It’s a lovely rainy day here at The Havens. A couple of storm systems have come through and in the past 24 hours we got 3 inches of rain, plus an amazing sunset. This was taken as the tail edge of the storm left the area.
Since it is raining and I have no interest in doing any more housework right now, it seems like this is the time to finally make the post I have been hinting at for several months: how our vegetable garden came to be the way it is now.
First, let me say that most of the decisions we made on how to proceed were dictated by and for the convenience of the gardeners. Some decisions were made specifically to inconvenience the cute little bunnies and darling deer and other sundry fauna who wished to share our garden bounty. We also made decisions based on the desire to limit the flora who would inhabit said vegetable garden.*
So, when we moved here in 1995, the area of the property that was destined to be the vegetable garden was tabula rasa.
Anyone who has ever moved house knows that there is plenty to do your first year at the new place, and our experience was no exception. Additionally, during my years as a peripatetic Navy wife I learned that it was wise to hold your garden decisions in abeyance. One is likely to make much better decisions if you have had a year to watch the light patterns on your property.
We moved in April. I knew that there was no way to get any semblance of preparedness for vegetables wrested out of the expanse of lawn that existed at the time we took ownership. So the first year, all we did was dig a bed about three feet wide along the side of the barn, and we planted a few tomatoes. I have not a single picture of that first vegetable garden.
During that year we decided that the area of the property to the west of the barn pictured above was really the best place to plan a permanent vegetable garden. We had already learned at previous abodes that you got the best results from dedicated raised beds with pathways between them. Previous experience with a too narrow path system had also taught us that those paths should be wide enough to accommodate your wheelbarrow easily. So during the summer when we enjoyed the tomatoes from beside the barn, we laid out four garden beds, surrounded them with some old oaken planks we found behind the barn, and covered them with cardboard and piled grass clippings (of which we had a plethora!) on them. The next spring, we planted vegetables in them. The bed beside the barn became habitat for tansy, comfrey, feverfew and some lilies. Later we put some raspberries in there.
It became rapidly apparent that four bed were not enough. So we added two more beds to our repertoire the following year.
Still we did not have quite enough room, so a couple of years later we added two more beds. All the beds in this garden are 4 feet wide by 20 feet long. We came to those dimensions because a bed that wide is easy to reach into the middle of for the purposes of weeding and planting, and a bed that long is not too long to walk around the end of. We are very serious about NOT WALKING IN THE BEDS so as not to compact the soil in them.
You may note that in the photo above there now exists a fence. During the early years we lived in the area, we lived next to what amounted to open fields that went for a mile or so and then transitioned into forest. We had lots of coyotes, foxes and other predators around, and little creeping herbivores were not a problem. Then the local developers and the City Council went tax base crazy, and a development of duplexes, crackerboxes, and ticky tacky houses sprang up between us and the woods. The predators disappeared and the herbivores enjoyed a population explosion.
The fence had quite an evolution. That wire fence made of 2″x4″ mesh turned out to be permeable to rabbits, so a second layer of chicken wire was applied to it. Then we learned that rabbits and deer can jump over something that is only 36″ high, so another layer of chicken wire was added to the top of that fence. The “gate” was a piece of cattle panel with a flap of chicken wire which you dragged open and shut across the grass. Additionally, over my heated objections, the fence was located between the vegetable garden and the water faucet. The Lawn Boy learned that weed eating along the bottom of this contraption was difficult, if not impossible, not to mention the fact that if you let the grass and weeds grow up wildly interlacing in the chicken wire the fence becomes even more impermeable to rabbits.
I have no pictures of this particular stage of the garden fence. It was not a pretty sight, it did not lend itself to photogenicity in any way shape or form. I will just say that when we decided to remove it we had to dig the grass and weeds out in order to pull the fence and it was Very Hard Work indeed.
Let us leave that vision to your imaginations, and fast forward to the year 2005, when that Herculean Labor had been accomplished and a new fence had been installed. With a real gate. And the water faucet INSIDE it. The posts for this fence and the grape arbor on the west of the garden were acquired at a friend’s place, where Jim went and harvested the cedars that form them. After they sat in the woods for a season, he limbed them all and brought them home and peeled them. The fence planks are also local cedar, which we purchased from a saw mill in the Leadmine area.
