It’s been snowing here. I feel smug because I have lettuce and radishes started out in the tunnel.
This evolved because when I initially rototilled the garden spot, logging chokers and battery cables and other cultural artifacts turned up. A neighbor walking by told me the junk man used to live here. Hm. No way was I going to plant my food in that soil. I found the plans for raised garden boxes in Sunset magazine, took a deep breath and invested in cedar lumber. Then I did research on wood treatments, and chose a product called Lifetime which was the safest thing I could find for use with garden soil. I cut the lumber to size to make three 4′ X 8′ boxes, treated the wood, and assembled with stainless steel lag screws. The 4″ X 4″ posts in each corner measured 16″, and were buried in the soil to stabilize the boxes in place. I leveled them, then filled with purchased topsoil. It was full of bark mulch and gravel which I screened out with a hardware cloth screen. Over the years I have added homemade compost and watched the soil structure and fertility improve.
The next development was the tunnel. Pico passed along some PVC hoops, and I figured out how to keep them in place by using galvanized pipe straps from the hardware store. At first I clipped clear plastic to the hoops, then found a better idea in Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest. He drapes the plastic over the hoops then draws the ends together and stakes them, which keeps the plastic taut. What I have learned is that PVC won’t take the snow load. I dream of hoops made of aluminum electrical conduit. 5 mil plastic is the way to go, and I leave plenty of overhang down the side of the boxes. It’s easy to lift the plastic to plant, water, harvest. When the weather settles and the wind stops blowing, I put the hoops and plastic away till fall.
For a couple of years, I’ve been thinking about how to put in automatic irrigation so that the garden stays watered when I’m out in the backcountry. One year I tried thin soaker hose, but there wasn’t enough water pressure to lift up into the raised beds. I’m still scratching my head on this problem, and am determined to do more experimenting this year.
This way of gardening has worked out well for me, and I’ve added more boxes. I don’t have to till, and I hardly have to weed. I can plant intensively and use the space efficiently. Every year the soil gets better. I rotate crops, and can grow greens from March to December. The four raised beds are surrounded by pea gravel paths, which act as solar mass and heat the soil earlier in the spring. I didn’t intend that, but it worked out.
That’s the thing about gardening–you get to keep learning. Every place you garden is a little different. The weather here is a challenge, and the garden varies from year to year. For me the payoff is seeing those sprouts of green as seeds germinate, followed by harvest and the joy of eating and sharing homegrown produce. Knowing where your food comes from–what could be more satisfying?