Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Finegardening.com: How to Grow Raspberries

A friend sent me this article today, and it is full of detailed advice for creating a great raspberry garden.  After reading it, I am hoping that we have adequately planned for our soil needs, watering needs, and overall space for them in our design.

by Darlene White

"Select an everbearing variety, practice a few trellising and pruning tricks, and pick berries from July through fall

You may think the sheer gustatory pleasure of wolfing down ripe, juicy raspberries, whose flavor explodes in your mouth, is reason enough to grow them. Well, think again. Raspberries are not just another tasty berry; they are loaded with healthful attributes. They're high in fiber and contain vitamin A, folate, antioxidants, and numerous minerals; the juice contains vitamin C; and those sometimes-annoying little seeds contain vitamin E. And, of course, if you have a raspberry patch, you have endless dessert possibilities."

Read the rest of the article by clicking here!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Jason & Julie's Peaceful Diesel Garden Gets Built!

Garden area after tilling
It was very exciting to see Jason & Julie's garden convert from the planning to building stage last week.  Both had busy schedules, and the weather in Colorado this May has been more like late winter than mid-Spring.  But, they overcame the challenges, and on May 22, got the planters installed in their garden.

Let's first review the space they were building this garden into.  It is an open corner of their expansive yard, with a triangular shape.  It has plenty of Southern exposure, but trees and shrubs to the North and West will give planters near their fence some relief from the late afternoon sun.

Jason and I had a last-minute conversation to confirm the construction methods and ideology of my 2x12 and 4x4 design, and sourced the materials from Home Depot.  In addition, because their design was not focused on custom dimensions aligning planters with each other, or any mitered angles, they were able to give a cut list to the people at Home Depot.

As a result, the on-site project didn't include milling of the wood, and didn't require renting a trailer or truck to get the materials to their site.  It essentially came down to an assembly project.

The whole family helped with assembly
Posts secured by digging holes into the soil
The Simpson Strong Tie A34 angles were used to hold the 4x4s together, and as you can see from the photos to the left, it only required one person to hold the board to get the boards to be fastened to each other squarely.

The photos also show a design aspect that Jason and I discussed before the final dimensions were given to Home Depot - whether or not to secure the posts by digging holes.  Obviously, with the extra material sticking out the bottom of the frames, the decision was to secure them.  But, I should give a not to the notion that these planters will eventually be filled with hundreds of pounds of soil - they aren't going to blow away in the wind under any circumstances.

One of the challenges, however, with Colorado's notorious clay soils is that they react strongly to moisture.  They can be as hard as concrete when dry, but once there is enough moisture, the soil tends to swell, with some interesting consequences.  Without getting too bogged down on this point, suffice it to say that the soil has the ability to move even heavy objects - like your house.

While the original planters in The OctoGarden are actually sitting on top of the soil, leveled by adding wood underneath the corner posts, the bean/cucumber trellis, and the new Berry Garden have all adopted the technique of securing the corner posts into the ground.  It's certainly something that leads to a cleaner overall look once the planter is in place, and gives me confidence that the soils won't allow the boxes to move around much, even in the presence of excess moisture.

Another forward-thinking element of this garden design is the high corner posts.  At first, I sent a message to Jason asking if they were there to allow for throwing tarps over the planters when hail storms come.  Colorado is also notorious for storms that can lay waste to your garden in a matter of minutes.  We learned the first season, with 5 major hailstorms, that you need something solid to put a tarp over a planter so that the plants beneath don't get crushed by the weight of the tarp, particularly if rain or hail accumulates on top.

But, no, the actual reason was for future expansion.  Jason and Julie wanted to make sure that they were able to get their crops in this season, but eventually want to expand the planters to be taller.  The corner posts are then in place to hold the next level of 2x12, when they want to get to that project.  As Jason and I have discussed, taller planters are much easier on the back, and put the plants at eye level for tending throughout the season.

Their forward-thinking isn't limited to just the vertical changes they will make in coming years, but also in terms of the layout of the planters themselves.  Knowing how to live within your budget doesn't mean you can't plan for the ultimate.  For this year, they wanted to get installed as many planters as they could afford, but in future years, they will add additional planters.  When we first discussed the layout, one of my suggestions was to fill the garden in from the back, and leave the area closer to the house open for future development.  That way, the existing garden doesn't interfere with access to the next construction project.

