Raised Beds III

This is my last installment on the new raised beds for the fall.

I’ve added another metal raised bed. I actually had help assembling this one, and it made a big difference having someone help snug down bolts, carry it, and place it where it was going. So, if you try one of these, get a second pair of hands to help.

Once again, I had all the soil from the previous bed available for filling. But I opted to start with a Lasagna style of layer filling. If you’ve never used this method, you layer small branches, compostable cardboard, other compostable materials, and soil in layers. Composting eventually breaks down the components into a rich blend with water retention abilities. A lovely part of the process was that it provided an excellent way for me to utilize all the pruning scraps that might otherwise have gone to waste. Over the winter, the filling will settle, but I’ll continue adding leaf mulch, compost, and wood ash to the mixture. Comes spring, the new bed should be ready to plant in.

I am still toying with how to landscape the area around the bed, but I am leaning toward using pavers of various colors and sizes over landscape cloth. I am not eager to spend a lot of effort and time fighting weeds. This entire approach is meant to reduce the amount of stoop labor, not increase it.

The Garden Rebels

Daily writing prompt
What things give you energy?

Yesterday was the first day of Autumn. The overgrown section of the garden calls out to me. It’s time to reconquer the wild. There is an impenetrable dome of vegetation in the front side garden that even the dog refuses to venture into. I also have an enormous amount of pruning to do. Apple trees gone rogue, a pear tree that has resisted control. And squash vines that stubbornly refused to set fruit in the damp wetness of summer but have grown vast and lanky. I have had it with the grapes; the bird’s protests shall go unheard. I’m cutting them down!

I’ve posted a few times this summer about my new plans for the garden: elevated beds, very strictly limited. I want an easy-to-control garden with no annual struggle with breakaway sections declaring outlaw rule. The initial beds I have constructed seem to fit the bill. Two more will be constructed in the spring, and I shall resist the temptation to throw in a few more plants at random; that never seems to end well.

It is always the same. Great energy and commitment in April, a busy May, and then a relaxing June enjoying the garden’s beauty. Then comes July and August with competing commitments for family trips, work, and too-hot-to-weed days. But inevitably, come September; I wake up to the loss of control, the needed weeding, and the rebellious front side garden that always simmers with rebellion. This year, though, I have taken heed from previous years and developed a plan to reduce garden size and strictly control the wilder tendencies.

Now! Do I have the energy for all this?

Raised Beds II

Between deluges, I was able to assemble this new steel raised bed. It contains about 1.5 cubic feet of soil, and cost $300.00. I had to move some mature kale and Brussels sprout plants to install it, but they seem contented in the new home. Landscaping in front of the bed will be blocks and room for plants in containers.

I wanted something about waist height and around two feet wide, so weeding would be easy and no bending or on-the-knee work. I also like the deep soil column for deep-rooted plants and moisture conservation.

Two more of these are planned for spring. In some ways, it will reduce the amount that I can plant but make managing the plantings much easier.

There are several caveats: first, while one person could assemble and fill one, I advise having a helper; second, several brands are available. I feel that this is one product where reading the reviews is worthwhile. Mine is a Veggo, and I have no connection with the company and wouldn’t make an endorsement until I’d seen how well it would perform over a year.

I am working on season extenders for my cedar raised beds and will post about them as soon as I have something to show.

Raised Beds

Daily writing prompt
What was the last thing you searched for online? Why were you looking for it?

I am altering my style of gardening. 

Last fall, cleaning out the garden beds, I finally admitted to myself that working on my hands and knees didn’t give the stimulating pleasure that it had. Who am I kidding? It never did. This spring, I began to do something about it by adding several raised cedar beds. At about thirty-some-odd inches tall, no bending or kneeling is required. And kneeling truly is the issue.

The photo is from the spring of the first unit I put together and planted with various herbs. Weeding, cultivating, and harvesting are easy, and I believe that just on that score, I have received a full measure of return on investment already.

I’ve since added two more units and started my late-season sugar peas and spinach in them. With the success of the initial units, I’ve begun to think about what to do with the large main vegetable beds or weed havens. I don’t believe there will be enough soil in the units I’ve bought for crops like squash, pumpkin, or tomatoes. So I’ve been online researching larger metal raised beds of about thirty-two inches in height and between two to three feet wide. Once again, I am thinking about ease of weeding and cultivation.

Beyond no kneeling, however, are concerns with water conservation. I’ve spent years developing the garden soil and should reasonably expect to reuse the soil within the raised beds. I’ve worked diligently on composting, amending the soil for fertility and ability to retain moisture. During dry years, I do not have to water excessively. Watering specific containers and raised beds is more economical than broadcast hose watering. With the new raised beds, I expect to improve water conservation further.

Do I hear sniggers from the non-gardeners? Save your titters, boffolas, chortles, cackles, and belly laughs for when produce prices at the store continue to rise higher and higher.

There is little as lovely as freshly picked snow peas from the garden. And the price is right.


At the back of our lot, the shade from the bordering wildlife sanctuary is so deep that even Herculean efforts by the previous owners failed to grow a lawn there. After clearing the invasive bittersweet, we thereafter declared the area a shaded woodland glade and added native species that would thrive. We added winding trails for pets and children to explore, and I go on an inspection tour every day. I frequently find surprises in this area because while we try to manage it with a light hand, nature is actually in control.

