Recently I made a small, raised bed vegetable garden, so I could enjoy home-grown salads. At the same time as my garden grew and grew, so did the Covid-19 pandemic. I then realized what a great project this could be for other people to do right now. It’s spring planting season in the northern hemisphere, and in much of the world people are home due to the corona virus lockdown.
In the current situation, even a trip to the grocery store is fraught with danger and moral quandaries. Sure, you can stock up on many months’ worth of pasta and canned beans to minimize going out, but for good health you also need lots of fresh vegetables. Getting these important but perishable foods means regular shopping trips, which entails exposure to other people, with the risk of potentially spreading the corona virus further. And nobody knows how long this situation will last – I’m writing this in spring 2020, and some experts are predicting a second wave of the disease later this year that possibly could be even worse than the first.
In just one day, you can build a simple, raised-bed garden that will supply you and your family with a continuous, abundant supply of vegetables right through the growing season. Not only does this greatly reduce your need to venture into the virus-infested outside world, it improves your diet and quality of life – you can’t get any fresher food than vegetables you eat minutes after harvesting. And creating and tending a garden is one of the most satisfying projects you can do, whether you’re in a pandemic or not.
A garden like this can start producing food quickly – I planted mine on February 12, and I was harvesting food by March 1. Now I harvest a gigantic salad every day, and I can’t even keep up with all the abundance this little garden is cranking out.
I made my version as a raised bed garden enclosed by walls. This style of garden ensures your vegetables have deep soil for excellent growth, it helps prevent weeds from invading at the edges, and is a design that can fit neatly into many suburban yards. Perhaps most importantly in the current situation, it’s a garden that can be set up quickly – literally in a day if you want. There are many other ways to make a vegetable garden, including on level ground, or even a sunken bed garden, but here I’m focusing on directions for building a walled, raised-bed vegetable garden.
Here’s what you’ll need to make a garden like this:
-A sunny location:
All-day sun is best, but most leafy vegetables can produce reasonably with even a few hours of sun a day. Those few hours of sun don’t even need to be continuous – a spot with a couple hours of direct sun early and a couple more hours later on in the day can still produce a fair bit of food.
If landscape supply businesses are still in operation in your region, you can buy soil from them. Materials yards sell a cubic yard of potting soil for $30-$40 in my area, and that’s a perfect quantity for this size garden. If you own or can borrow a pickup truck, a cubic yard fits neatly into the bed of even a smallish pickup. Otherwise, many places will deliver soil for an added fee. Or you can use some of your existing native soil, mixed in with compost or bagged topsoil or composted cow manure. One friend of mine reported getting excellent results from garden beds like this filled with a mix of equal parts of sand, clay, and commercially purchased compost.
Galvanized steel roofing metal roofing material works well. It’s steel coated with zinc (both metals are essential nutrients in small amounts). I used ratty old pieces – new ones will be prettier. The walls of my garden are 3 feet and 8 feet. I took 24-inch wide panels and I used metal snips to cut them lengthwise to 12-inch width (this was the most tedious part of the project).
For the corners, you can use angled flashing (or just cut pieces of roofing panel and bend to 90 degrees), and attach to the panels with self-tapping screws.
A couple 18-ich rebar sticks on each long wall keeps the walls from bowing outward.
You can find a variety of conventional & organic fertilizers at garden centers or online vendors. Look for an all-purpose fertilizer, and follow the label instructions.
for fast production, you can get baby plants at local garden centers (if they’re still open). If they’re not open, or even if they are and you want to keep up production with successive plantings, order a 72-cell seed starter tray, a bag of “germination mix” potting soil, and seeds. An excellent salad mix is a combo of lettuce, mizuna, arugula, & Italian dandelion. Other good possibilities are carrots, kale, collards, & Chinese cabbage.
For continuous production, you’ll want to keep planting seeds regularly, maybe every month. One way to do this is to try planting seeds directly in the garden among the existing vegetables, but to baby the starts a little more, plant seeds in a seed starter tray filled with germination mix. You don’t need to plant the whole tray at once – you can do just a few rows at a time, for
I’m playing around with planting several rows of a seed starter tray at the beginning of every month with whichever vegetable varieties seem like they’re starting to fade in the garden.
For my garden, I’ve focused mainly on salad greens, because I really enjoy a big daily salad. In the photos, you can see mizuna, arugula, Florida Finley onions, Italian dandelions, garlic chives, culantro, and Indian lettuce. Most salad greens are so quick to start producing that by doing successive plantings, you can keep your garden in nearly constant production.
You can also plant things like tomatoes, peppers, even potatoes and sweet corn in a garden like this, but be aware that they have a longer period from planting to harvest.
Mulch is helpful in a garden like this to suppress weed seed germination, and to help keep the soil moist. I just raked up leaves from some small-leaved trees, and spread them in about an inch-thick layer over the soil of my garden.
There’s no hard-and-fast rule about how much to water your garden, and how often. Basically, when you poke a finger into the soil, it should feel moist. And on sunny days, the plants should show very little wilting. With my garden, it depends a lot on the weather – on hot, sunny days I need to water the garden daily. But if the weather is cooler or overcast, I only need to water a couple of times a week.
One regular task in any garden is weeding. Depending on the source of the soil you used, you’ll very likely have fewer weed issues than in most gardens, especially if you apply mulch, but there will still be a few. If you stay on top of pulling any weeds while they’re still small, it doesn’t take long, whereas if you let them grow for a while, it can become quite a chore. Get to know which plant species are the common garden weeds in your area, so you can yank them as soon as they show themselves. It doesn’t take long to weed a small garden like this, and pulling weeds while they’re still small is very quick and efficient. They longer they last, the bigger the weeds will get, and the more work it takes to pull them. When I see a little weed in the garden, I tell myself, “That weed will never again be as easy to pull as it is right now.”
For many areas in the northern hemisphere, you can keep a garden like this growing through spring, summer, and part of fall. Some gardeners extend their growing season by placing hay bales all around a garden like this, with a slanted pane of glass over top to let sun in. Depending on the severity of your area’s winter temps, a setup like that might allow harvests into much of the cold season.
Here in Florida, we have the opposite problem. Vegetable greens are easy to grow during fall, winter and spring, but summer’s heat and humidity sizzles many of the common salad vegetables. I plan to experiment with my garden, combining tropical vegetables and heat-tolerant varieties of common vegetables, probably with the use of shade cloth, to see how well I can keep up my daily home grown salad through the steamy summer months. I will report back on how that goes in a future blog post.
If you make a garden like this, hopefully you’ll find it so enjoyable that you’ll continue making it an essential part of your life and diet long after the current pandemic has passed into history.
For more posts on this website about growing vegetables in Florida, see this tag: #vegetables