When I left off in the last post about veggie bed building, our new beds were mostly dug, and we were getting ready to fill the soil back in. They looked like this:
And then it rained. And they looked like this:
And after a few days, they looked like this:
The silver lining of this unseasonably big rainstorm in the middle of this build is that we saw how poor our drainage is. If the weather had stayed dry, we would have just put in the gopher wire, filled the soil back in with amendments and planted the beds. Then when the first winter rain hit next year, all our plants would have drowned. The standing water would have been below the surface of the beds, hiding the problem. It would have taken quite a while to figure out why our plants were dead. So, even though it caused a big delay in fininshing the build as we drained the beds and put in drainage for the future, it saved us a million headaches.
The culprit here is our super heavy clay soil. The first foot or so of our soil is ok, but below that is a khaki gray colored dense mass not unlike the clay we buy at the ceramics store. Even though I was focused on getting the veggie beds in, I was tempted to make some pots from the clay we were diging up. (I still might.)
We dug channels to drain the standing water:
Hard work, I can tell you. I've got some pretty good caluses going from all this!
We dug trenches down the middle of each bed that we filled with gravel to help the beds drain. They connect to a series of channels that will eventually lead to our flower beds downhill from the veggies. And you can see here the all-important gopher wire!
Below is probably the hardest part of the project. We used the flagstones from the old patio to build raised bed walls. Getting them to fit was a serious puzzle, one that required moving 40 pound rocks over and over to find just the right spot for each one.
In the middle of all this, our daughter found a newborn fawn hiding behind our shed. We looked up some best practices, FYI, and the consensus is not to touch a fawn if you find one. Mama is probably nearby and will come find it, and if it smells like human, she might reject it. In our case we were a bit worried because the fawn was just inside the fence that keeps adult deer out. (It must have shimmied through the space at the bottom of the fence.) We tried to shoo it back through the fence, but it wouldn't go. So we just left it and by the next morning it was gone. I hope it found its way back to Mom!
Once the beds were built, we began the process of refilling. We ordered 2.5 yards of amendments from our local landscape supply company to jumpstart the process of improving our heavy, poor soil.
Because we live on a hill, and our backyard is up many stairs, the amendments came up to the beds via 5-gallon bucket loads. A lot of them. (And in case you're wondering why the mask: carrying a bucket of dusty amendment right below your face as you huff and puff up stairs leads to lots of coughing.)
Finally (finally!) the beds are finished.
And I've begun planting them!
And here is the view of the beds this morning, about 2 weeks after we finished the build and got the first plants in:
The tomatoes have grown like crazy, and the greens (lettuce, chard, mizuna, arugula) and herbs (basil, cilantro, parsley) are just starting to take off.
You may also notice the large pile of soil in the background. And if you look closely you can see that between the soil pile and the little marking sticks is a track. Once we got the veggies planted, we got started building a track to loop through the yard. Because once you've got your shovels out, why not?
Though it's not particularly horticultural, the backyard track will certainly be a major garden feature. And even though it's not fully built yet, we've been getting a lot of wiggles out by going round and round on foot and on bikes. A necessary garden feature? Hardly. But for us, now, when we're at home quite a lot (!) it's turning out to be pretty great. More on tracks in future posts.
But for now, we'll close the story on building veggie beds. Time will tell if we built them right. For now they're doing great, but spring is easy. Late summer will test if they hold water well. (Holding water was the reason we dug them down as well as having some soil raised.) Winter will test if they drain. And years will tell us how our soil building goes. We'll post updates as we go along. Thanks for reading and taking this trip with us!
Nice looking beds! Glad you discovered the drainage issue now, that would have been frustrating down the road. We had to relocate some garden beds in a previous house because we had no idea drainage was so bad in part of the yard – we had standing water inches deep around the beds. Thankfully we had an area that was just a bit higher that we were able to use.