Friday, May 25, 2012

Gardening In Raised Beds

Today I put in the squash and pumpkins. Since the soil here is nothing but clay, we use raised beds. Raised beds allow us to control the soil the vegetables grow in and we can tailor it to the needs of the plant. Here is a picture of one of my raised beds left over from last year.

I use a unique method of preparing and managing the garden. It's different from 99% of the gardens around the world but I bet you'll find it can really help you succeed with your garden. One of the key differences in how I manage my garden is bug control.  I aim for minimal to no bug damage each year. However, I don't use chemicals for bug control, even organic ones. This requires a completely different way of looking at the problem of bug control. Let me explain how you can garden bug free too!  

The first step to keeping bugs under control is good soil.  If you read Mel Bartholomew's New SquareFoot Gardening book, he states that good soil is a mixture of 1/3 organics (read that to mean compost), 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 vermiculite. I agree with and follow his advice. Just add the mixture in the amounts listed to prepare the soil if you are starting from scratch.  Think of it as a one time investment. If you have already created your raised beds, you can continue to improve your soil by adding compost. Even if you don't use raised beds, you can still greatly improve your soil by following Mel's advice and adding the ingredients above as well.  Don't worry if you don't have a compost pile, you can easily purchase bags of compost at a local gardening center.  However, it is much cheaper and easier to make your own.  Look for a post on how start your own compost pile next week.

So, to refresh the soil from last year's garden, you need to add soil amendments.  I added compost and a bit of 10-10-10- fertilizer.  The fertilizer was in support of my favorite squash. Since squash are heavy feeders they'll need additional fertilizer throughout the season.  Mix the amendments into the soil and rake flat.  Since our summers are hot and can be dry as well, I added a soaker hose.  Here is a picture.

This is where I break with conventional gardening practices. The next step is to cover the entire bed with aluminum foil (shiney side up). I haven't seen this technique covered in many other blogs or gardening books, but it really does work great!  It keeps the bugs away. Here is a picture of the bed half covered.

It is a little hard to see in this picture, but the aluminum foil is simply taped together using regular scotch tape. I placed about a 2" piece of tape every 2 - 2 1/2 feet.  I also stapled the foil to the wood of the raised bed.  Here is a close up of the staples.  The image isn't too clear the sun was shining directly on the foil. But, you can still make out two of the staples.

What exactly is the aluminum foil doing?  Well, the foil confuses bugs that want to land on the leaves and deposit their eggs.  The bugs can't figure out which side is the underside of the leaves because the sun appears to be shining on both sides. They move on to an easier plant.  This treatment works extremely well for squash vine borers, squash and stink bugs and mexican bean beatles.  Unfortunately, all of these pests are in great supply where I live.  My raised bed is about 25 feet long. It took four passes to cover the whole bed.  I bought a 250 sq ft roll of aluminum foil on sale last Christmas (purchased with coupons!) and I used half the roll. All together it cost me just a few dollars to cover the 25 foot long bed. It is a lot cheaper (and safer) than spraying chemical pesticides all season long. 

Once the beds are covered, you can plant your seeds. Poke a hole in the aluminium foil where you want to put the seed.  Make the hole fairly large to accomodate the seed and let the sun shine on the soil.  Here is what mine looks like.  Remember, I only planted squash and pumpkins in this section.

The last step is to poke some drainage holes in the foil so water will seep in when it rains.  Go easy on the poking, you don't really need too many holes.  The rain will find the soil through the gaps in the foil. What I do is spray the foil with the hose and see where the water is standing in puddles. Then, I poke holes there. I use a fork to keep the holes small.

If you have a plant that requires additional feeding throughout the summer, you can add fertilizer in the gaps in the aluminum foil.  Be careful with the application and you shouldn't have to worry about tearing the foil.  If you accidently do tear the foil, just cover it with scotch tape.  I am amazed each year how well the scotch tape holds.  It doesn't have to hold forever, just until the plants appear. Once they start to come in, the weight of the plants will hold the foil down.  I have yet to require a large repair job. The foil just seems to stay in place. 

This works so well, I know I won't see any bugs at all until late August.  That is when the leaves grow so large that they completely cover the foil and the sun can't reach it.  At this point, I start spraying, if necessary.  However, I don't use conventional sprays.  My motto is, "If you can't eat it, don't spray it on the vegetables!"  I promise I will cover what to do about bugs in a future post.  In the meantime if you have a bug problem, email me and I will be happy to help. 

Happy Gardening!

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