Planting a Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden

In May of 2014, I planted a Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden along the back of our yard. Here are the details of what was planted!

Background

Sheet mulch and compost started the garden in the back of the yard.

Sheet mulch and compost started the garden in the back of the yard.

I hadn’t originally intended for the garden to look as it does now. In May of 2014, I wanted to buy some shrubs to plant along the back lot line of our yard. I prepared a site with sheet mulch, compost, and mulch, but just needed some plants to fill in the area. I also wanted some fruiting shrubs for other parts of the yard, so I went to the Friends of the Arboretum Native Plant Sale to see what I could find. However, not having ordered the plants ahead of time, I realized when I got there that the shrubs that I wanted were not available. I was not too disappointed though after I saw another option, the Butterfly and Hummingbird Prairie Mix.

About the Plant Mix

The Butterfly and Hummingbird Prairie Mix was a large flat filled with a variety of different native plants to create a habitat for butterflies, birds, and native pollinators. The description said, “The butterflies, hummingbirds, songbirds, and pollinators will thank you for your efforts in planting this mix. These native plants may attract three times as many pollinators as non-native species.” A volunteer at the sale advised me to water weekly for the first 1-2 years to help the plants get established. With 38 plants at $98, this mix would not be easy to plant or cheap to invest in, but I thought I would give it a try.

Design and Planting

When I got home, I looked through the documentation on the plants and felt a bit overwhelmed. Some of the plants like wet sites and some like dry sites. Some can be 1 feet tall and some can be up to 5 feet tall. Some of the plants are perennials and some are supposed to reseed themselves. There were all different colors, sun requirements, and soil preferences. The plants were to be spaced with 1 square foot per plant. I sat down and planned out a design of where the plants could go, knowing that the design might not be perfect. Then I went out and started setting the plants on the ground to see if the design would look good.

It wasn’t easy planting 38 plants in one sitting, but I wanted to get all the plants safely in the ground before the work week started. After the plants were watered, voila! Our backyard featured a Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden!

Butterfly Garden 1

Plant Details

Here are the 12 types of plants that were included in this mix.

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Installing a Rain Barrel

This spring we purchased and installed a rain barrel. I decided to buy the Fiskars 58 Gallon Salsa Rain Barrel System with Diverter ($148 with sales tax). The online video of the product was impressively marketed. It appealed to two important needs: (1) it made the installation look easy and (2) it made the features look useful. How could I pass up on an easy-to-install and effective rain barrel system for less than $150? The rain barrel and diverter soon arrived at our door in a large box, thanks to free shipping from Amazon. We decided to locate the rain barrel by the corner of our garage along the path to the garden, since we would walk past it frequently.

Installation

The finished rain barrel and diverter.

The finished rain barrel and diverter.

The finished rain barrel and diverter.
The Fiskars rain barrel and diverter came with a set of picture-based instructions that were easy to follow.

The first step in the installation was to prepare a level foundation. We used a bow rake, shovel, and level to move aside woodchips and chisel the ground level at the site. Then I purchased four 12″ square brickface patio blocks from Menard’s to place on the ground. The four blocks together cost about $5.50. We arranged the blocks two by two and set the rain barrel on top.

The next step was to drill a hole in the side of the rain barrel for the tube that would drain from the diverter to the rain barrel. We used a 1″ spade/paddle drill bit for this task, which we also purchased at Menard’s for $4.

Then we needed to install the diverter onto the downspout. To do this, we needed to cut the downspout at some measured locations. We destroyed two blades trying to use the coping saw we had at home, so we had to go back to Menard’s for a better saw. I found a 12″ high tension hacksaw for $17, so my husband used that successfully to make two cuts and remove a section of the downspout.

According to the instructions, we then needed to insert the diverter onto the downspout on the top and bottom and add some screws. This sounded easy, but in reality, the diverter didn’t fit onto the downspout. It was too big and there were large gaps around the sides that would have been impossible to caulk. The diverter kit came with two adapters for smaller downspouts, but they were too small for our downspout to fit into. Using a wrench, we shaped and squeezed, cut and bent, and tried to get the end of the downspout to fit. No luck.