In the end, they followed the triangular shape of the back corner of the yard, and oriented the boxes so that there would be a sitting area in the back corner.  I think one of the the elements of garden design that is often overlooked is the place for the humans (and cats and dogs!) to sit and enjoy their surroundings.  Having a bench, or a place to put chairs is something that is often forgotten, and as a result, most people just have walk-through tours with those they want to impress.  They forget that a garden needs lots of work, and those hours spent working need break-times.  What better place to take a break from your labors than in the garden you've created.
The planter alignment creates a sitting area

The design they have used also takes into account the need for accessing the boxes from all sides for planting, weeding, and picking.  These are fairly large boxes overall, and as a result, getting to the center will require reaching from the longer sides.  Note that the space between these planters is large enough to get a cart or wheel barrow between - something very important when you will be needing to transport thousands of pounds of soil into these planters!

Last but not least, I wanted to mention something that is often overlooked in garden design - art.  While the design itself is clearly part of the artistic endeavor, sprinkling a garden with art objects is always recommended.  And, for many, having a protector to watch over the garden while you are looking away is peace for the soul.  While a gargoyle may not be as effective on squirrels looking to feast on your fruits and veggies, you can always add one of those owls to do that job.

The garden protector

Friday, May 27, 2011

Hardening Off Seedlings to Avoid the Dangers of Late Spring

So, now that we are safely in June, I can confidently say that I believe that we are well beyond days with highs in the 50s.  And, I can only pray we've seen the last of lows in the 30s for a few months.

"Before": The peppers looked SO good planted on 5/17
I felt pretty good the last week of March, with several weeks of warm temperatures, it seemed that April and May would make it feel like an extended spring.  Instead, it was one of the coldest and rainiest Springs we have had in Northern Colorado since we moved here in 2000.  And, it took it's tole on our early garden.

This was the first year in in 11 years we had successfully grown plants from seed indoors, and had them reach a size that was able to be transplanted outdoors.  Usually, we blow it from sprouting to the first transplant, letting the plant get too stringy to survive.  But this time, we had a nice tray of about 24 peppers that got planted in mid-May that just didn't have the strength to survive.

This didn't need to happen.

Deb kept harping on me to "harden off" the plants, but I insisted.  My motivations were good.  I wanted to make sure that we got the plants in the ground early enough to mature before it was late September.  This is a problem we have had in the past.

But, here is the flaw in my logic - their time to maturity is kind of programmed in.  Whether they are still getting light indoors, in a greenhouse, or whether they are planted in their permanent spot outdoors, they are still on the same schedule.  Rushing them into the ground, no matter how strong they looked, was a big mistake.  When we buy at the farmer's market, or from our local organic grower, they've done this work for us.
Pepperocini was our pride variety this year.

I kept watching the 10-day forecast from May 1 on forward, and it was perpetually 5 days until the good weather arrived.  After two or three of these storms just followed on each other's heels, it was kind of like playing black or red in roulette - if you see a streak, sooner or later you get confidence that the next one HAS to break the pattern.  And, like roulette, you can bet and lose the greenhouse with this logic.

It was the 17th of May, and while the first half of May had been quite chilly, with most days struggling to get above 60 degrees, the 10-day forecast showed that by Friday the 20th, it was going to be in the 70s and 80s for the rest of the forecast.  The Wednesday and Thursday were going to be rainy, and probably more of the same temperatures.

In reality, it rained about 5 inches in 2 days, and the temperatures were mostly in the 40s - just barely peeking into the low 50s for a couple hours each day.

The poor peppers were being drowned and over-chilled.  As a result, they whithered up the first sunny day, and it was over without a chance.  These kinds of moments are gardening's punch in the gut.  The time and energy, not to mention the emotions you put into caring for these plants since they sprouted, all feels like a personal loss.  And, it's one of the reasons some choose to give up, and not garden again.

The Killing Field of Pepper Sadness
This is why you have to grow in larger numbers, and hope that your best season results in you giving away your extras, and not having to use them.  When you multiply seeds in your original sowing, you are rarely even adding a penny per seed.  So, the cost is nil.  And, when tending to them, assuming space is not at a premium, it takes about the same amount of time to water them.  The first transplant into a 2x2 container takes some time, but that's about the only additional time.

