this size, and one 2x4ft box, which meant I had to cut one piece of wood in half (well, luckily my flatmate did that for me!) However, I did all the box making by myself.
Beginnings of the box, a 4ft (120cm) long piece of timber, which will sit 30cms high. You can also see my electric drill/screwdriver, measure and other tools, along with my tulips and garlic that are growing in pots by the house.
To begin with I had to drill holes along one edge of each piece of wood for the screws.
Then it was a case of screwing each side together, I rotated all the corners so the box is equal length on all sides.
The finished box. I put extra pieces of wood in each corner to help stabilise the box. It is pretty heavy and it was quite hard work moving it when I was on my own, although my flatmate did help out a bit with moving the boxes to their place in the garden. I should note that the timber I used is untreated, as I wasn't keen on using chemically treated wood that might leech nasties into my vegetables. Later on I painted the outside of the box with linseed oil which is a good sealant. The boxes will probably rot in a few years, but the wood is fairly cheap and I don't mind having to replace them later on as I might have developed some new ideas by then!
I also made a 2x4ft box. In future I think I will stick to the 2x4 size as it was a lot easier for me to move around by myself. I have space in my garden for plenty more boxes, but I will see how I go with these ones first.