We looked for some type of adapter at the local hardware stores and found two downspout couplers for $5 each at Ace Hardware. We had to re-measure and re-cut the downspout with the hacksaw to adjust for the additional length of the couplers, but with some more prodding, we managed to get the downspout couplers to fit into the diverter adapters which then connected the downspout to the diverter on both sides. Unfortunately the white color of the plastic couplers doesn’t quite match our white steel downspout, but that’s what we could find and make work. The last part of the diverter installation was to drill some holes to add in screws, which would keep the adapters and couplers from coming apart.

The plastic drainage tube from the diverter to the rain barrel had to be cut to the distance between the two, but it slipped on easily enough.

And the Rain Came

Close-up of the filter over the rain barrel chamber in the downspout diverter.

Close-up of the filter over the rain barrel chamber in the downspout diverter.

When rain came, we watched and observed how it was working. The water went into the diverter, where some of it pooled up in a chamber under a plastic leaf-guard filter. More of the water probably should have flowed into the chamber, but some missed and went past. We might need to make an adjustment to the angle of the downspout so that more of it flows better into the chamber. The water in the chamber then goes into the plastic drainage tube to the rain barrel, and when the rain barrel is full, that chamber backs up and the water overflows to the lower downspout.

However, the seal between the diverter/adapter/coupler isn’t perfect, so the water leaks out the back by the house instead of flowing down the downspout away from the house. We would need to add some caulk there.

Conclusion

Well, we now have a rain barrel!

If we decided to purchase another rain barrel, I think I would go with a different brand next time to see how it compares. I enjoy the opportunity to do hands-on projects and figure out creative solutions as problems arise (as long as our kids can keep themselves entertained), but I feel disappointed that the diverter and adapter didn’t fit well on our standard-sized downspout. The Fiskars marketing team set the expectation that installation was easy, and failed to mention the need for couplers and caulk. Another downside to this system is the included spigot. I’m a bit frustrated by the location of the spigot. Located about a foot up on the rain barrel, there might be 10 or so gallons of water at the bottom of the barrel that isn’t accessible. The spigot is also made of cheap plastic and looks like it will break as soon as I bump it with a full watering can. However, perhaps we can add a short hose on the end of the spigot to keep the watering can at a distance.

Environmentally, having a rain barrel is great. Financially and labor-wise, I don’t know if an economist could say that we’re coming out ahead. After $184.50 in costs, we will now be able to save a few dollars each year in water from the city (with the cost of water currently at $2.81 per 1,000 gallons). Yet, it feels good to use it and see it by our house, knowing that it is sustainable to use free rain water to care for our yard. Who knows how the cost and supply of water will change over time? Every little bit helps.

Yes, it feels good to have 58 gallons of rain water saved up. Hurray for rain barrels!

Planting with a Plan in the Vegetable Garden (2014)

Rather than dropping seeds and seedlings in random locations, this year’s vegetable garden was planned out over the wintertime. Companion planting, crop rotation, and consideration for plant heights was incorporated to maximize plants and minimize pests. When it came time to start seeds, purchase seedlings, and plan for frosts, this turned out to be a great help to guide the timing, quantity, and locations of vegetable plants.

Here is my garden design for this year in our main Vegetable Garden:
Garden Plans 2014 - draft

Main Vegetable Garden on May 27th, 2014

Main Vegetable Garden on May 27th, 2014

As you can see from this diagram, there are four Neighborhoods in the Vegetable Garden. This makes it easy to group plant families and rotate crops each year so that pests have a harder time finding the plants they like.

Neighborhood A - Brassicas & Friends

Neighborhood A – Brassicas & Friends

Neighborhood B - Squash, Tomatoes, & Friends

Neighborhood B – Squash, Tomatoes, & Friends

Neighborhood C - Roots & Friends

Neighborhood C – Roots & Friends

Neighborhood D - Legumes & Friends

Neighborhood D – Legumes & Friends

How the Plan was Made

If you’re interested in putting together a design for your garden, I would recommend the following steps. You will likely need to do some reading and searching the Internet to gather the information you need.