This summer has been unusually wet, not damp, but wet. This has meant that among my morning surprises have been much more fungi than average years. If you are in a hurry, you might step on them or never notice, but one of the pleasures of the woodland garden is catching the small daily changes. The tiny red fungi on the log were there one day and gone the next.

A Garden Experiment

I’ve attempted palm trees and bananas, the usual carnivorous plants, and a whole host of tropical and temperate unknowns indoors. In short, I’ve done everything I could imagine to create a longer growing season. I live in New England, where the definition of an outdoor growing season can be brief.

I generously extend my growing season with low metal hoops covered with remay fabric, fold frames, and mini-greenhouses. If conscientious, I extend the growing season into December for cold-tolerant crops and harvest fall-planted spinach from the cold frames in March. The above depends on a carefully planned planting schedule, cooperating weather, and luck.

This year I am experimenting with an elevated planting bed. Frankly, gardening on my knees is not the pleasure it once was, and these cedar planting boxes were reasonably priced and seemed a worthwhile experiment. After planting with various herbs, onions, and peppers, I went one further step. Over the beds, I placed heavy gauge steel wire and a guide rope. I plan to experiment with making this into a large elevated cold frame come the fall. I’ll secure remay fabric to the wire in late September and extend the fall growing season. After the onions are harvested, and the non-performing pepper plants are pulled, I’ll transplant seedling lettuce, mustard greens, and Spinach into the bed. With proper timing and luck, I’ll have some late fall and early winter salad makings.
I’ve found that some varieties of Spinach will over winter if carefully protected, so enjoying April spinach is possible.

But I’m not waiting till fall for a harvest. I’ve already cut basil and took an early harvest from the sage, thyme, oregano, marjoram, and parsley this week. By September, most of these will be ready for significant clippings.

I’m considering more of these units. Weeding is a breeze with no kneeling, and a wide variety of plants can be grown in them. I am looking forward to attempting cukes and tomatoes in them.

Here are my howevers: only a few years of use will tell me how durable the units are. And before filling with soil, be very careful with placement. Even if you buy models with casters, they would be very hard and awkward to relocate.

I’ll post a fall update on this year’s garden experiment.


Daily writing prompt
Are there things you try to practice daily to live a more sustainable lifestyle?

I was a ” Pious Itinerant” for much of the 1960s, A Folkie ( not a hippie), and definitely a member of a part of the counterculture. My friends and I lived an extremely frugal lifestyle through necessity. We were dirt poor.

Quartered on the backside of Boston’s Beacon Hill – what some better-heeled Bostonians termed a “working class ghetto” – we were not far from Boston’s famed Haymarket. In the Haymarket, pushcart vendors and small subterranean shops were filled with fresh produce and goods. Here shopping opportunities unfound in modern supermarkets allowed you to haggle over the price of a dozen onions or a fresh broccoli head.

Every evening as the carts and shops closed, you could close fantastic deals for great food, otherwise going into the trash. Ugly fruits and vegetables that were less than perfect and food that would not be fresh enough for another day were available cheap or for free. For such poor people, we ate well every evening.

I have no itch to return to those days of scavenging, doing without, or lacking the care of a dentist, but recalling how we lived, I know that the massive amount of tossed food was the beginning of the significant food waste problem we face today.

From where I sit, I can see my garden at this time of year full of kale, lettuce, mustard greens, and herbs. Soon there will be squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, and other produce. I’ll be pulling garlic, onions and harvesting grapes and apples late in the season. The last things out of the garden will be the late-season kales and the Brussels sprouts. All this requires a plan so as little as possible goes to waste, and the little waste gets composted to return nutrients to the garden. From seed to food to compost, the garden is a wheel that rotates through the seasons, nurturing itself under our guidance.

Despite ugly food programs ( that attempt to divert good food that is cosmetically flawed) and food bank programs that collect surplus or soon-to-be-wasted food from markets, our society has no comprehensive plans to address the enormous food waste.

It’s disconcerting that food insecurity is a significant problem in a world that produces so much that we can casually waste it and send it to landfills.

At the end of this post, I will end with a popular saying from when I was a Pius Itinerant: If you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

You may not be able to affect a national policy immediately or directly, but you can start with your behavior at home. Start by reducing food waste in your home; if you have a garden, find a corner for vegetative compost, join an ugly foods program, and get on the case of the big box market about their waste and recycling programs.

Be noisy. Corporations don’t like negative publicity.


It’s fair to say that it’s been a weird gardening year here in Central Massachusetts. A late frost took out the cherry and peach blossoms but missed the apple blossoms by a day or two. Last year we had a spring and summer near drought that kept the apples from being very successful, and the grapes just this side of piteous.
By contrast, although we lack our cherries and peaches, the apples and grapes promise to outproduce any year since the plants were planted. Even the semi-wild New England Spy apple, which seems to be a volunteer plant from the ancient orchard that once stood near here, is heavy with fruit. For those unfamiliar with apples, after the fruit starts forming, but before they grow large, you get a phenomenon called around here, June drops; the tree sheds fruit that won’t develop properly. This year we had very few June drops, and the apples and the grapes vines are very heavy with fruit.

Of course, there is July and lots of August to go before things are ready for harvest. But the prospects are good for canning applesauce, grape jelly, and plenty of fresh fruit to eat and share.

There is truth in not counting chicks until they hatch, or predicting harvests in June. But it is so tempting.