by Jason Smith
Living on the side of a mountain is nice, but it raises some interesting challenges to gardening. Since the land my house sits on was literally carved out of the mountain, the soil is blasted rocks and dirt, leaving much to be desired when trying to garden. My solution to this issue was to stay above ground, using pots and barrels as well as building a raised bed more than a foot off the ground.
The construction of a raised bed requires some thought. Some considerations include the space you have to work with, the materials you will need, the number and type of plants you want to put in, and your ability to reach the plants once they are in the bed.
We don’t have much of a back yard, so we opted to make a smaller bed. The final dimensions for our bed are 7 feet long, 3 feet wide and 1 foot deep. The bed is raised over a foot off the ground on sturdy wooden legs. The dimensions for a raised bed can be altered any way you like to accommodate your space and needs.
Since we had some money saved up, we chose to purchase all new materials to construct the bed. The frame of the bed was created using four 8 foot long boards and four 4 foot long boards. To save money, these boards were not pressure treated. For the legs, I used a pressure treated 4 x 4 cut to 5 feet long for the front legs and 4 feet long for the back legs (the bed sits on a slight slope).
Using four 8 foot long boards and four 4 foot long boards the sides of the boxes come to life. To save money these boards were not pressure treated.
For the legs, I used a pressure treated 4×4 that was 8 feet long and cut it down to the desired lengths. The front legs are cut to 5 feet long and the rear legs cut to 4 feet long. One foot is used lost depth of the bed
I stapled chicken wire to the underside of the bed and reinforced it with slats of reclaimed wood on the short ends of the bed. For added support, I used leftover boards spaced about 1 foot apart across the bed. The best support was given by 5 boards cut 4 foot long.
We applied 3 coats of exterior latex paint to minimize moisture damage. Then, I lined the sides and bottom of the bed with a garden cloth. Garden cloth allows water to pass through the bottom of the bed and discourages root rot without the loss of precious dirt.
Before adding the dirt I leveled the whole bed on all four sides. Once the dirt was added, I checked again to make sure the bed was level. With a perfect level, you don’t have to worry about the dirt running off the plant roots or piling up on the low side of the bed. I also added an irrigation system to my raised bed that consisted of a pipe, a spigot, and a soaker hose.
When the bed was finished, we planted lettuce, 4 pepper plants, 4 cucumber plants, carrots, onions, and spinach. It turns out that there is plenty of extra room for more plants later in the season. You have to be careful with some plants as they want to run and can take over a bed. To get around this we planted the cucumbers in the back of the bed and added a web of hung twine for the plant to run on.
Reach is something important to keep in mind. You have to design bed so that you can reach at least the midway point for weeding and harvesting. However, if you have tall or running plants in the back of the bed you won’t be able to reach in from that direction. Another thing to consider is how much do you want to bend when tending your garden? Raised beds can be built as high or as low as you want.
- Flexible in design
- Visually appealing
- Keeps some critters out
- Can be costly
- Limited space once it’s built
- Requires some extra watering
Potatoes are wonderfully resilient root veggies. I have heard of people growing them in all sorts of conditions. The most interesting was a stack of tires. While I couldn’t get my fiancé on board with that, we compromised on the purchase of two plastic containers for our potato barrels.
Once we had our barrels, we added a layer of dirt followed by a layer of potato quarters with good eyes on them, repeating the process until the containers were full. A few months later, we have large potato plants and tiny potatoes growing. It was surprisingly easy and takes up a 5 foot by 10-foot space. If all goes well we will have a few pounds of potatoes with very little space cost.
Personally, I love window boxes as they are flexible, well-shaped, and do not take up a lot of space. We currently have 3 24-inch window boxes set out. One with flowers (not food but it makes the lady of the house happy), one with green onions, and one with leafy lettuce.
My fiancé planted a bunch of marigolds in the first box. They are pretty but don’t taste good.
Since the leafy lettuce can be planted closely together and then thinned we loaded it down and now have a thick patch of lettuce for salads. The real benefit is that if you do this correctly you can cut the lettuce and it will re-grow.
Green onions need almost no space to grow and can be quickly and easily replanted. We eat a lot of these in salads and with pinto beans and cornbread, and the window box allows us to grow a crap ton (a very technical term) of them in a small amount of space. The trick is to replace a new bulb in the hole of each onion you pull to enjoy the yummy returns all season.
The most important thing I have taken away from figuring out how to garden in a limited space is that, with a little creativity, you can garden successfully no matter how small your space is. Of course, you have to pick the right plants and understand your limitations.
I know that I cannot grow corn in my limited space, but I can grow enough other plants to make that trade-off worthwhile. Fresh, homegrown fruits and vegetables taste better than anything you can get in the store. If you have limited gardening space, container gardening can help you experience this firsthand.