(It Just) Has To Be .Net
Two long-term IT techies, with a penchant for Microsoft's .NET Framework, air views on whatever topics take their fancy.

Building the Kitchen Garden from the Ground Up

I’ve only got a small(ish) garden. Given the proportion of it that I can get away with using for my kitchen gardening adventure without suffering first-hand the full wrath of my wife, I need to set my sights on maximising my use of the available space.

I’m trying a couple of different approaches.

I’m going to grow some stuff in containers, primarily on the patio (oh, yes, we have a patio). I’m going to grow some potatoes, so I’ve bought a couple of potato barrels, a plastic bin and some potato patio planters. They're only really suitable for first earlies, but I'll see how I get on. I’m also going to try some runner beans in a container on the patio, too.

I’m going to try a few varieties of tomatoes this year, including a bushy one which I think I’m going to grow in a hanging basket.

But the most adventurous thing I’m going to try is called “Square Foot Gardening” in an 8’x4’ raised bed. Square Foot Gardening is the brainchild of an American chap called Mel Bartholomew who’s written a couple of books on the subject. I recently bought one.

The idea behind Square Foot Gardening is that by planting in discrete one square foot units within a raised bed, you can dispense with traditional rows along with the wide aisles than necessarily separate them allowing you to grow your produce in a space around 20% of the traditionally required size. Sounds potentially useful, if it’s at all true. Of course, in Blighty, we’re not used to having acres of space so it may be that we’re not typically as liberal with our spacing so the overall increase in efficiency may not be so great.

Another major aspect of Mel’s method is that the growing medium is primarily bought-in (the infamous Mel’s Mix). No digging organic matter into your soil for years to build a good quality, fertile loam. No, Square Foot Gardening uses out-of-the-bag goodness from day 1. Consequently, it’s ruddy expensive!

The first step, then, has been to build my raised bed. Here, for once, was the opportunity to save some money. Raised bed kits are uncomfortably expensive. Particularly if you want a decent sized one. However, my extensive research identified an alternative. I made one myself using scrap scaffold planks. Scaffold planks, you see, are strong and robust. They have to be, because they have burly builders bouncing along them with their brick-filled hods on a daily basis. Eventually, though, the boards succumb to the excesses of an over-laden hod (or builder) and start splitting or otherwise degrade. That’s a big no-no for the Health and Safety Executive, for we can’t risk being crushed by falling burly builders. So the companies that hire out scaffolding have to scrap their unusable scaffold planks. And that’s where we come in. A quick visit to one of my local scaffold hire centres revealed a big pile of perfectly usable planks in a variety of lengths up to 13’. They’re a standard width (9”) and thickness (1.5”) and as long as you avoid ones with major splits, are absolutely perfect for making raised beds. I bought four for the princely sum of £1.25 each. Transporting four 13’ scaffold planks can be a challenge but fortunately, my Land Rover’s got a good sturdy roof rack so I strapped them securely to it and ventured home.

Construction was simple enough. I cut the boards into 4x8’ lengths and 4x4’ lengths, found a couple of old wooden posts to brace the corners and screwed them together to form an open box 8’ long, 4’ wide and 18” deep. That’s significantly deeper than Mel suggests in necessary but my garden’s on a bit of a slope so at the top-end, there’s only 9” sticking up out of the ground.

I sprayed it with some dubious green fence protector (I’m looking forward to it weathering a little). To make it easier, I also bought a battery powered sprayer, designed specifically for the job. Hmm. Another waste of time and money. It has a tendency to clog because the liquid is actually fairly thick. Consequently, you spend quite a lot of time trying to unblock the spray nozzle. I should have just bought a £1.50 roller and rolled it on. Never mind. Another valuable lesson learned.

So now my box is made and I’ve put it in place. I had to dig it down into the ground at the top end because of the slope, but that was no more than half an hour’s work.

