Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Raised Garden Beds

Alright, so let’s talk about these garden beds.
This is a post for those of you who like to hear my brain tick away. 
These beds took A LOT of round and round and round, both in planning and executing.

You know me, I think very hard about things. And you’ve probably also picked up on me really wanting to get things right.

This is the story of all that inside this garden. It came out good, but the journey was bumpy.

We have a nice sized yard, but it’s not huge. And I didn’t want it to start feeling cramped and I wanted it to have lots of running space for the kids. So I really wanted to plan it right -- both in form and function.

When starting this gardening idea...I came up with about 14 different complete plans, at least, for how to get one in our yard and ruled them out for one reason or another.

I thought about wood raised beds (a lot) but they weren’t cheap, and they would have rot issues over time. And I didn’t feel great about using treated lumber for food growing, so I ruled that out.

For a couple unsupervised days I thought about making concrete beds. But when Blake came back into town, after that work trip, he told me that was not structurally sound. That was was a bummer because I was excited about that look.

After a lot of back and forth, I went with the galvanized stock tank option. It was cheaper than some lumber options (SOOOO MUCH cheaper than cedar!) and it was much more durable.

Now I had to really strain here for the visual. Pinterest has many depiction's of these tanks as gardens, but no one had really gone and painted them. (I found a couple but they were random -- like bronze, which didn’t help me “see” mine.) But it was pretty much just natural-silver visuals. 
Which is super cute in the right spot. But for my backyard it felt like a misstep to me. I just thought our house is more formal, and less farmy and I couldn’t find the line to ride to get that to connect together here.

I saw a couple bathtubs on Pinterest that were stock tanks painted and that was really the only thing I had to prove I wasn’t doing something ugly to myself. But those were smooth in the center, without the ridges mine have. And of course, I have to love the smooth ones a lot, because there is no easy way for me to get those to my house. So I was trying to convince myself these would work. It was kinda tense for me inside. Because this wasn’t a thift-store-makeover-price-tag, so I didn’t want to mess it up.

But we went for it. It really was the most rational option for us.

The other thing I thought way too hard about WHERE to put these.
My first thought had nothing to do with where they ended up. My first concept was to get a much longer single tank and have it parallel to the fence. The thinking being it would leave the yard more open and free for playing.

I spent about a week drawing that on paper, staring out the window squinting it into existence, walking the space, measuring the space, drawing it again. And I couldn’t get it to feel right. After enough of this, I also realized that, that location didn’t get a full day of sun, which most produce wants.

After enough Pinterest and head scratching, I decided that I would actually do best to have them just outside the patio. That area gets the most sun. And I decided it would do that designer suggestion of "trying to create rooms outside.” And it still leaves a lot of running space down the middle. (Our climber dome is moveable, so it floats around the yard.)
Once I had that idea, I knew it needed to be one big in the middle, flanked by two smaller.
I checked and our local Farm and Fleet store had 6x2x2 tanks and 4x2x2 tanks, and that became our solution.

When we got them home, I was doing my very normal move, of second guessing and over thinking my instincts. I thought maybe I should leave them silver, it was kind of stunning after all. And my fear was once you paint it, it’s painted forever -- so what if I was wrong!?!? 
So I was very nervous. I may never have made up my mind, but then the sun started shining on them and it was like staring into a mirror, aimed at the sun. And I thought “No one will want to be near the patio like this!” (Including inside the family room window!) So that made my mind up. I would paint them.

Next Blake drilled a bunch of holes in the bottom for drainage. And then I started painting. 
I had some Rustoleum Satin Black (in a quart, not a spray paint) and thought two things, 1) That I had enough paint, and 2) that satin was where it was at.

Well, I ran out of paint. And Blake was kind enough to go get me some more, only that store didn’t have satin, it had semigloss. I didn’t answer my phone so he brought it home.

