Gardening

Lessons From A Novice Raised Bed Gardener

I have always wanted to have a vegetable garden. But, the marauding herds of deer in my neighborhood have made most gardening an exercise in futility. However, last year, my wonderful husband built me a raised bed garden with a nifty cover that effectively protects tender seedlings from all and sundry critters. The great thing about the framed chicken wire covering is that he constructed it in two-pieces. Eash side is hinged on the end so that both sides can be levered on and off the garden for easy access.

Lessons From A Novice Raised Bed Gardener--DIY critter proof raised garden bed.
The newly built raised bed garden before we finished putting in the soil, irrigation, and mulch around the base.
Lessons From A Novice Raised Bed Gardener-DIY raised bed garden with hinged deeproof cage.
The generous chicken wire cover protects the garden from deer, while hinges on the ends make it easy to access the bed. The cover is quite tall so there’s room for trellised plants. You may notice that the two sides of the cover are different sizes. This is because I wanted it to be sited next to our deck. In order to open the left side, without hitting the deck post, it needed to be smaller than the right side.

It took a while to build the protected raised bed, so I didn’t get to plant until well into the heat of summer. This meant that planting from seed was nearly impossible. In addition, many people decided to plant gardens last year so, even if I had gotten my act together earlier, seeds were hard to come by. Unfortunately, by the time I was ready to plant, even the seedlings at the nursery were pretty picked over. Still, I ended up with several varieties of tomatoes, basil, flat-leaf parsley, zucchini, peppers, cucumbers, and cantaloupes.

Lessons From A Novice Raised Bed Gardener-Raised bed garden with hinged cover for easy access.
The fully finished and planted raised garden bed looking very promising.

I wasn’t sure how all these plants would fit in my compact 4′ x 6′ garden. So, I googled my heart out and found an interesting and informative post about square foot gardening. The article showed the number and spacing of different vegetables you could plant per square foot. It even offered an interactive tool to help you plan the spacing for your particular plants. Easy peasy.

Armed with my trusty plan and feeling confident, I packed all the vegetables into my well-composted and irrigated raised garden bed. I then sat back and waited to harvest what was sure to be a bounty. It wasn’t until the two canteloupe plants, a la “Little Shop Of Horrors,” started to take over the entire garden that I began to suspect that I’d made a significant error.

Audrey II from “Little Shop Of Horrors

It turns out that cantaloupes and cucumbers are wildly viney. And, if left to their own devices, they will get out of hand very quickly. Never having grown anything but herbs and tomatoes before, I really didn’t understand this. The vines grew like Jack’s proverbial beanstalk but produced no fruit. I ended up having to tear them all out in a desperate attempt to save the rest of my plants.

You can see from this photo of a cantaloupe patch that they grow like kudzu.

Unfortunately, this was not the end of my problems. The other garden troublemakers turned out to the zucchini. Now, don’t get me wrong. zucchini is very hardy and easy to grow. And my plants were relatively productive. However, because they have huge leaves that tend to spread out, they hogged both space and light in the small raised bed. I hold them responsible for murdering my poor herbs. Yes, I am throwing them under the bus.

This photo of someone’s lovely garden shows how zucchini needs room for its huge leaves to spread out.

In the end, the only plants that really thrived in my garden were the peppers. Once I had removed the crazy vines, I was able to stake the peppers. After that they really produced. We had banana peppers coming out of our ears. Unfortunately, I never figured out what to do with all of them. I kept trying to sneak them into various recipes, much to my family’s dismay. Banana pepper pancakes, anyone?

Yum!

So, what did I take away from this debacle? I learned that if you are going to grow a variety of plants in a small raised bed garden, you have to choose your plants carefully. I believe that it is necessary to pick plants that have a tidy growing habit. If you wish to grow more invasive plants and you can’t plant in an open garden bed, you can plant them in their own containers. And if they are vining plants you can train them up a trellis.

Now I am sure that many gardeners will disagree with me. I know that square-foot gardening is very popular. It is entirely possible that I misunderstood the concept. And I most certainly made many other mistakes. However, having the experience of putting in the labor to grow and tend a garden, only to be disappointed in a pretty pitiful harvest, I intend to take my own advice.

Lessons From A Novice Raised Bed Gardener--Raised bed garden planted with spring seedlings.
This year’s attempt at a raised be garden.

This spring, I have already planted arugula, romaine lettuce, cilantro, cabbage, broccoli, and a couple of jalapeno peppers. A variety of herbs are growing in my flower bed and I will be planting zucchini and tomatoes in pots on my deck once the threat of frost is over. I doubt I will ever attempt cantaloupe again. They are scary suckers!

Lessons From A Novice Raised Bed Gardener-Raised bed garden fitted with its own drip system
First row: jalapeno pepper, cilantro, arugula. Second row: romaine lettuce. Third row: cabbage. Fourth row: jalapeno pepper, broccoli.
Lessons From A Novice Raised Bed Gardener-Romaine, cilantro, cabbage, and arugula can be planted in early spring in zone 7.
The arugula I grew from seed. The rest of the plants are seedlings I purchased from the Home Depot.
Lessons From A Novice Raised Bed Gardener-Healthy romaine lettuce and cilantro thrive in a spring raised be garden.
Romaine and cilantro both seem to be doing well so far.
Lessons From A Novice Raised Bed Gardener-Mint is not an herb that should be planted in a raised bed garden, as it is extremely invasive.
Mint in the flower bed that made it through the winter. It is very hardy but it spreads like crazy. Definitely not an herb I’d plant in the raised bed.
Lessons From A Novice Raised Bed Gardener-Herbs like rosemary and mint are best planted in open beds or containers.
My dog Calamity, mint, rosemary, and thyme. (Sounds like a version of “Scarborough Fair” for the pandemic doesn’t it?)

Please keep your fingers crossed for my gardening efforts this year. It’s clear I need all the help I can get.

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6 thoughts on “Lessons From A Novice Raised Bed Gardener

  1. My goodness, what a gorgeous dog! The raised bed was a great idea– good luck with your adventures in agriculture!

  2. Lisa,
    Kudos to you first attempt. Practice makes perfect, well less failures. Im still learning. Some t-posts and wire makes a good deer deterrent. Bambi is cute but a pain in my arse. They will eat about anything, except for daffodils, rosemary and mint. I find my self working on that list. Your garden looks great this year. In your area you can start a fall veg garden late summer.
    Happy gardening
    Deborah

    1. Thanks, Deborah. Obviously, I need a lot more practice but I am hopeful I will get more veggies this year. Cheers!

  3. A great effort and John’s handiwork is terrific. all herbs are ” ignored “by Bambi . so cilantro, parsley , sage basil can go outside the fence. So far my rhubarb also survives outside my fences.

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