In our case, I have a second batch of peppers that are in their tray, and since they are the last of this year's crop, I am taking the advice to harden them off for a week or more before putting them in the ground.  But, because I didn't grow quite enough, we may have to get some peppers from the store.
Hardening Off Veggies the right way
The good news is that in Tomato Land, we have had 100% success with our seedlings, and we are going to be giving a few away.  We are going to try a Flambeau Gardens upside down patio planter with 4 plants - on the front porch!
Flambeau Gardens
 Upside Down Patio Planter

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Raspberry Garden Journey: Part 1

When we bought our first house in 2000,  just 3 blocks down from our current house, we effectively inherited a garden and an orchard.  While some dream of having a nice garden "one day", we had it thrust upon us all at once.

Nettie's Original Garden on Doubletree 9/15/00
Nettie Clear, who is the 90-year-old woman we bought the house from that year, had worked that garden for 20 years, almost to the day.  Her husband had passed 7 years prior, so she actually managed this all by herself - and what a fantastic job she did.  I'd even go as far to say that not only did we inherit her garden, but we also inherited her inspiration.

One of the features we loved about that garden was the long row of Raspberries along the eastern fence (not seen in the picture to the left!).  It was about 25-30 feet long, and seemed to have one or two different varieties of Raspberry.  While it was awesome to have fresh Rasberries, we knew nothing about how to take care of them, and even less about what to do with them - besides eat them.  And, at the time, I wasn't really that big of a fan.

The challenge with that garden was that there was no automatic irrigation, and as a result, our yield was hit or miss, based upon our ability to keep up with watering.  And Rasberries need lots of water!

Typical Raspberry Bushes
Over the years, they spread out into the lawn, and were kind of a nuisance.  And, the lawn returned the favor by invading the Raspberry area, depleting them of their water.  In the end, particularly after we moved from that house, the lawn won.  Yes, it's kind of a sad story.

So, upon moving into our new home in 2007, with no landscaping inherited, we knew that we'd love to have them again.  But, this time we would take what we have learned, and do it better.  The goals for this project were to:

A. Make sure that the planters were automatically irrigated to sufficiently water them.

B.  The planters would be self-contained, so that they would not invade other areas, and other things would not invade their space.

C.  Since Raspberries grow long canes and they have prickly stems, we wanted to ensure that they remain upright once they begin bearing fruit, so some sort of trellis or support system would be necessary.

Bland area, with fence.  Check.
One of the best places to put Rasberries is along a fence.  They take a bland area that is dominated by brown boards, and add lots of green to make it lush.  It was almost a given from the moment we started building the new garden that the Raspberries would be along the fence.  I had envisioned a long planter from the start, with vertical posts to hold wires that would hold the Raspberry canes from falling over and making the path in front of them impassible.

During the design process (which for us is pretty much ongoing and open to change until it's built, aka "design-build"), our friends Courtney & Dean attempted to use our general design for a planter that was 10 feet long on one side. When they added the soil to the planter, the board bulged, demonstrating there is an upper boundary to the length of any of these planters when using 2x12s.  This, in turn, caused me to reconsider exactly how long of a run I would do without a supporting post going into the ground, as well as the distance between the vertical trellis posts - which would double as the corner posts.

The Bulging 10' Box at
Courtney and Dean's
Once we took field measurements of the area, we found that we had 24 feet of length that was going to be dedicated to Raspberries.  Our board length was 16 feet, so we considered building planter sections that were 4 feet long, creating 6 overall planters.  While logical, and giving us short lengths that we have plenty of experience with regarding bowing, it also increases the cost significantly - not to mention the assembly time.

The original rough sketch layout
Each time there is a connection between a 2x12 and a 4x4, it requires the use of 2 A34 Simpson Strong Ties, which cost $0.43 each.  At $0.86 per corner, that each planter has a cost of $3.44 in angle hardware, and that's before tax and the screws.  Let's call it $4.00.

Each post also has to be cut and the top mitered.  That takes time.  Each post also has to have a hole dug into the ground to support it, and when putting on the stain, the corners are the most time-consuming thing to paint.  It all sums up to significantly more labor.

So, we decided instead to create 4 planters of approximately 6-feet in length each.  Every other post would be a tall trellis post, creating a gap of 12-feet between posts.