I kinda pouted and got nervous, but decided to just use it so I could finish. (I got epic sunburn by the way -- I painted them out in the sun and they were reflecting tons of extra sun on me. And for some reason I didn’t think to use Sunscreen!) I covered them all with semigloss and then stood back. For about 30 seconds I was happy. And then all of a sudden I knew it wasn’t right. But for about a day I was trying to convince myself it was good -- “They started shiny, they should stay shiny," I kept telling myself. But it was just getting under my skin... like a pebble in your shoe on a hike. It had to be fixed before I lost my mind.
I did all sorts of googling of paint sheen options trying to see what to do. Because I was no longer sure about satin. 
There is some kind of small crowd fixation on painting cars flat black with spray paint cans? Who knew! But that really helped me see what I wanted.  So I bought flat black and crossed my fingers, because at this point I was VERY concerned that what I hated was the stock tanks themselves.

It was rainy, so we brought all three into the sunroom so I could fix them up and not wait on the weather.
(By the way, notice I did paint into the upper part of the inside, so that the interior would also be black)

Thankfully, as soon as it started drying my world started to feel right again. Flat black is what we need!

Here’s a picture illustrating the difference (I missed a spot and had to go back -- it’s hard to know what you’ve hit and haven’t when everything is the same color.)

So at this point I’m happy, and annoyed, because I keep yelling at myself in my head things like “How can someone paint something the same exact color three times in a row? Who does that!??”
I do!
But I am GLAD I did. That flat black is SOOO good. That semi-gloss (in this application) was SOOO bad.

And something I very much appreciate is that the flat black under-emphasises the middle ridges I wish weren’t there. Where as the semi-gloss was like florescent arrow pointing at them.

Ok, now they are painted.

Next frustrating thing. 
Getting them full of dirt.

I’m going to spare you (and me -- I don’t want to relive it all) the random things that tried to foil our plans of getting a lot of dirt. But the biggest one was delivery of dirt was booked up until July. And we needed to get stuff planted.

We debated ways to need less dirt, like false bottoms,pool noodles at the bottom etc. But we saw no cost savings, or any pros in our situation, so we just decided to get a LOT of dirt.

Finally Blake tracked down a u-hual pickup truck and brought it over to our Landscape Recycling Center and got two loads of dirt. And dumped them in our driveway. (To save time on the rental fee.)

Then after that he and the kids (they were so pumped! Of course their contribution was small, but they LOVED every second of it) filled wheel barrow, after wheel barrow and filled up the tanks. (While I silently fretted over the paint getting scraped off -- which did not happen! Yay!)

Awesome! We can have a garden now!
First time in adulthood, this is soo exciting.

BUT….umm…..I don’t know what I’m doing with plants. So now what?
Me being me, I REALLY want this to look pretty, not just grow some food. Especially now that I placed it front and center of the patio.

I stressed. I Pinterested. I brainstormed foods we would eat. And then I came up with a layout.
I’m pretty lucky this turned out, because I was really going on nothing but “pretty” I do not know about plants yet.

Case in point. I came home from Lowes with only seeds the day before Memorial Day, thinking I’d grow some tomatoes.
Come to find out (says the package and the internet) you have to start tomatoes before it’s warm out, inside, then transplant them.

Lydia is about to lose her mind now.  

"I seriously CANNOT keep messing this project up. I’m just never going to win this. What if I spent all this time and money getting this set up, and then the seeds don’t turn into anything, and I just have 3 black containers of dirt in my yard?!? This project was a HORRIBLE idea. I should never have tried to have a garden!!”

After trying to speak in rational sentences of discussing why I need to go get other plants that are already started with Blake, he talked me down and into trying again the next day.

So on Memorial Day I went to Walmart. I’ll tell you this -- their prices a much better than Lowes. 
Lowes packets of seeds all run around $2.50 a package (give or take -- each type has it’s own price.) At Walmart the same package was probably $1.75 ish. BUT They have some value brands that cost just $0.20 a package. 
So overall I was able to get started plants of cherry tomoatoes, regular tomatoes, 2 kinds of cucumbers and zucchini plus more seeds (And a random fern for the porch) and some marigolds for the same price as just seeds at Lowes. (I returned those.)

