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!

No comments:

Post a Comment