The layout of the boxes was an important activity too.  We needed to ensure that we had enough room to walk the backside of the planters.  While I don't personally plan to pick Raspberries from that side, it's reasonable to assume that we might need to get some from that side - they prickly after all.  And, this is not to mention the fact that leaves and debris will likely accumulate back there - a garden is never as tidy as the day it's built.  We decided to set this planter row 2 feet from the fence, maximizing the size of the garden, while still giving us a reasonable access between the fence and the planter.

The modified sketch, with lots of scratchouts!
Add to this, we had to consider the fact that this row of planters would eventually connect with the Asparagus Planter at the front (West).  Since that Planter would be square with the pathway, and the posts from Raspberry planters would be oriented square to the fence, eventually, something would have to be mitred when we connected the two.

What we finally decided was that the apex of the fence line (where the two angular fences met to make an open angle) was the place to start.  We had already built the Strawberry Planter by this time, and that had a definitive centerline that aligned with this same Apex.  We would start the planter installation from there, and if there was any need for adjustment, the slack would be taken up in the Asparagus Planter.

Pre-Fabricated pieces stationed before installation
And, with that, we began taking measurements and milling the wood for these planters.  We decided to pre-fabricate the longer lengths of 2x12, pre-attached to their corresponding short-posts.  We would alternately pre-fabricate the tall posts connected by their shorter foward-to-aft pieces.

Why go through all of this trouble?  Leveling.

In order to make this section of garden level, we decided to build each planter one by one, keeping it straight and level in relativity to the one before it.  We also checked for consistent measurements from the fence, which after 2 years of weathering, was developing some warpage.  I think it was during a moment of frustration with this warpage that we coined the term "Garden Tolerance", which is a euphemism for "close enough".  Seriously, it's just a garden, after all. One of the other challenges for this specific installation was the grade of
Setting the first Raspberry Planter

One of the other challenges for this specific installation was the grade of the earth near the fence.  It both sloped towards the fence unevenly, as well as sloping slightly from the fence Apex towards the west.  We had decided early in this process that the top height of these planters would NOT match the height of the Strawberry, Blueberry, and Asparagus planters.  It needed to be lower because these are naturally tall bushes, and we didn't want to be picking Raspberries with a ladder.

However, on top of that, the cost of raising the top of the planter to that same elevation would require that it be a planter that utilized more than one 2x12 vertically.  That would get fairly expensive quickly on a planter that measures 24 feet by 2 feet.

So, the final decision was to set the East end of the planter flush with the ground, then keep it level going east.  We estimated that it would be about a 4-5" grade difference, although we didn't have any fancy tools to tell for sure.  Eyeballing it is not entirely invalid, at least in my construction handbook.

Once the first planter was in place, we used a 4-foot level to check it in all directions.  Our methodology for leveling in the thick clay soil is a bit different than we would probably do elsewhere.  Basically, we dig a post hole, set the planter into all 4 holes, and then lift to add soil until we are in the ballpark.  Then, we placed a piece of scrap wood on top of any post that needed to go lower, and then used a sledge hammer to pound it to being level.  Crude, but effective.  And, since the soil does not compress easily, it holds very very well relative to other regions of the US.

A little sledge hammer action to move a post
Once one section is done, then we connect the next 3 sides to make the next planter, and repeat the leveling.  After putting all planters in place, we then bury the remaining areas around the posts to secure the planter in place.  As my construction buddies often say, "That ain't goin nowhere!"

After all of the planters were set in place, the next step was to stain them with the Redwood stain, then staple the interior plastic, add rocks for drainage, and then the soil.  All that will be described in the next segment on the construction of the Raspberry Planters.

To be continued!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Evolution of our Living Fence & Espalier Design

Deb has been in love with living fences ever since our first time at our friend Sue's house.  Sue Oberle is who we used to buy all of our seedlings from when she was in that line of business.  She has a wonderful apple tree that has been trained into being a fence.  And Deb wouldn't let our next garden construction phase be designed without this being included.

I completely got the concept of a living fence.  Mostly.  The practice dates back to Egyptians in 1400 BC, throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, and in Colonial America.  The pruning of living fences was considered a secret art that was passed from generation to generation.

There are several reasons for building living fences.  They are useful as borders between areas of gardens or farms.  They allow for productivity in small areas.  And, when done against a wall, they can benefit from the heat radiating from the wall to extend seasons, or induce flowering or ripening.

