April 27, 2008

Growing Challenge Update #1

On January 29, I joined my sister's Growing Challenge. The rules are deceptively simple:

  1. For this challenge, you must grow one additional type of fruit or vegetable than you did last year, and grow it from seed;
  2. If rule #1 is not enough of a challenge for you, you may make your own rules; and
  3. You must post (or send an update) about gardening once each week.

Even though we did plant a few tomato and pepper plants last year, we harvested a grand total of ten cherry tomatoes and the birds, squirrels and/or bunnies absconded with the two jalapenos we managed to nurse along. Great, I thought, this should be an easy challenge. And then I started thinking about what I really wanted to grow this year. And then I started looking at (and ordering from) the seed catalogs. And then I started looking around our yard to figure out where all those seeds would grow. We have very little sun in our yard (the town IS called Webster Groves for a reason, and we have huge trees all around the house), and the back yard is all lawn and weeds. All of the sudden, this turned into a lot of work.

As for the planting location, Rob and I spent a few days scouting around the yard to see where the light was best and determined we should replace a 4x12 corner of the back lawn with a raised planter bed. Two weekends ago I ripped out weeds and vines around the area, and I tested the existing soil only to find that it is completely dead - the pH is okay, but it holds no nitrogen, no potash, no nothing. Bummer. Last weekend, Rob and I re-routed a drainpipe, removed the patch of lawn, dug down about 6" to accommodate all the good soil I ordered, built the cedar planter out in the driveway, and dropped it into the hole.

Yesterday morning, at long last, I picked up the gravel we tossed into the bottom for good drainage, our soil delivery arrived, and things looked like this:

Yep, I had ordered 1/2 yard of gravel (already in the big hole by this point), 1-1/2 yards of "garden soil" (around here, that's generally silt and clay dredged out of the Mississippi River, mixed with some percentage of compost), 1 yard of compost, and 1/2 yard of sand, for a grand total of 3-1/2 cubic yards of fill. Due to a lovely twist of topography, we couldn't have it delivered to the backyard, and the driver had dumped it in a big pile in our driveway. Good thing it was the perfect day for it, because we had some shoveling to do! Here I am, shoveling a wheelbarrow of dirt into the planting bed.

Thank goodness Rob pitched in for the day (again, even though this is supposed to be my project) - transferring 40 wheelbarrows of soil from the driveway out front, down the concrete stair, and to the opposite corner of the yard would have taken me all weekend long!

In the last 4-6 inches of fill, I started layering in small amounts of fresh coffee grounds from the downtown Starbucks I frequent. I also worked in 6 cups of organic fertilizer into the top 3-4" of soil. My plan is to let things settle for a week, test the soil again, and see if I need to add anything else. Here is a picture of the fertilizer I used.

Finally, after a full day of work (9 am to 7 pm), the planting bed was finished!

The plan is to take next weekend off, then start hardening off the seedlings I've been nurturing indoors, with the hopes of planting everything in the ground mid-May. My next post will cover the plants - my seed list, the planting plan, and how things are going. For now, I'm off to liberally apply a coat of Arnica ointment to soothe my sore muscles...

Note: I did edit the text a bit after the initial post. It was late last night when I published this...when I read it again this morning I realized that I didn't give Rob enough credit for his support and his help with this project. Sorry, Rob!


Green Bean said...

Good for you. We put in raised beds last fall and I love them. It's so much easier to grow seedlings and such in them. Happy planting.

Melinda said...

Wahoo! Hooray! Great looking bed there, sis! It looks fabulous. And I look forward to reading your Midwest travails.... with the hopes of your someday... er.... joining us in Seattle...? ; )

Joyce said...

That looks like a HUGE job! In the end it looks like an excellent raised bed though. Good luck with it all!