1. Determine how many garden beds you have or how you can equally separate your garden into sections. This will be helpful for doing crop rotation.
2. List the vegetable plants that you want to grow and then group them into broad families. I divided plants into four “neighborhoods” (brassicas, squash and tomatoes, roots, and legumes) based on plant family, and will rotate crops within four sections of our main vegetable garden. Some vegetables might not fit into the neighborhood perfectly (lettuce in the pea bed?), but as long as families are grouped, crop rotation will make it harder for pests to find plants in subsequent years.
3. Consider companion planting to make sure that combinations of plants won’t harm each other. And add herbs and flowers that would help deter pests from your plants. The book “Great Garden Companions” by Sally Jean Cunningham was a good read.

In addition to having a design, I’ve kept better records this year. I kept notes on seed starting and planting. Without too many dry details, here are some of the plants that I’ve started and planted in this year’s garden. As noted, some plants are located in other places (patio, pot, or sector garden).

Seed Starting Indoors

The kohlrabi stems are bulging out. One kohlrabi mysteriously broke in half, but others are doing well.

The kohlrabi stems are bulging out. One kohlrabi mysteriously broke in half, but others are doing well.

* King Pepper (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Hungarian Sweet Pepper (Seeds saved from Greenway Station Farmer’s Market) – sector garden
* Sheboygan Tomato (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Cherry Tomato (Seed Saver’s Exchange)
* Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry (Seed Savers Exchange) – sector garden
* Pineapple Ground Cherry (Seeds from Madison Area Permaculture Guild Seed Exchange) – sector garden and pot
* Fiesta Mix Nasturtium (Seeds from Madison Area Permaculture Guild Seed Exchange)
* Calendula Mix (Seed Savers Exchange)
The wispy little onions are finally getting stronger.

The wispy little onions are finally getting stronger.

* White Vienna Kohlrabi (Livingston Seed Co.)
* Calabrese Broccoli (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Yellow of Parma Onion (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Royalty Mix Petunias (Burpee) – sector garden
* Marigolds (Seeds saved from our church’s Food Pantry Garden)
* Sunflowers (Seeds from Kids’ Garden Party)

Plants Seeded Outdoors

* Elephant Garlic (cloves from the Farmer’s Market planted last fall)

I'm surprise how well the elephant garlic is doing. Last year I didn't have success with garlic, but this year it looks strong.

I’m surprise how well the elephant garlic is doing. Last year I didn’t have luck with garlic, but this year it’s strong.

* Early Scarlet Globe Radish (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Early Blood Turnip Beets (Seed Savers Exchange)
* St. Valery Carrots (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Cilantro (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Bouquet Dill (Botanical Interests)
* Amish Snap Pea (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Heirloom Pineapple Alpine Strawberries (Renee’s Garden) – pot
* Heirloom Mignonette Alpine Strawberries (Renee’s Garden) – pot
* Sugar Snap Peas (NK Lawn & Garden)
* Calliope Blend Carrots (Botanical Interests)
* Five Color Silverbeet Swiss Chard (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Sweet Basil (Burpee Fordhook Collection Organic)
This is my first year trying to grow beets. They look pretty scrawny so far.

This is my first year trying to grow beets. They look pretty scrawny so far.

* Thumbelina Zinnia (Botanical Interests)
* Tiny Tim (white) Sweet Alyssum (Botanical Interests)
* Oriental Nights (purple) Sweet Alyssum (Botanical Interests)
* Sweet REBA Acorn Squash (Botanical Interests)
* Black Beauty Zucchini (Botanical Interests)
* Native American Squash (Gete-okosomin, seeds from archaeological dig in Green Bay, WI)
* Rosemary (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Hidatsa Red Beans (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Early Fortune Cucumbers (Seed Savers Exchange)
* Little Gem Lettuce (Burpee Organics)

Seedlings Purchased and Planted

The purchased dill plant is getting quite tall.

The purchased dill plant is getting quite tall.