If you are interested in the history of living fences, as well as detailed information about how to prune them, I would recommend the website at Colonial Sense.  It's rich with detailed information on this subject.

The living fence I saw in my mind.
So, in my mind, I pictured a tree where the branches that are forward and aft are removed, and the remaining branches are trained resulting in horizontal bars bearing fruit.  My primary concern was what would happen when the branches reached the length that put them at the edge of the planter.

Would we cut them off, and then the branches would just get thicker and thicker?  Would they bear fruit in this condition?  And what stops the tree from growing upwards?  Don't I end up with a big thick trunk and very little foliage.

I had a difficult time visualizing how to give Deb her dream, and still have a functional fruit tree 10-20 years from now.  And, on top of that, making something that wasn't going to look like a disaster at the end of every garden picture.  It IS about the pictures, when the history books are written.

In our case, we are looking to:

1. Create more fruit variety in our garden overall.  We currently have a Golden Delicious and Jonathan Apple tree.  We are thinking of adding other Apple varieties, and perhaps a Cherry.

The West End View: Isn't it missing something on the far side?
2. Create a visual backdrop for the garden elements, when viewed from the West.  When you walk around the corner from the driveway, it's what defines the back side of the garden.

3. Create a visual barrier between us and our nearest next door neighbor.  We have a weird situations, where the fence between us is about waist high due to the drainage that runs between our properties, and their back porch is so close, it feels like we are almost on top of one another.  This will help create privacy for both yards when we are in this garden.

Now, besides the general concept, and the location, we didn't really discuss much detail about the tree or trees.  We had built the East end of the Garden to hold this living fence, and intentionally avoided any dividers to make one continuous planter that was bent on an angle, creating two planting zones.

Future unfinished home of our Living Fence, aka an Espalier
In fact, deciding between 1 or 2 trees was the primary decision in my mind.  I just figured that there was one advantage to putting a single tree, right at the bend, and a different advantage to putting one on each side.  I kept oscillating in my mind.

By putting one at the corner, I was imagining that I could have the maximum length branches, and that was a good thing.  But, because one side is longer than the other, it would be kind of a weird tree.  One side would get thicker than the other, as the longer side would still be stretching itself out.

But the downside of the one tree design was the trellis.  It would require creating four posts, with some sort of cris-crossing of lines or wires right near the trunk of the tree.  It just sounded like it would look forced.  Idea nixed, for the moment. Or was it?

The two tree design made the trellis easier for sure.  It meant we could put one post in the each end, and then one in the center.  That made sense, but then there was almost the same issue with the other design - one tree would be substantially larger than the other.  But, then that could be solved by having one apple, then one cherry.

Time to bring Deb in to help settle the matter.  Well, sort of.  In reality, all I did was infect her with my oscillating thoughts.  It was a bit frustrating for both of us.

The diagram that opened our eyes
That is when Deb found a site on the Internet the explained that the living fence we were looking for was called and Espalier.  She printed out a page showing all sorts of designs.  It was like suddenly moving from 2D to 3D.  Okay, not so dramatic, but still.  It opened our eyes.

Given the freedom to combine multiple trees to create patterns suddenly made me a painter with living branches, and suddenly, I could create just about anything I could imagine.  This could be good.

So, with the freedom to plant multiple dwarf varieties of fruit-bearing trees, and then bend them into patterns, it solved the problem of how thick the branches would become to a degree, because the pattern could evolve over time.  And, the space could be more easily filled in the first few years - not waiting until we are on our deathbeds to see the final product!
What Espalier will appear here?

By the time the planters were completed, we realized that in order to do this right, we might need to shop around a bit in our local nurseries, and perhaps even wait for the end-of-season sales that always come in August and September - a GREAT time to plant trees and save some bucks.

In the meantime, we may choose to just fill the area with soil, and grow some watermelons, pumpkins, or something else we don't normally do.  It's one of the fun things about new garden acreage - you can use a season to kick the can down the road until you make a final decision.

What do you think we should do?  Please comment!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Blueberry Planter Gets Complicated: Part 1

What began as a simple request from Deb to incorporate 3 basic berries to our new garden became much more complicated from one of the tastiest of these berries - the Blueberry.

