too many words by laura lemay

The Great Garden Enbiggenment of 2016

When we moved into this house in 1997 there was a small fenced-in area outside the kitchen door that was planted in fruit trees. Over the years I’ve removed all of the fruit trees (most of which never did very well, or died on their own), expanded the fence area, added many raised beds, and built the chicken yard and the chicken coop at the back of the garden. When the time comes to inventory my lifetime accomplishments I can say that I wrote a few books, I blogged a little, and also I built a huge vegetable garden with no help from heavy equipment or any other people.

For the last couple years I’ve been working off of a multi-year master plan to finally finish building the garden. Once a few years back when I was super bored on a Sunday I made this animated GIF:

Since this is 2016, this year’s plan is to move the right-side fence out four feet, and replace two older raised beds with three new ones. This is what I’ve been working on for the last few months instead of starting vegetables from seed.

The two beds I’m replacing this year — the grey boxes in the upper right corner of the plan — are beds I installed in the original garden a year or so after we moved in. Unlike the redwood beds I’ve put in more recently, they are made from chemically treated lumber. At the time I didn’t realize that treated lumber was generally considered a bad idea for growing food. There is some evidence that the treatment chemicals leach into the soil and are taken up by the plants. Eat the plants and you’re eating the treatment chemicals. Not a lot of us have a need for extra copper or arsenic in our diets.

I could go through a long-winded discussion here for why I did this and why it has taken me so long to replace these beds. Let’s just say that I am remarkably good at remaining stubbornly in a huge state of denial.

When I planned this year to replace these beds I was worried that if the treatment chemicals had leached into the soil, this would mean I had to replace both the beds and the soil. I’ve worked hard to improve the soil in these beds, and I don’t really want to throw it all out. So I had a professional soil test done.

Best idea ever. I should have done that years ago, for the peace of mind — the soil test showed completely normal levels of both copper and arsenic, and the same amounts both inside and outside the treated beds. Either the chemicals in the treated beds had not leached in significant amounts, or had drained away over the years. My soil was fine. My plants were fine.

So here’s what I actually accomplished in the last few months in the garden, rather than starting seeds:

  • I emptied one of the two old beds to be moved, and pulled it up out of the ground. It still needs to be broken down and put away.

  • I pulled up the old fence and moved it out four feet. This also included pulling up a lot of periwinkle vine, which is invasive, has deep roots, and is everywhere. I hate that stuff.
  • I pulled two old metal fence posts. This ended up taking much longer than I had planned because apparently the people who put in this fence sank one of the posts right in the middle of a huge rock, and it would not come back out again. I had to chip the post out of the ground.
  • I set this new fence post at the new fence line. There will be a gate here, eventually, but I probably won’t get to putting in the post on the other side of the gate until later this year.

  • I started building this long narrow bed at the back of the garden. This will be the asparagus bed. Asparagus is a perennial — you plant it once and leave it there to come up year after year. I’ve always wanted to grow asparagus, but have not had the space until now.

Things I have left to do:

  • Finish the asparagus bed. Fill with soil and asparagus.
  • Put up the new fence for the new extension.
  • Build a gate for the gate opening.
  • Move the soil out of old bed #2 and remove it.
  • Go buy lumber for the new beds.
    • Build the new beds.
    • Set the new beds in place.
    • Fill the new beds with soil.

And start some vegetable plants from seed, of course.