* Kale (The Bruce Co. variety pack)
* Brussels Sprouts (The Bruce Co.)
* Allstar June-Bearing Strawberries (The Bruce Co. & Papa Joe’s) – patio
* Ozark Beauty Everbearing Strawberries (The Bruce Co. & Papa Joe’s) – patio
* Dill (Olbrich Plant Sale)
* Purple Sage (Olbrich Plant Sale)
* Chocolate Mint (Olbrich Plant Sale) – patio
* Corsican Mint (Olbrich Plant Sale) – pot
* Doone Valley Thyme (Olbrich Plant Sale)
* Genovese Basil (West Star Farm Organics)
* Red Rubin Basil (West Star Farm Organics)
* Thai Basil (West Star Farm Organics)
* Lemon Balm (West Star Farm Organics, Melissa Officinalis) – patio
* Anise Hyssop Agastache (West Star Farm Organics) – patio
* Sage (Leftover from our church’s Food Pantry Garden) – patio
* Pesto Perpetual Basil (West Star Farm Organics) – patio
* Oregano (Leftover from our church’s Food Pantry Garden) – patio

Sector Garden

Before you think that I have everything planned out, remember that I do have another small garden with more random plantings. Last year, I called this garden the “Nightshade Garden,” but this year, I’ll refer to it as the “Sector Garden” on behalf of its pie shape and plant diversity. This additional spaces gives our kids easy access to ground cherries, tomatoes, sugar-snap peas, and some experimental pepper plants. My daughter also requested some petunias, which we made sure to include.

Sector Garden on May 27th, 2014

Sector Garden on May 27th, 2014

Pots

Pots on May 27th, 2014

Pots on May 27th, 2014

I find that having pots around is a good place to put extra plants or experimental plantings that might need some extra attention. My kids have a large pot where they planted colorful Calliope Carrots. I tried planting Alpine Strawberry seeds in two pots (something is starting to come up… but are they strawberry plants?). And an extra Pineapple Ground Cherry and Nasturtium plant got new homes.

Much luck with your garden this year!

Hanging a Tree Swing

One of the principles of permaculture is “care for people.” As a parent, I need to help my kids get outside to play, connect with the world around them, and keep busy while I’m in the garden. We have a stretch of grass in the backyard that is a play area for throwing a ball or running with our dog, but we tend to stay near the garage where the toys are. To pull the kids into the backyard near the trees, sticks, and grass, a backyard toy would be needed.

Our tree swing last year was fun, but rubbed off some bark from the branch.

Our tree swing last year was fun, but rubbed off some bark from the branch.

Play sets these days can easily cost thousands of dollars, but can also take up a lot of space and be outgrown within a matter of years. Why not put up a simple tree swing for much less cost?

Last year, we purchased a swing at Menard’s for about $20 on sale. We also purchased some rope and carabiners. We threw the rope over our backyard Honey Locust tree, tied a loop on one end, slipped the other end through the loop, and pulled the loop up to the branch to secure it. The tree swing was great. The kids would run straight to the swing when we went outside and it could go pretty high. However, having a rope around the tree branch wasn’t the best for the tree. The rope started to tear where it was rubbing against the branch and some bark was rubbed off the branch. We read that if you remove the bark from around a branch (girdling), it really hurts the tree.

Close-up of the bolts attached to the branch.

Close-up of the bolts attached to the branch. Above the branch are a washer and two nuts to keep it secure. We’ll be able to leave the bolts up through the winter-time and just move the swing indoors.

So, this year, we decided to put bolts through the tree branch to prevent rubbing off the bark. It sounds more harmful to the tree, but by concentrating the force at one point and protecting the bark around the branch, I believe the tree will quickly forget about the drilling.

We went to the hardware store and purchased a few supplies:
Long Drill Bit (1/2″ wide, 16″ long, spade bit) – $6.89
4 Hex Nuts (1/2″-13) – $4.76
2 Zinc-plated Fender Washers (1/2″ x 2″) – $0.78
2 Eyebolts (1/2″ x 10″) – $5.58

Close-up of the ropes attached to the swing's chain.

Close-up of the ropes attached to the swing’s chain.

My husband got up on a tall ladder and drilled vertical holes through the branch about 20 inches apart (a good width for our swing). Drilling was slow, perhaps because the drill bit wasn’t the perfect choice or because the wood had knots. Then the bolt was inserted, ring down, and a washer and nuts were placed tightly on top the bolt just above the branch.

Next, the rope was tied on to the bolts and the swing was connected to the rope. To attach the swing (which comes with short chains), I tied carabiners to the ends of the rope. This allows the swing height to be easily adjustable. When I was outside, I made up a knot that looked secure to me. Now that I’m on the internet, I see that the knot I did is similar to what would be called a “half hitch” knot (except I wound the rope around twice and also made a loose tie over the top). The knots have been very secure, and given how it tightens over time, I trust it will stay in place well. Remember to hang the swing higher than you want it, since the rope will stretch when the swing is used.

