Adventures in Gardening: Our First Raised Bed Garden

As I mentioned before, I was raised with a large garden that my family planted every year, so I knew how to tend a regular garden.  When my husband and I moved into our first apartment we were hoping to start a garden of our own.  We were told that they had some pest control done and that we would not be able to plant edible plants for at least 2 years.  I didn’t know what to do; then I saw a post from one of my friends on Facebook about raised beds.  I did some research and asked my dad what he knew.  It didn’t seem too hard, so we decided to give it a try.

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The first thing we had to do was decide what we wanted to grow in our limited space and what type of raised beds we wanted to try.  We decided to try a couple different types we had found online, pallets and tires.  My husband used to be a mechanic, so he was able to get us used the tires for free.  We removed the tire wall to give us a bigger planting area and kept the walls for a future project (cumming up in the next couple weeks).  I then, of course, couldn’t just leave ugly black tires in my yard, so I went to the store and got different colored spay-paints (the outdoor paint is good for this so it will hold up to the elements) and painted each tire a different color.  We put down some thick, black plastic to ensure that none of the toxins from the pest treatment would get into the soil of our raised beds.  For the pallet strip raised beds, we just turned the pallet upside down and put gardening cloth in the 2 openings using staples.  If you do this, make sure you leave the gardening cloth loose to make a pocket to put the soil in.  You want to make sure you have enough room for your plants to establish a root base.  We also had a couple herb plants from the year before that we put in narrow planers and put the planters in the middle section of the pallets.

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We decided to grow tomatoes, broccoli, a couple different types of lettuce, unions, carrots and green beans.  Each of these got their own planter.  My husband and I combined organic soil and compost that we found on sale at a couple local stores, about a 50/50 mix.  For the carrots, we also added a bag of sand to make the soil looser to allow the carrots to grow easier (this also allows them to grow bigger than if you would just use soil).  A quick tip about growing carrots…they take what seems like forever to sprout.  They need to be planted as early as possible to allow them enough time to grow.  Below is our carrot bed (we made it red because we were growing red carrots.  Yeah, that’s how we roll, haha!).

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Everything grew really well except the green beans.  That was our fault though; we didn’t leave enough room in the gardening cloth we put on the pallet for soil (this is pictured at the far end of the featured image at the top of this page).  We learned a few really good lessons for using raised beds our first year.

1: Broccoli must be planted at least 6 inches apart or it will not produce florets.  

Below is a picture of our beautiful broccoli plants that got really big but were too close together to bare for us :(.

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2: lettuce grows really well in raised beds and it keeps growing as long as you trim it before it gets higher than 2 1/2-5 inches.  

(Red lettuce is in the tire and black seeded simpson is in the pallet)

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3: The best way to make a growing cage for tomatoes is with bamboo reeds and growing fence to make a tipi (shown below).  

We used zip-ties to hold the fencing to the bamboo.  Also, tomatoes grow really well in a tire bed like this.  We only had 3 plants and got enough to eat and can about a dozen pints of past.

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4.  If you are going to paint your tires, make sure that they are totally dry when you paint them to prevent bubbling and peeling.  

I couldn’t wait to paint them when it had been raining the day before and it was still wet out that day, so some of the paint bubbled and peeled.  It’s easy enough to touch up though. If you want to see how the tires are holding up almost 6 years later with no touch ups, check out our followup to this post here.

5.  Soil you buy at the store needs to be fertilized in order to ensure your plants get all of the nutrients they need.  

I used organic gardening fertilizer, lime and some homemade compost the 2nd year.  My dad neglected to tell me that most of the soil sold in stores has been incinerated to make sure bugs and diseases don’t get transported in it and that this process takes out all of the vital nutrients that plants need.  Our garden was much better the 2nd year.

I hope that you are inspired by our adventures in gardening to try out something new for yourself.  I doesn’t matter how much room you have; you can always plant something.  Have a great day!

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