We knew going into the project that blueberries required acidic soil.  Since our primary design is raised bed planters, where the soil is controlled, this appeared at first to be no big deal.  We will just amend the soil with acidic things like peat moss, and it won't be a big deal.

I had already begun design of the garden, and had purchased the lumber when Deb discovered that CSU had done a study to determine how best to grow blueberries in the Rocky Mountains, where the soil is famously alkaline.  In the area around our house, we have tested the soil in several places, and it has pH values from 8.0 to 8.5.  What they determined was that blueberries could be grown in containers, and with proper care for the roots, they could winter over and be perennial.

Small Stones indicate the corners of the Blueberry Planters
At the time of the news, Tim and I had just laid out a box that was a triangularish trapezoid.  It was going to be the "complex" box because the side pieces were going to need to have angled cuts.  If only that were true.

With the news that we were going to need planters, we quickly came up with a solution - to create 3 planters within the trapezoid.  Each of those planters would hold the more acidic soil, and because they would have soil on the exterior, they would protect the roots from freezing during the winter.

Fancy bevel, no?
We had just completed the top section of the Strawberry planter, and Tim and I both agreed
that the 24" x 24" size made for a nice looking stand-alone planter.  We measured, and found we could fit 3 of these within the area of the trapezoid we had laid out.  So, with that, 3 became the number of Blueberry bushes we would have.

Construction of the inner planters was very easy.  All three would have the same dimensions, so it was almost a production line.  Tim cut all the wood and beveled all the posts as he did for the entire Berry Garden.  One of the things that isn't obvious from the more distant photos is how much more striking the corners with bevels are than my original posts from the Octogarden.  While we are using quite basic building materials, the bevel just has the effect of making the construction look fancy.

That bevel, however, is being cut using a pre-safety-era Sears table saw, that predates even the Craftsman name.  It was my Uncle Bob's saw, and was well used from the 60s through the 90s to make all sorts of things without him losing much of any of his fingers (just kidding, of course).   While the bevels on short posts like the center of the Blueberry Planters would be relatively easy for one person, the taller posts in the garden would require Tim and I to work in conjunction to safely keep the wood level and straight going through the blade.

Let's just say that it would only take an average shop student about 3 minutes to chide us for multiple safety violations.  It's not quite as bad as my layman's job back in 2009 when the original Octogarden was built, as the image below clearly documents.  In my defense, I do have safety goggles on, and it's not just because they make me look pretty.

Do NOT try this at home kids!
So, our Blueberry Planter operation actually was a slick operation.  Tim cut the wood, and I split my time between putting the angles on the posts, and laying out other parts of the garden.  Our mini-planter assembly line can be summed up in 4 pictures.

Tim using a speed square to get a straight cut
Stacks of cut boards
Angle Attachment Assembly Line
Finished Posts

Once the parts were all cut and the angles attached, we quickly assembled the 3 planters, and found our next dilemma - how precisely to arrange them.  When we originally laid them out with rocks, of course, because we did not yet own a snap line, I had the forethought to think about alignment with the other elements in the garden.  While standing at the front (west) side of the garden, I had noticed early on that the second post in the Asparagus Planter actually aligned with the center post from the Strawberry Planter approximately up the center of the Trapezoid.  It followed (in my head) that the three planters should probably align with that post-to-post line.

That being said, I was continuing with a design theme from early on.  The central focus of the garden is the tall post in the center of the Strawberry Planter.  It should be the highest point in the garden, and the eye's focus should always lead toward this post.

There are two dominant straight lines in canvas we have to work with - the breeze path, and the existing cedar fence.  The breeze path's line is an extension of the house, and is perfectly (relatively) parallel with the house.  The fence line, at least the part starting at the entrance, is at an angle which we do not control.

So, the early decision was to incorporate triangles into the design, making the Berry Garden a masculine garden, in that it would have strong angles and straight lines.  This is different than the Octogarden, which was an attempt to utilize the simplicity of 90-degree angles for construction of boxes, which were then arranged into an circle, around an Octagon, which is nearly a circle itself.  While the Octogarden is a mix of masculine and feminine, the Berry Garden at least at first glance is masculine.
The Raspberry Planters are parallel with the fence, and the Strawberry Planter has one edge parallel with the fence.  But, the Strawberry Planter, with it's multiple levels gave us the opportunity to move that central focus away from the center of the planter itself, to create a high-point which is more approximate to the center of the widest part of the garden when viewing from a distance.   By combining this decision with noticing the alignment with the 2nd Asparagus post location, we essentially create a 3rd angle from the house and fence, which in turn makes the garden more like sun rays spreading from the west end into an ever-widening garden looking east.