The finished tree swing

The finished tree swing

Two minor challenges came up later on. When the weather warmed up, we had some sap dripping from the holes by the bolts onto the swing, but it came off easily with a little vinegar and water. Also, the ground underneath the swing has taken a beating. First, the grass died and then the soil started to erode a little. I’m going to experiment with placing a thick, rubber doormat under the swing to help the kids remember not to drag their feet.

So far, so good. And lots of fun!

Saying Goodbye to a Tree

This week, we said goodbye to a large Blue Spruce tree at the south corner of our lot. It was actually two trees, right next to each other, which appeared as one. The tree was large and beautiful, so it was a difficult decision to call someone to remove it. However, knowing that it would continue to grow larger and larger, we felt that it was the right thing to do.

We had a large truck on our lawn for an hour to remove the Blue Spruce tree.

We had a large truck on our lawn for an hour to remove the Blue Spruce tree.

The problem was that the tree was planted in a rather poor location.

It was located:
* South of our kitchen dining area. Eating lunch in the wintertime behind the shade of a tree contributes to seasonal affective disorder in a big way.
* Just south of an apple tree. With the tree showing signs of wood rot, we hoped that improved air circulation and sunlight would help the tree bounce back.
* South-west of our large vegetable garden and south of our extra “Sector” garden. With less than five hours of full sun, another two hours of sunlight would make our garden plants much happier and more productive.
* On the lot line where the neighbor’s house sat just a couple yards away. This meant that we had to trim branches off the neighbor’s house.

Basically, we needed more SUN and less crowding. Being on a corner lot where two sides of our lot are planted with eight shady city trees, where we also have a Maple and Oak tree on the other side of our house, and a large Honey Locust tree in the backyard, there weren’t many options that could give us the kind of sunlight and openness that would improve our lives.

Perhaps some people will question our decision. It wasn’t an easy one to make.

Our concerns with removing the tree were as follows:
* We believe that trees are very beneficial and wonderful to have in the city. The tree was old and had a nice appearance.
* Animal nests and habitats by the tree would be disturbed. With that corner of the lot being shady and filled with brush piles, there would be one less place for squirrels to climb, birds to perch, and bunnies to hide.
* Removing the tree would mean a loss of a large windbreak in our backyard.
* We were concerned about whether our neighbors would miss the tree. It had been a part of our neighbors’ skyline for years, so we weren’t the only ones looking at it.
* We wanted to avoid soil compaction in our backyard from the tree service’s truck. We care deeply for our soil and worry about the impact of heavy machinery on the ground.
* The cost was high, so we had to be certain we would enjoy the benefits.

Before picture

Before picture

After picture

After picture

Now that the tree is really gone, how do I feel? Well, a part of me is sad to say goodbye, but mostly, I feel relieved. The year-round benefits will be much appreciated and the additional sunshine is already bringing us more joy and hope.

As other people plant trees, may this tree teach us to consider good tree placement, particularly for those who might live in our houses long after we are gone.

Planting Strawberries

Strawberry Plant

Strawberry Plant

The first week of May this year, we brought home some strawberry plants to join us by the patio. I haven’t grown strawberries before, but I’m excited to see how it goes.

These plants weren’t just an impulse buy. To prepare for our new arrivals:
* I prepared the bed and enriched the soil last year. See Clearing the Way for Strawberries by the Patio.
* I read about strawberries in a number of books. One recent book was: The Backyard Berry Book.
* I waited for spring to come. Although the books indicated that I could have planted sooner, it didn’t feel right until May came.

I decided to plant two varieties of strawberries: June-bearing and everbearing. I am hoping that the June-bearing crop (Allstar) allows us to have a nice harvest all at once, while the everbearing fruits (Ozark Beauty) will be fun for the kids to snack on when we’re playing outside. Since this is the first year, I’ll need to remove the flower buds from the June-bearing strawberries to encourage the roots to be established well. For the everbearing strawberries, I read that I could remove the flower buds until July 1st and then allow the plants to flower and produce fruit after that.

