Friday, February 15, 2008

The First Bed

On the fourth day, we got a big ol' truckload full of topsoil from a local garden center. I didn't take a lot of pictures, because it was on a Monday and Will picked the soil up on the way home from work, so we were boogying to get the frame filled before dark.

First, we placed two of the frames parallel to the house to form the entryway of the garden. We had planned to run the frames perpendicular to the house to take advantage of the path of the sun through our yard. (Our front door faces almost directly east.) However, our miscalculations (say it with me: math is hard!) meant that a perpendicular presentation would put us climbing over the rosemary bush (which we elected not to move) to get the rest of the garden. And while I basically climbed in it to get the full shot of Herb Bed One, it wasn't too happy with me about the whole thing. Also, we'd have to put some of the frames into the yard which would mean more tilling and Will giving up a precious strip of his grass. (Sigh.) I'm a bit worried about what this means for corn planting and shadows, but I'll try to put my corn on the north end of the farthest north beds and see what happens.

About the frames: we (again, I mean Will) built them from untreated two by tens. We chose untreated wood because even if they don't last as long, we won't run the risk of seasoning our peas with arsenic and other unsavory chemicals. The jury is out about this: there are some who say that the chemicals that leach from treated wood used in garden beds bind with the soil and therefore are less apt to be absorbed into the plants. I opted not to take a chance. It's true that my frames won't last as long, but if this experiment works, I'll probably replace them with stone or cement blocks, anyway. The Vegetable Gardener's Bible suggests using two by twelves, but I couldn't justify the almost three dollar difference in price for another two inches. We (Will) built and/or is building four eight feet by three feet frames and three six feet by three feet frames.

After laying the frames on the tilled soil, I used a spading fork (which looks a lot like an eating fork--don't use a regular pitchfork to do this) to further loosen the subsoil, which around here is basically hard red clay. I went about 8 inches down past the four or so inches of tilled soil and I was careful not to step on the soil inside the frame. I just rocked the tines back and forth to loosen the clay...I did not turn it over. Then I handed over the spading fork to Will and went to go get the topsoil.

Will's fullsized pickup was able to carry enough topsoil to fill one and a half eight by three frames. It cost about $16 for this load. We're actually going to get a bigger load delivered on Saturday or Monday. More fuel and cost efficient. We elected not to use a mix of potting soil and topsoil. I didn't want anything non-organic (in the carbon-based sense, not chemical-laden sense) in my dirt, and some planting soil has styrofoam balls in it. Plus, it was ten dollars more expensive. I filled the frame with topsoil all the way to the top. Then I added an entire bag of some water saver chips. This is basically coarse compost. I'm going to be adding my own compost to the beds as the weather gets warmer...the composting is going slowly now. I mounded the whole messy wodge of dirt an inch or so higher than the top edge of the bed. The soil will settle and I'd be displacing some of it with plants.

Now came the fun part: planting!

I filled the first bed with all of my culinary herbs: marjoram (oregano's wild cousin), sorrel (Jeffrey eats the sour stuff like lettuce, although I'm still searching for a recipe I can use it to cook with), thyme, bay (moving a plant from a pot in my front flower bed), chives, and bronze fennel. I actually might take the fennel out. I've never used it, although I think it is gorgeous and every year the swallowtail zebra caterpillars come out and munch on it, giving us lots of entertainment. I also transplanted my poor leeks again. Bless their hearts. Daddy gave them to me, thinking they were garlic. I let them get killed down to nothing in one drought after basically just sticking them in the ground in a very clay-y section of the garden. I moved them last year in the middle of the season to a different spot, at which point in time they died back to nothing. They came up again a few weeks ago, so I'm hoping they'll revive themselves for the summer. I think they make a pretty divider between the cooking herbs and the tea herbs, which are right now limited to a lemon balm that was basically forced into submission by my insane lavender last year and the catnip that refuses to die. It's the fifth or sixth generation of catnip I brought to The Manor from The Lovenest, our tiny little first house. I also plopped the volunteer lettuces in.

To the culinaries, I'll add basil, dill, cumin, parsley, garlic, horseradish, and cutting celery. I also might throw in some Greek or Cuban oregano (although I'm put off by the fatness of the leaf--anybody use this stuff for cooking?) and some lovage. I'd like to put in some orange mint, but it's sometimes hard to find. I like this mint in spaghetti sauce and it's not as invasive as some of the other mints. I'm going to get some Vietnamese coriander, as well, but it's crazy-invasive, so I'm going to stick it in the ground next to our garden hose, as it also likes damp soil. This is a great plant for warm climates--it has the taste of coriander (cilantro, whatever) with a peppery aftertaste AND it's a perennial. It goes wonderfully in all of the recipes that call for cilantro. Any other suggestions? (And keep in mind that although the raised-bed method allows for a good deal of stuffing in of plants, I'll be using the bed opposite this one for more herbs as well as lettuces, so I'm open to a LOT of suggestions.)

For the teas, I'm putting in chamomile and anise hyssop. I might sink a pot or two of apple or chocolate mint, but I'm wary of the invasiveness of it. I welcome any suggestions for good tea plants. I have lemon balm, as I said, but I really don't care for the taste of it--it seems sort of soapy to me. I do like to grind the leaves in the disposal to freshen it up, though, and I think it's a pretty plant.
I left the lavender in the wheelbarrow for now. I'm planning a medicinal/cosmetic herb bed for another section of the yard which will contain the lavender AND soapwort, meadowsweet, calendula, echinacea, feverfew, and maybe some elacampane.

Today I'll be buying some seeds online (it's too late to start seeds indoors here, probably, but I'm hoping that with my new and improved kickass soil, I'll have better luck with direct sowing than in the past) and checking out the lettuces available at our local nurseries. I'm feeling very excited about the garden this year.

Isn't it pretty so far?

1 comment:

S. Hartwell Brooks said...

i love your picture. it's really cool. nice focus.