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Experimenting with New Garden Locations

In my earlier post titled Don’t Be Afraid to Fail, I talked about how we have recently determined that our garden is not in a very good location. It can be difficult to admit failure at times, but the sooner you admit it the sooner you can move forward. I originally located our garden where it was convenient for me to work on it, but not necessarily where it was best for the plants. It is too close to the edge of our woods and some of it is shaded during the summer when the sun is on its northernmost trajectory. Now I realize the location is not working anymore and needs to be rethought.

My son Jonathan has learned much during his first year of WWOOFing on organic farms around the United States. One thing he taught me is that plants do better if they get their sun earlier in the day. That’s just like people who tend to do better when they eat a good breakfast. In a hot climate like ours, we notice our plants start to look sad when they have the hot afternoon sun beating down on them. It makes sense that vegetables in our hot climate would thrive if they get good sun in the morning but maybe some shade later in the day.

Based on this, we decided to do some experimenting with alternate locations for garden beds on our property. This year we already tested some vegetables in our swale berm with some positive results. I’ll talk about the swale much more in future posts. But we also decided to try some raised beds in a new location behind our house. The location will get sun earlier in the morning with no interruption until about 1 or 2 pm. Depending on the results, this could be extended by cutting one tree on the west side of the beds that would also produce some good firewood. Access to plenty of water is close by. Another benefit of the location is that the area is already fenced so it will be easier to keep some of the critters like deer out.

We built two new raised beds this past weekend. We will try some of our favorite vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, and cantaloupe as part of the experiment. We plan to build some trellises to take advantage of vertical space more efficiently. We wanted to avoid lining them up side-by-side. With that in mind, we staggered the beds so they would not block the sun from one another at different times of the day. We will make careful observations about the solar patterns at different times of the growing season next year so we can learn and make adjustments. The beds are designed so they could be moved with a moderate amount of effort if we determine the location isn’t optimal.

Here’s how we built them. Each bed is 10’ x 3’. We started with 10’ long pressure-treated 2x6s. From one of them we cut two pieces 3’ long each. We screwed the rectangular bed together with two 3” long coated screws at each joint. To keep voles or chipmunks from tunneling up into the beds, we stapled chicken wire to the top and trimmed around the edges. We flipped the bed over so the chicken wire was on the bottom. Next we lined the bottom of the bed with cardboard or newspaper to smother grass and weeds. I also had some brown chicken feed bags and used them. We filled the beds about halfway with soil that we transferred from some of the beds in the current garden. Next we added a layer of chopped up oak leaves, another layer of soil, and one more layer of chopped leaves. Then we filled the bed to the top with garden soil. Next was a thin layer of compost, followed by a thick layer of chopped leaves for mulch. Rain was coming but if it weren’t we would have added some water to stimulate soil activity.

Frame with Wire

Frame with Wire


Lined with Newspaper or Cardboard

Lined with Newspaper or Cardboard


1st Layer of Soil

1st Layer of Soil


Layers of Soil and Leaves

Layers of Soil and Leaves

In this last picture, you can see the finished beds and how they are staggered. The picture is taken facing north. Staggering them will help get more sun to the plants during different times of the day.

Completed Beds Mulched for Winter

Completed Beds Mulched for Winter

Permaculture teaches us that we should spend more time in careful observation before we make significant changes. These two beds were easy to build as a test case. Based on the results we experience next year, we can add more beds or move these. Moving them would involve moving all the soil out of the bed and then they should be able to be lifted off the ground. We will consider cutting down the tree to the west of them if we think the extra sun will improve the results. It will be interesting to see how it works out. No matter what happens, we will learn from it. We always want to be moving forward on our journey to self-sufficiency.

Resources for this post:
WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) Website: http://www.wwoof.net

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