Here are some other strawberry growing tips that I’ve read:
* When planting the new strawberry plants, choose a cool, cloudy day.
* Planting depth is important for the strawberry’s crown. Not too deep, not too high.
* Add a light mulch, such as straw.
* Make sure the plants get one inch of water per week. If the rain isn’t coming, watering in the morning is best.
* Keep the beds well weeded.
* After harvest is finished for June-bearing plants, mow off the foliage (don’t damage the crown) to prevent leaf diseases and encourage strong plant growth.
* Berries appear ripe one month after blossoms have started to appear.
* Pick strawberries with the stems and caps on and place them in a shallow container (3-4 layers deep). Morning is the best time to pick strawberries.
* Refrigerate strawberries as soon as possible after picking and don’t wash them or remove the caps until use.
* Strawberries are ok for 4-5 days in the refrigerator.
* If there are moldy or rotted strawberries, dispose of them away from the strawberry plants.

Patio bed after planting strawberries

Patio bed after planting strawberries

I am hopeful that we will have a nice crop of strawberries next year.

Building Raised Beds

This year, we added raised beds to our vegetable garden. This is not an activity that can be done in a day (particularly when you have kids), nor is it cheap. I’m sure some people find creative ways to make easy/cheap raised beds, but they would need to have a rare mix of resourcefulness and energy. However, despite the labor and costs required, we managed to put together some beds which will hopefully last a good number of years.

Why Raised Beds?

Last year, we had our vegetable garden right in the ground. It worked, but there were some frustrations which we thought raised beds could overcome.

The benefits of raised bed gardens are that:

Finished Raised Beds(1) The area is more set apart so people remember not to trample the garden and compact the soil. It can be difficult to remember where the edges of the garden beds were. I put some string between the garden beds and aisles, within the 14×16-feet fenced garden area, but the string didn’t last long. It was difficult to bring my kids over the rabbit fence because they didn’t remember where not to step. I don’t blame them, the weeds didn’t know where they belonged either.

(2) Good gardening soil can be added on top of existing poor soil providing a nice deep growing medium. I had been trying to improve the soil by working in manure and leaves, but since I didn’t know the history of our yard or what the soil composition was, adding good soil on top would make the garden deeper and more nutrient-rich.

(3) Square foot gardening can be implemented so that plants are grown close together and block out sun from weeds. Last year, I assigned plants homes in the garden almost randomly. It was hard to know how close together to plant them or to keep track of which locations seeds had been planted in. But when you look at a raised bed garden foot-by-foot, it makes it easier to plan ahead what to plant where, to maximize how many vegetables are grown in the space, and to fill in areas of soil where weeds would hope to grow.

Materials

The first thing we did for our raised bed project was to gather the materials we would need. We watched for a sale, and then went to buy the most expensive part: the cedar boards (cedar is a good wood as it is slow to rot). We wanted to enclose two garden beds, each 4×16-feet, with a brace in the center. Although I wanted the beds to be as deep as possible, we settled on 8-inches to keep the cost down. We decided that we needed to rent a truck to bring the wood home, since our car wasn’t long enough to transport 16-foot boards. We also needed deck screws to put the boards together and a new drill bit.

Cost of Raised Beds:
===================================
Cedar Board 2x8x16′ (4 @ $38.87 each, less 11% rebate, with tax): $145.99
Cedar Board 2x8x8′ (2 @ $19.44 each, each cut in half, less 11% rebate, with tax, ): $36.51
Cedar Board 2x2x8′ (1 @ $4.44, cut in half, less 11% rebate, with tax): $5.21
Rental Pickup (to deliver the boards home): $23.68
Deck Screws (Triple Coated 3.5″ #9, 55-count): $7.08
Countersink Drill Bit (#10, 1/8″ pilot, less 11% rebate, with tax): $4.19
===================================
Total: $222.66

The other component of the materials was to fill the beds. The Square Foot Gardening book by Mel Bartholomew recommends to fill a raised bed with 1/3 compost (5 different kinds), 1/3 agricultural-grade vermiculite, and 1/3 peat moss. We didn’t do that exactly, but we got it filled.

We had Terry Benjamin deliver Purple Cow Compost (3 yards) and Mulch. We used 1 yard of the compost for the raised beds and the rest was for another project.

