Crash Test Gardens: I kill plants so you don't have to.

Why a raised bed, square-foot garden box could supercharge your vegetable garden.

With all the forces arrayed against you in the vegetable garden, you need to stack the odds in your favor. A raised bed square-foot garden box will help you grow delicious, nutritious vegetables with less effort and trouble.

The most successful vegetable garden I've ever grown was also the first vegetable garden I ever grew. Beginner's luck? Well, yes! I happened to find a good system that worked for me. Combined with other factors, that garden succeeded. It had me hooked.

To succeed in the vegetable garden, you must stack the odds in your favor, and set yourself up for success. You need:

  • The right plants. Plant delicious vegetables that you love to eat that grow well in your region.
  • The right place. Plant your garden close by, within easy reach.
  • The right system. Make the maintenance easy and painless; make success inevitable.

The right plants

If you're starting out with a new vegetable garden, plant what you like. If you don't like kale, don't plant it! If you adore brussel sprouts, plant them!

Buy from a local nursery, or a catalog in your region, to get plants that will thrive in your climate.

The right place

The site for my first vegetable garden was terrible: it didn't have any soil, and it barely got enough sun. Why was it such a rousing success anyway? It was right outside our kitchen door on the patio. Every morning, right before work, I could step outside and water the garden. Every day before dinner I could step outside and harvest anything that was ripe. Maintenance took me 10 minutes most days, a little bit longer on the weekend when I had more time.

Don't plant your garden way off in the corner where you can neglect it. The best place for your garden is a sunny spot right outside your back door.

With a raised bed, the only thing you need to concern yourself with are sun and water. Soil quality and drainage at the site don't matter. You bring your own soil, and it's guaranteed to always be above the water table.

The right system

With the square-foot system, you get a simple way to organize your garden. You can see what's where in a glance. Watering takes but a few minutes. Harvesting becomes a snap.

You can grasp the concept of the square-foot system in one paragraph. Divide your garden box up into square-foot patches. Plant only one kind of vegetable in each patch, according to the thinning spacing on the seed packet.

To get the full story on Square-foot Gardening, you can't go wrong with the master himself, Mel Bartholomew:

All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew
All-New Square Foot Gardening: the square-foot gardener’s Bible. This is the book that made me a gardener. (affiliate link)

I've tried several methods and systems since then, but nothing has compared to that first year of square-foot orthodoxy for effectiveness. With the benefit of hindsight, I now know what factors made for that effectiveness. This year, I'm doubling down!

Building the frames

You can build your raised bed as described, or change the plans to suit your taste and budget. After cutting and pre-drilling, treat all wood with boiled linseed oil, wipe off excess, allow to dry overnight.

For the frame:

  • 2 eight-foot 2x6 boards; Douglas Fir to keep the price down, or Cedar for a longer-lasting bed

  • 1 lb. of #7 x 2" exterior wood screws

  • Boiled linseed oil to treat the wood

  • 5/64" drill bit and drill for pilot holes

Cut boards to four-foot lengths. Drill two pilot holes at one end of each board. Treat boards with linseed oil, wiping excess off. Dry overnight. Attach with #7 screws.

For the soil:

  • 3 cu. ft. compost

  • 3 cu. ft. vermiculite

  • 3 cu. ft. peat moss

At the pre-leveled site for your new bed, lay down newspaper. Place frame on top. Mix ingredients in large tarp, then pour into frame.

For the square-foot grid:

  • 6 four-foot lengths of wood lath

  • 9 #8-32x1.5 in. machine screws

  • 9 #8-32 machine screw nuts

  • 9 #8 flat washers

  • 9 #8 ext. tooth lock washers

Mark wood lath and drill holes at every foot. Build grid with screw and flat washer, wood lath, lock washer and nut.


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