I’ve finally made some progress, however meager, towards a garden. Mike at Murphy’s nursery is happy to make and sell redwood garden beds. If you’re local and wouldn’t get around to building them yourself, give him a call. I was getting a few and live close by, so he threw in delivery. The above photo shows my splurge of four 8′ x 4′ ready-made raised beds.
Critters of every shape and size are a natural part of living in the mountains. If you hope to harvest any vegetables, then screen on the bottom of your beds is a necessity. Voles – burrowing Meadow mice – are pretty small as are the burrow holes in my on my property. I went with hardware cloth; chicken wire, although less expensive, won’t last long and I for one would not want to have to dig up the beds to replace the wire after only a year. As I want these to last as long as humanly possible, I painted them with Thompson’s water seal.
The hardware cloth comes in 4 foot rolls so you need to add a strip to the edge for full coverage and then twist wire to connect the pieces (or use rings/connectors made for dear/animal fence). Leaving a space the animals could get through defeats the whole purpose of installing the wire.
Next up was installing hoops to extend the season I can grow in the raised beds. Floating row cover, greenhouse plastic or shade cloth can go over the hoops as needed. My plan is for floating row cover as I’ve used it before and really like the stuff. The Winter Harvest Handbook discusses more on extending your season with row covers or check out About.com. I may also cover one bed’s hoops with chicken wire as I don’t know if I’ll be able to get the deer fencing up before winter and I’m hoping to get a few winter crops (kale is a-ok with snow) from one bed this season. The others will be prepped (with lovely things like cow manure) and left to rest over the winter with the row cover placed on towards the end of winter. In my previous warmer zone, I used the overwintering bed to start cuttings – fig trees and roses were so easy to start there. I may give a few hardwood cuttings a go here as well. It’s so easy – just snip some branches and stick them in the bed (without the manure or have the rich manured soil at the bottom of the bed). If they sprout in spring you have plants – if not, no harm no foul. There are oodles of You Tube videos on starting plants – here’s one on easy hardwood cuttings.
When living in the bay area, I was one of those avid gardeners constantly starting cuttings and trading plants, swapping seeds and hitting the plant sales and garden tours (can you say obsessive? Case in point – my seed collection; these photos not showing the jars or shopping bags in the garage that also have seed. A friend was giving my seed away for free on her website, she’s moved and the garden clubs here are only for ladies of leisure who can meet on a weekday morning. That leaves me out and my collection grows). But hey – buying some seed is $4.95 for 5 or 10 seeds (eek if you do a lot, and if the snails get it or damping off if you grow inside – so sad. I can be relaxed and cavalier – if it doesn’t work it’s just food for the compost. When you get thousands of seed from one snapdragon, it’s ok if the birds get a few of your seedlings). A lot of my seed is multiple years old – most seed is fine if kept out of sun and kept dry. Every now and then there are plants that need fresh seed. You can test your seed by pre-sprouting – roll some in a piece of damp paper towel and place in a sealed baggie – then see if it sprouts (you can plant that sprout if you don’t let it dry out at all in the transplanting). Now that I’m making progress, my optimism and enthusiasm is back as I plan for offspring of favored plants from my previous home – even with the awareness that I may just be creating a lovely salad bar for the local wildlife as they are truly persistent.
With the beds, thought I’d need to pre-drill the holes to mount the pipe, but the 8 x 1 wood screws went in easily. They attach ½ inch two hole pipe straps that hold the ½ inch PVC pipe in place. My plan had been for two pipe straps at each end of PVC, but I found that one anchors them pretty securely so I’ll start with that. Eight-foot long PVC gives the rise you see here. I’m debating about doing some beds lower.
I’m planning now for winter sowing. There is so much material out there – I prefer photos (good shot to get the idea) and suggest you scan this Flickr Search. The bottom line is “no stress seed starting”. My preferred method is the milk jug method – forget all those plastic bags, cheap coolers and plastic boxes.
Most folks time this around the winter solstice; now’s the time to start saving and prepping your milk jugs. Cut most of the way around a milk jug and get some holes in the bottom. Add soil, water thoroughly, seeds, water lightly, label, close (I use a small piece of duck tape), leave the cap off and place outside – a spot with morning sun works best for me so if I get an occasional scorcher day in the winter, they’ll survive.
I get busy (notice how consistently I post 🙂 ) so pretty much completely ignore the jugs until spring. If I had weeks of dry warm weather – I’d check if they need water. These hold more soil and if I can’t get to planting them out right away, I can just cut off the lids and let them grow on a tad. If you use food trays, you don’t have as much space for soil and they can overheat more easily, you’ll have to be fast at transplanting once they get going. I have used food containers successfully, just find the milk to be easier. Also, one row of milk jugs along the driveway or portion of the yard is not horrid for the neighbors to view. The idea is, if it’s not a tropical/warm climate seed, it will enjoy the winter chill, sprout earlier given the small hothouse environment and be a pretty hardy seedling as opposed to something nurtured with warmth and lights that must be carefully hardened off to survive. People do warm climate seeds – just set those out in early spring. I’ve done this multiple times, in both my previous zone 9/sunset 14 (no snow) and my current zone 7 – it works well, takes very little effort or expense and yields volumes of plants. If you check out the Gardenweb board, you’ll notice folks have an acronym – HOS (hunk o’ seedling as many folks just transplant hunks and don’t bother with thinning). They also swap seed there and have a FAQ with decent instructions.
Time to get back to work!
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