Terry Benjamin delivered Purple Cow Compost. We used about 1 yard for the raised beds (remaining materials were for another project).

Cost of Growing Medium:
===================================
Layer of Leaves: free
Layer of Homemade Compost: free
Purple Cow Classic Organic Compost (~1 cubic yard, with tax): $68.58
Compost Delivery Fee (with tax): $31.65
Vermiculite (1.5 cubic feet, 2 @ $13.99 at Menard’s, less 11% rebate, with tax): $26.27
Vermiculite (4 cubic feet from The Bruce Company, with tax): $34.80
Peat Moss (2.2 cubic feet compressed, 4 @ $7.49, less 11% rebate, with tax): $28.13
===================================
Total: $189.43

Adding in the cost of the rabbit fence, it becomes clear that a garden is not cheap. However, if you consider that it costs about the same as 1-2 months of grocery shopping and will produce healthy food for years, it doesn’t sound unreasonable. When my kids ask for a snack and I’m able to pick fresh vegetables from our backyard to give them, you might even say that’s priceless.

Assembling the Beds

If you’ve done a lot of woodwork, you probably could figure out how to put the frame together. However, if you’re new to DIY wood work projects like we are, here’s an explanation of how we made it work for us.

The raised beds after being screwed together and placed within the rabbit fenced area.

The raised beds after being screwed together and placed within the rabbit fenced area.

To put the beds together, we made a template on a piece of paper with holes so that we could mark each piece of wood without a ruler (an 8-inch board is more like 7 3/8-inches wide, so measuring holes over and over isn’t fun). My husband inserted 3 screws at each corner, except for two corners where there were knots: there we skipped doing a hole in the middle. We put the 2×2 brace at the halfway point of the frame using one screw on each side. The countersink drill bit allowed us to insert the screws to be flush with the wood. Assembly was done in our garage on a tarp, so that we knew we had a clean level surface.

On March 30, we assembled the first raised bed. On April 5, we assembled the second raised bed. We then carried and placed the beds within the rabbit fence (it was a tight fit). We measured to make sure they were spaced evenly with the aisles.

Leveling the Beds

Just when you think that the raised beds are finished, you realize that your garden is by no means level. You never know that you have a hill in your backyard until you set the raised beds down and find that they look crooked. I wanted the beds to appear orderly and prevent water from running downhill, so the beds would need to be level.

There are two options I observed for leveling a raised bed. You can either lower one of the sides by removing soil, or raise the other side by adding some kind of support (soil, brick, rock, piece of wood). If you lower the frame, there will be less empty space inside (since the existing soil will rise). If you raise the frame, there will be more space inside to fill. We did a little of both, constantly pulling out a level to check our progress and standing back to see how it looked as a whole. We spent a couple weeks tweaking how level the beds were in relation to each other and the slope of the land.

Filling the Beds

Next, we needed to fill the garden beds. This was no small task either. After we purchased the materials, they had to be hauled to the garden beds. Our rabbit fence around the garden does not have a gate, since at 30-inches we can step over it easily enough. But when we need to add about 85 cubic feet (3.15 cubic yards) of materials, then you start to wish you could just push a wheelbarrow right up to the beds.

Spring planting is underway in our new raised beds.

Spring planting is underway in our new raised beds.

The bed had been a mix of top soil, manure, compost, and leaves from last year. Over the winter, many leaves were added on top for insulation. Some of these new leaves were moved to the aisles and some were mixed into the soil. We also mixed in some mostly finished compost from our compost bin. Next, we added the peat moss (16.4 cubic yards when uncompressed) and agricultural vermiculite (7 cubic yards). Finally, we filled the rest of the bed’s volume with Purple Cow Classic Organic Compost (about 1 cubic yard). We were pleased with the compost. Last year we had purchased some compost from the Bruce Company, and comparing the two, the Purple Cow compost has a finer consistency (no large chunks except wood chips). Both compost orders had some garbage in them (plastic bits, banana stickers). The finer consistency of Purple Cow would prove helpful for planting time.

Spring is Here!

And so, we managed to finish the garden beds in time to start early spring planting. Despite the costs and labor involved, I know it will all be worth it when we are picking fresh vegetables. Time will tell if we decide to add more raised beds in the future. We’ll see how the garden does this year.