Re-Charging Raised Planter Beds

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

How the best plans can sometimes change....

I had intended to post up photos of heavily frost covered planter beds, with a "winter is here -- woe is me" blog message but Mothern Nature isn't cooperating.

A day after I took photos of my frost-covered beds, the weather changed, and changed rather dramatically. Those frost covered mornings? Gone. Replaced with bright sunshine, cool morning temperatures and real spring warmth in the afternoon.

Spring warmth? The high sixties? Low 70's? In JANUARY? Exsqueeze me? Did Old Man Winter take a break? Keel over? Last year at this time we were getting hit with rain and windstorms that blew fences down and cars off the road. And this year Mother Nature brings us April in January?


But, if there's one thing I've learned it's this: there's no arguing with Mother Nature. You just take what she gives you -- grin and bear it so to speak -- and if that grand old dame wants to give us a false spring, then so be it. Use your time wisely.

And that's just what I did this past weekend. The wife shoved a planting guide into my face, promptly produced thirty packets of seed, pointed to a nearby raised bed and ordered the now famous line: "get to work." That means, time to get digging.

Now myself, as a very romantic man, did inform the wife last Friday night that I had brought her a gift from the heart: three bags of composted steer manure. Not every man is this romantic, I'll give you that. But Bill Bird's heart just oozes with romance. And in some cases, romance smells.

Put these elements together: the weather is warm, I've got three bags of composted steer manure from Home Depot and the wife has thirty packets of various lettuce, swiss chard, spinach, bok choi, peas and other seeds. Plus, she's got the always reliable Farmer Fred Hoffman planting guide. And who can argue with that?

If there's one thing I've learned about raised beds, it's this? Yes, they are wonderful to garden in. The soil is surrounded by redwood, which conducts heat into the soil, warming it MUCH faster that ordinary dirt in ordinary ground. When you've got sunshine and highs in the sixties, you've got dirt with temps in the 70's.

Another thing I've learned is raised beds are USELESS unless they are "re-charged" so to speak with every season. The plants suck up all the good nutrients during the growing season. You might still have soft, loamy soil. But without a bag or four of compost, you've got a soil without nutrients. And without nutrients, you've got a garden that will not grow.

Since I have yet to inheirit a two-cycle, gas powered, Mantis Rototiller, I recharge my beds the old fashioned way. Yep. See that green-handled hoe in the bed? That's mine. And it digs pretty darn good if you're using two hands to dig up the dirt and mix in compost. With a raised bed, you must ensure that you pull ALL soil away from the redwood boards and ensure that old soil mixes in with the compost you're adding to the bed. Why? Because root systems grow towards HEAT. And those boards get pretty hot in the summer. I find that roots tend to grow right to the edges and, in some cases, stick right to them.

I also discovered that lots of little critters, such as BLACK WIDOWS, also enjoy raised beds. I manged to rudely intrude on a few of them. You would have thought that frosty cold days and nights would have done them in by now, but no such luck. By hiding in the soil, and near one of the redwood boards that retains warmth, just about any critter can withstand the onslaught of winter cold.

So, dig carefully and wear gloves!

The bed pictured here contains three bags of composted steer manure, worked into every corner. It also contains several cups of bone meal and other pelleted fertilzers that will ensure that vegetables will get the three important nutrients that ALL vegetables and fruit need: Nitrogen, Potassium (also called Potash) and Phosphorus.

It didn't take the wife long to start planting after I had finished -- perhaps thirty seconds or less. That entire 4X8 bed contains all sorts of good seed now, and if the weather holds, we'll see germination happen before the start of the weekend. If the cold weather sets in again, some seeds will germinate, while others will not.

It's still way, way, way, way too early to tell if spring has arrived two months early. Knowing our wacky weather, we could get another two months of wind, rain and more wind. But, when Mother Nature rewards you with a patch of spring in January, if you like to garden, you'd better take advantage of it.

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