You can just see the chicken wire fence that extends to the top of the posts, above the planks. This effectively keeps the deer out. The bottom planks are sunk below grade, which helps keep varmints from digging under the fence. Too bad we have not figured out how to keep the darned squirrels out. It turns out they are quite fond of tomatoes, and corn is even better than tomatoes.
During the intevening decade, the original wood edging the beds rotted away and was replaced. The replacement rotted and was replaced with 2×10 planks, at fairly great expense. When the second replacement rotted, we re-assessed the value of wood as a bed edging. We definitely needed an edging, as the weeds and grass had definite opinions about the fertility of the soil and availability of water inside the edging as opposed to what they could find outside of it. Also, over the years the addition of sand and compost had raised the level of soil in beds to the point that it was getting pretty hard to contain. After a certain amount of checking on prices, availability and expected life span, we decided that concrete blocks would be the best thing with which to edge our garden beds.
Around this time we also acquired a large quantity of flat rock. As we began contemplating the new bed edging, we also realized that it would be very nice if we could hard-scape the paths, thus eliminating the bermuda grass between the beds, which was ubiquitous in the lawn. It was a constant battle to keep that unmentionable stuff out of the garden beds. We decided that during the next phase of the development we would keep that future plan in mind. Accordingly, the concrete blocks were set properly in a bed of road base so that they would not shift when the path building phase begin.
And so the next evolutionary stage began. Road base, sand, and concrete blocks were acquired. Jim laboriously hewed the grass out of trenches eight inches deep beside each bed, put in a bed of road base, tamped it, and then placed the concrete block edging along the beds, meticulously leveling the edgers as he went. At the same time, I was digging sand and compost into the beds to lighten the clay soil. There was a certain amount of urgency to this activity since it was also time to plant the garden. First shot is in early May, the second one in early June, 2007.
Incidentally, in the background on the fence you can see our cold frames in their summer storage position. When we originally built them, they spent each summer living in the barn. Carrying them back and forth was a big pain, and we were pleasantly surprised to find that the spacing between the fence posts was exactly the right size to store them, and so that is where they live during the summers.
In the following shot, you can see that the last two beds have received their new edging.
Not being people to let a good pile of rock sit around unused, the transition to hard-scaped paths began as soon as we could break ground the following spring. Here you can see the paths have been dug out, lined with weed barrier and a sand bed for the flat rocks has been put down. The central path has been finished.
I am sorry to say that I do not have a lot of pictures of the process out in the vegetable garden. That is because at the same time Jim was slaving away out there with the mattock, pavers, sand, road base and whatnot, I was very busy working on Phase One of the Stroll Garden.
However, back to the vegetable garden. In the next view, you can see the paths are almost complete.
Do not be fooled by the selection of rock visible in the background. That was the dregs of our collection, and not nearly enough to actually finish the paths. We had to go on a rock collecting expedition to a friend’s farm before we were able to finish laying all the paths. In fact, it wasn’t until the following June, in 2009, that the last paths finally received their sandstone pavers.
A part of the process that has been begun but not quite completed is to fill the holes in the concrete block with concrete. You can see that we have started filling the holes in the bed where the block is two high. What have planned, but not even started, is to remove the grass from the perimeter of the garden inside the fence and put in weed barrier, a layer of sand and then pea gravel similar to what is between the pavers. This last phase will essentially bar the bermuda grass from the vegetable garden permanently. I can hardly wait.
Now, if we could just figure out how to keep the squirrels out. I have proposed, mostly in jest, that we put a chicken wire roof over the whole shebang. This proposal is met with disdain on the part of the Primary Builder, since it would require installation of posts in the middle of the garden to support the wire. Maybe I can hire a hawk.
And now, a series of portraits of the vegetable garden at The Havens, as it exists this week.
The last shot is my entry into Gardening Gone Wild’s monthly “Picture This” contest.
The intent of the gardeners was to create a raised bed vegetable garden with good access for the worker and equipment needed. It has a shady place under the grape arbor for resting, and it provides storage facilities for tools and cold frames and irrigation supplies. It mitigates the problems of invasive weeds and grazing animals. It is not friendly to bad bugs, slugs, and snails.
And it is beautiful.
*Jim says that if we had known how it was going to turn out in the end he would have just gotten a bobcat and scalped the area before we had any fences, and put the block in at the beginning — it would have been much easier.