OK. Now I have a garden. 
I have some faith that at least the started plants will grow, even if the seeds don’t sprout.
(For some reason I was sure the would not.)
Ok now I’m also banking on getting the stuff in the middle bed to trellis up, since that’s the only way they will fit.
So I need a trellis.
You should be in no way surprised to hear this was also a very difficult thing to get right.
I kept looking online and finding something that looked good, and said was in stock in store and then find out it’s not. I handled it better than before, but I was still super bummed. FINALLY I found these trellises at Farm and Fleet. They are by far my favorite look of what I had seen AND they were on clearance for $14 each. 
So at last I’m starting to get that accomplished feeling!!

For tomato supports, I also went through the ringer on that one. Tried all sorts of things. Bought a few things and took them back because they didn’t look right. And I could not bring myself to use a regular tomato cage here. I tried it to start with and it looked pathetic in my “art garden.”

Finally I landed on sticks from my yard and twine. It looks good and right. But I’m not totally sure it’s going to cut it for support. I may need to add more, or redo it since the plants are getting so big, and I placed it when they were young. Or I’ll have to keep shopping for something else.
Like I said, I’m a newbie -- I have no clue how big these will get.

I added Marigolds to the front for a few reasons. 1) Looks 2) It’s supposed to be helpful for pollination 3) They are supposed to help keep away misquotes.

I choose yellow over orange because I’ve always liked yellow with black and I vaguely remembered vegetable flowers being yellow, so I thought it would coordinate.

I was really glad I added these because they really helped make the beds nice before the plants all grew in.

So yeah I got these planted on Memorial Day, and they have really shocked me with how fast the grow. It’s amazing!
Like I said last time  --- my delight is helping the cucumbers trellis each morning and evening. (They can change so much in a day!) I’ve gotten really good at understanding the plant and knowing when I can bend the vines and when they aren’t in that phase. And it blows my mind when it can find the next thing to grab all on it’s own. It’s such a fun past time for me.

So yeah, what else do I have out here?
In my first bed I have a cherry tomato plant on each side. 
Ruby, my middle daughter, especially loves cherry tomatoes I’m excited for these and her.
Between them is a bell pepper plant.
Through the middle I planted rainbow carrots. They should have orange carrots, white carrots and purple carrots in there. Pretty excited about that. And the girls love purple, so I’m hoping they will be excited about it. But you know, if you are gonna grow carrots, why not grow cool carrots?
The front, between the Marigolds is chives -- but those haven’t done very much -- so I’m not sure about them.


In the middle bed I have:
To the far left pickling cucumbers. Jasmine is hoping we can make our own pickles this year. I’m excited to try -- it’s another first.
Then some normal cucumbers.
Then zucchini.
Then string beans. 
So I read that zucchini would trellis but mine isn’t. I googled some more and I guess there are two kinds, and I must have gotten the mounding type. But I’ve just been shoving them into the trellis anyway and it’s doing pretty good -- so I’m calling it a victory for a newbie.

These beans are NOT trellising, so wrong kind again. Oh well.
Still looks pretty though.
And I’m letting some cucumbers grow over onto the other one to fill it in.
Honestly, now that they’ve grown to the top in some places, I’m not sure what they will do. I’ll find out! Maybe they will be able to climb back down?
In my third bed I have two regular tomato plants. I was hopping for Roma but couldn’t find those, so they are just some kind of big hybrid something.
In the center I planted two kinds of lettuce, but only this one grew -- and it took over, so I guess that’s fine.
In the back I planted flat leave parsley. I love making this one kind of “salsa” with it.
In the front I had chives again, but they are so scrawny.
Here come some tomatoes! It’s very exciting.

So my fears of this garden not working out (on repeat) were wrong.

Another lesson in mistakes are not failures, just lessons and motivation to get you where you want to be.

But yeah -- that’s my story of my seemingly endless up hill battle to get a garden that I love.
I forgot how hard it was until I started writing this. 
It really was exhausting.

But everyday since the plants have started growing has been so magical that I’ve just wiped it all away and go out and thrill over the plants.
I didn’t know I had a plant love in me. I thought I would just be tolerating them. But I’m a plant lady now. They really bring me joy and peace.
This garden is definitely a happy place.


  1. I bet your chives will explode next year! We planted some last year and they were scrawny and sad, but this year they are huge and luscious!


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