Having seized upon this concept, but both Tim and I became emphatic that this was a terrific idea, and we pretty much galloped forward with it once we had the realization.  Having built the boxes, we simply arranged them on our sketched layout, written in Sharpie pen, trying to figure out what exactly was going to line up with the new post-to-post fan line that so impressed us.

If we put the boxes corner to corner, they would align, but when viewing from the side, they looked a bit forced into that position.  The alignment with the post-to-post line was evident, but the sides of the boxes, their front and side posts, and pretty much everything else looked relatively random.  For a garden design that seemed to have so much emphasis on straight-sided shapes, having these boxes cockeyed to achieve this singular alignment just had bad energy.

After 30 minutes of "let's try this", we stumbled upon a grand idea - we would align the PLANTS to the post-to-post line, but the boxes would be turned 45 degrees from the line parallel to the house.  This would create a "diamond" shaped box, considering the view from the path.  But, this diamond would be identical in angle to the 2nd level of the Strawberry Planter - creating the impression that the larger one had 3 smaller buddies.  It wasn't to mimic the Giza pyramids, but the thought did cross my mind after the fact.

What we noticed is that we could stagger the boxes so that the leading edge of one box could be aligned with the lagging edge of the prior box.  This created a weird effect.  While the boxes remained unfilled the alternating posts would straddle the post-to-post line.  If you view enough of my pictures of the construction, you'll notice that I intentionally will photograph from this center-point going forward.  The result is this first draft alignment shown below.
The view that showed alignment with Strawberry Level 2

The first time we noticed there might be an alignment

The "alignment" showing the post-to-post line

 This complex portion of the project wasn't even close to being finished yet.  As we read further into the study, we noticed that drainage was frequently mentioned.  Colorado clay soil is notoriously poor for drainage.  In some cases, it feels more like concrete when dried up.

In the original Octogarden design, I noticed that when we had severe storms, the water would fill up the planters like a bathtub, and sometimes take more than an hour to drain.  I had originally imagined that the open-bottom design would be plenty for those flash-rain situations.  However, in the case of blueberries, it seemed crucially important to add a rock layer at the bottom of the planter, covered with weed fabric, to ensure that there would be a drainage sink.

But, putting rocks into the bottom of the planter would raise the overall bottom of the place where roots could eventually go, and given the second requirement to have the root ball buried by as much soil laterally as possible, Deb was emphatic about planting this one deep, and having room for it's roots to go deeper.  That left only one way to accomplish this - dig down about a foot below each planter, but only beneath each planter so that the wood would still have support.

I embraced the extra work, and used the post hole digger to quickly create a 1-foot deep sink at the bottom of each planter.

Drainage Sink made with Post Hole Digger
At this point, it would appear that most of the complexities had been overcome, but like the proverbial Rabbit Hole, it's only a matter of how far we want to go.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bethany's Garden: Variation on Planter Construction

Our friend Courtney has a friend in Texas, Bethany, who is on the gardening bandwagon this year.  She was able to convince her husband Joe and some friends to use their tractor, and dig out the area for the garden.  They tilled the soil from their last garden, and sourced compost locally to combine and create the soil for these planters.

The great thing about this design is that it factors in easy constructions methods and low costs, along with the versatility of perhaps recreating the garden again 5-10 years in the future.  While my personal choice with our garden has been to design and build for longer life, and perhaps an artistic aesthetic, this design is straightforward and functional.

In terms of keeping the costs low, the design uses the same basic materials of 4x4s and 2x12s, but instead of cutting the 2x12s to fit between the posts, they pass in front of the 4x4, and deck screws hold it in place.  For the purpose of creating a raised bed, this is totally functional, and dramatically lowers the cost, not to mention the overall labor.

This garden is not irrigated, and Bethany says she plans to regularly flood the boxes, which she estimates will save on the overall water usage.  Since it was 96 degrees on the April day when she mentioned this, I am imagining that this summer will be full of garden watering sessions!

I am hoping to get regular updates from Bethany and Joe on their garden this summer, and look forward to seeing what they grow!