Here we are in year four of our raised-bed garden, and it is a money pit. I’m trying to remember why people grow gardens in their back yards, and I’m pretty sure that saving grocery money is right there near the top of the list. The first year was tough, with four brand-new boxes, and then we added two more the following year. Somewhere in those two years, David found some free mulch—piles and piles of it!—so we added generous amounts of mulch to our garden beds. Good, right? Not exactly.
We were putting green and healthy plants into the boxes, and within a couple of weeks, they were turning a bronzy color. Some plants were not affected, such as the peppers. We picked buckets of peppers every year, no matter where we planted them. Here is this year’s baby bed of green bell, red bell, jalapeño, habanero, and cayenne peppers. Tomatoes were probably the worst. You know how tender they can be. We would put in all different varieties, and they would grow and blossom, but about the time the first fruit would appear, the disease would start at the bottom and it would be a race to see if we could get ripe tomatoes before the rot got to that branch. Well, that or the squirrels, who were climbing the cages and dive-bombing from the top.
After a while, we figured out that the mulch was diseased. Let that be a lesson to you: Always look a gift mulch in the mouth—or some such mixed metaphor. We realized that we would have to dig all of the soil out of the boxes, right to the bottom, or the disease would work its way through the new soil. David and I knew that we could not afford to do all of them at once, so we carefully chose two of them. Then one day David had a yard project that needed soil, so he dug out about half a box of bad soil. Unfortunately, it was not one of the chosen boxes. So, now we had to finish digging that one out and buy soil for three boxes.
Have you heard the expression “dirt cheap”? It is a cruel joke. Dirt is quite expensive, especially since I already have an acre and a half of it, most of which, unfortunately, has been ruined by the developer. The guy at Lowes recommended a local soil merchant named Ogburn’s. We were not sure. We had purchased soil a few years ago for a little less, but Ogburn’s has a website that looks like an online menu: all different flavors of soil, with detailed descriptions for the dirt connoisseur. You can have your topsoil screened or unscreened, you can get compost pure or mixed two different ways, and if you want gravel, they have Class B Rip Rap. I have no idea what that is, but it sounds dangerous. All these and many, many more are presented with tempting photos of the products. We ordered three yards of screened topsoil and one yard of BR2 Compost. You know what? It was pretty. It was much, much better than what we bought last time at the other place. If you need landscaping stuff near Raleigh, NC, I highly recommend Ogburn’s. They’re very nice, too. Here’s the website.
In other gardening disasters, we put the soil materials recommended in Square Foot Gardening into our two mini-boxes, one for strawberries and one for lettuce. Not that we get any strawberries, because of the (You guessed it!) squirrels. All I can say is that the SFG guy must live in the rainforest, because this soil mix is all about draining. It’s mostly peat moss and vermiculite, so when you water it, it’s parched half an hour later. The lettuce barely makes it 24 hours before wilting. So, I dug out half of the lettuce box, put in my new gourmet soil, and sprinkled in my salad mix seeds. We’ll see what happens. I have had great fun with this lettuce mix, though, and have bought a big seed packet a couple of times. It has red and green lettuce, red and green spinach, arugula, baby romaine, endive, and more, and it grows like gangbusters.
I dug out a bit of the herb garden and replaced the soil so that I could try growing sage for the fourth year in a row! I keep on buying a new plant each spring, but I have high hopes this time. I don’t know what to do for the rest of the bed, as you can see that the oregano and thyme are perfectly happy, and I don’t want to disturb their roots. I would appreciate advice. I just put in that little parsley, and it always does fine. By the way, do you see the two green, plastic snakes? Apparently, those are there to give the birds and squirrels a good laugh. Don’t try this at home.
So, today, we’ll be tackling the two boxes at the top. (Cue the horror movie music.) I just saw David walking down there, carrying his boom box and wearing his audiologist-recommended earplugs covered by aircraft earmuffs. Of course, we’ll have to buy some plants some day soon, and I’m looking far off toward the horizon for that break-even point, when we’ve recouped all of our investment and started to see a profit on this project. I’ve done a bit of math, and if we don’t invest any more than we have up to this point, I seriously think it will be the summer of 2033.
This post was originally published on www.EatReadSleep.com on 4-27-13.