Welcome once again, you delightful denizens of the digital domain. For today's post, I'll be doing a quick walk-through of building, installing, filling, and partially planting my new raised beds for onions and garlic. I don't like to waste time, so if you just want the build details, skip ahead to the paragraph after the fist picture.
Onions and garlic are two of my favorite things. I like the flavor, the 'heat', and the fact that it makes my breath bad enough to keep people at a fair distance. They both have a number of health benefits and medicinal uses.
They are also both supposed to be easy to grow, but I haven't had much luck with either here over the years. It's not that they don't survive, they'll live practically forever, they just won't grow. I've tried them in a few different places over the years, and my best results so far have been in raised beds loosely based on the Square Foot Gardening method. If you're unfamiliar with the method and into gardening, I highly recommend typing Square Foot Garden into your favorite search engine.
The peppers have been doing fantastic since they got their own raised beds a few years ago, so I decided it was time that onions and garlic got the same treatment. Okay, I actually made that decision the year after I made the beds for the peppers, but it's taken me this long to get around to it. The pepper beds are the plastic covered ones in the picture below, and we grow hot peppers in one, sweet peppers in the other. I don't know what kind of plastic covering that is exactly, it's something I got at work that it extremely durable, but porous enough to let water go right through it. The onions will be too close together to use this plastic effectively, so they'll be getting mulched instead.
To make the newer, uncovered boxes you see in the picture above, I'll first have to select some lumber. For my raised beds, I like to use rough cut 1" x 6" boards that I cut from my own ash trees with the chainsaw mill I posted about here. The pepper beds were 4' x 8', giving me room for 32 peppers in each bed. The onions can be planted much closer together, so I'm only making their beds 4' x 6', which will give me room for 216 plants in each bed. Lumber selection isn't very important to me, because I'm happy to just rebuild the beds when they rot. The pepper beds are 5 years old now, and probably have at least another 5 to go before they'll need replacing, so I should have plenty of opportunity to make new boards before then.
One thing I do need to watch out for is boards that may have ants in them. All of the lumber I use for garden boxes is stuff that isn't good enough for 'finished' or weight bearing projects, and ant tunnels are one of the main reasons my ash boards end up not good enough. I don't like to use boards with ants on my garden boxes because they will sometimes still have eggs, which then hatch and try to build ant colonies in my garden boxes. I have enough problems with the gardens, I don't need extra colonizers!
Below is what the other side of that little hole looked like. It seems to go straight through, so I'm going to take my chances with this one. For good measure, I give it few good whacks with the hammer to see if any spots sound hollow. This will also help shake loose any eggs or ants that may be hiding out in the little hole.
Just as a matter of good practice, I try to trim off split ends when I'm making my cuts, but splits won't matter too much for this project. Even if this crack widens out to an inch, which is highly unlikely, it still won't have any noticeable affect on my vegetables, it'll just be unappealing to look at.
I'm not going to go into the details of making a box, other than to say that I highly recommend using screws or twisted nails to hold your box together. Straight nails will usually start to pull out after the first year, screws won't come apart until the wood rots. In another lifetime, I had a small pool in the area where these garden boxes are now, so they didn't require a LOT of leveling. It's not important that everything be perfectly level, but the closer it is to level, the more evenly filled your boxes will stay. In the picture below, you can see how I dug just a little bit from the high side, on the left, and used that to fill in the low side. I used the native soil and sod to level off a decent floor.
Once the floor level is in, I put in a couple of inches of loose organic fill. This year I had lots of fresh wood chippings, and several old plant containers to dump out. I'm not very fussy about this fill, as long as it will decompose over time and not bring in any really stubborn weeds. It should also be non-toxic, obviously, since I'll be growing food in here. This is something I need to pay close attention to, because we do have several varieties of toxic weeds on the property. What has worked well for me in my 6" raised beds is 2" of organic fill, 2" of compost, and 2" of topsoil. I try to make sure the fill layer is well mixed and raked flat before adding the compost.
When I'm using compost as a direct planting medium, I like to screen it first to get rid of larger pieces of straw and twig. When I'm just using it to fill garden boxes, I use it straight from the pile. Just like the fill layer, I like to mix and level the compost layer with a rake before adding soil.
I have a few spots on the property with decent topsoil, and I use one of them to 'mine' topsoil when I need it. This particular patch had a little more sand than normal, which I've read the onions will enjoy. After filling the box, I draw on a square foot grid and poke 9 holes in each square. You don't have to poke the holes to plant onion sets, but this helps me get them all lined up nicely. They were lined up so nice, in fact, that the Hedge Witch volunteered to plant them for me, which freed me up to do some more heavy lifting.
Here you see all the onion sets in place, with yellow on the right and purple on the left. We have some other onion-family seedlings indoors, like leeks and shallots, but they aren't quite ready to come outside just yet. We both really enjoy onions, so they may have to get another bed of their own someday for more variety. We may just get our variety from companion planting in other beds, if we can ever find a variety that wants to grow in our regular gardens.
We have enough wood chips and straw to mulch pretty much everything this year. I've been pulling up lots of old plastic that we used for weed control before the mulch and discarding it. It served its purpose at the time, but over the years has been more headache really than help. I'm leaving the stuff on the pepper beds because they REALLY seem to like the extra warmth, and that plastic is much better stuff that what we had down in most places. I don't know if the onions will like wood chips or straw better, but the wood chips were already up here so we started with them. I'll use straw to mulch the ones we plant in the middle boxes. I like to keep the soil covered not just for weed control, but it also helps hold moisture and attracts worms, both of which are important to healthy soil and plants.
I still don't have anything planted in the garlic bed yet. Garlic doesn't get planted until July or August, but I was going to grow some peas and radishes while I wait. I like to grow peas in any empty space, because we all love to eat peas, and they fix nitrogen in the soil, which for me is like growing fertilizer. I like the radishes because they don't take much time, usually only about a month from seed to harvest.
That's a wrap, as far as this build goes. I'm also entering this one into the Garden Journal Challenge, hosted by @riverflows. You can find details at the link here, and lots of fantastic gardening, health, and cooking information at the Natural Medicine community page. PeakD doesn't like me using hashtags in the topics, so I'll drop the #naturalmedicine and #gardenjournal tags here. Now I'm off to see what the competition is up to 😁.
Thanks for stopping by, I hope you enjoyed!