Now, it’s ready to fill with growing medium. That’s a good reason for sticking to Mel’s original dimensions. An 18” deep bed requires three times the amount of material than his recommended 6” deep bed. 48 cubic feet or over 1300 litres of the stuff to be more precise.

Now, Mel’s mix comprises 1/3rd multipurpose compost, 1/3rd vermiculite (a blown mica rock which is lightweight and absorbent) and 1/3rd peat moss. Ah, peat. There’s a problem. Using peat isn’t very environmentally responsible as it’s taken an awfully long time to produce. Apparently, peat beds increase in size by approximately 1mm per year. Not very sustainable, in the volumes that it’s removed. So, I decided that I’d deviate from Mel’s advice and use multipurpose compost and vermiculite.

You can buy vermiculite from garden centres. If you’re mad. My local B&Q charged around £5 for a 10 litre bag. Scale that up to the 400-odd litres that Mel’s mix demands for my size of bed and you’re looking at £200 for vermiculite alone.

Fortunately, vermiculite has many uses. A major one is as loft insulation. A quick visit to my local branch of Travis Perkins (the builders merchant) revealed 80 litre bags of the stuff for £9.50 (+ VAT). I bought 240 litres for an all-in cost of around £43. Now, that’s still relatively expensive. I’m sure you can get it even cheaper elsewhere. It’s also nowhere near the 400 litres that my bed is supposed to have. But it’ll do for now. I may buy another bag or two if I think it warrants it sometime in the future.

Now for the compost. I found 125 litre bags of multipurpose compost at B&Q for £6.98 a bag. Four of those in the boot of the car at once was plenty, so that’s 500 litres. I then popped to a local garden centre and found their multipurpose compost on a 3-for-2 offer coming in at a total of £9.98 for 225 litres. So I bought some of that, too.

It was then that I had something of a nasty surprise that leaves me feeling socially uncomfortable. Only when I’d emptied the compost from B&Q out did I notice the fact that it’s peat-based. So, already I’ve failed in my attempt and being a responsible gardener through a lack of attention to detail. My bed now has peat in it, which may be what was originally specified, but it’s not what I wanted to use. I’m not happy about it, but I won’t be doing it again; an important lesson has been learned to read what’s printed on the packaging – not just buying the cheapest.

I’ve still got some more material to buy. So far, I’ve got around 965 litres of growing medium in there. It still needs nearly 400 litres more to fill it up but I reckon another 225 litres of compost and 80 litres of vermiculite will be near enough for now.

I’m also making a pair of half-sized frames out of PVC electrical conduit to sit over the top. These will be covered in nylon mesh to keep the major pests out (like the neighbour’s cat who likes to use it as a litter tray). When necessary, I can also cover it with fleece to keep out the carrot fly or polythene to turn it into a big cloche.

It’s looking good and I’m optimistic. I’m always optimistic.

Posted Feb 18 2009, 02:14 PM by Steve Morgan

Add a Comment

A Note for Comment Spammers
Now, I realise that those of you who use blog comments such as these to spread your worthless spam are not the cleverest people on the face of the planet. So, I thought I'd make it clear that you're wasting your time posting your pointless garbage here. Quite simply, it will never be published. Thankfully, unlike yourselves, I'm blessed with an inherent ability to identify irrelevant content and it's every bit as easy for me to toss your contribution into the virtual waste bin as it is to publish it. So, guess what? Unless your comments are relevant (and I mean, really relevant, not some thinly veiled attempt to get me to link to your site) they're never going to appear on here. So, they're never go to appear in a search engine, never going to boost your customer's Google page rank and never going to achieve anything in terms of Search Engine Optimisation. Please, practice being a parasite elsewhere. Oh, and I'm confident that my genuine readers are perfectly well endowed and enjoy a full and healthy lifestyle without help from you. Thanks for reading.
Remember Me?
Steve Morgan 2008. All rights reserved.
Powered by Community Server (Non-Commercial Edition), by Telligent Systems