“How to” #2 – Setting up and filling your boxes

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September 25, 2012 by frontyardfarm

What you will need for one box

  • Your bottomless raised bed
  • A shovel and a level (if site is not level)
  • Enough cardboard (or some other barrier like plastic or weed cloth) to cover a 4’x4′ space
  • Your growing medium
  • 14 nails and a hammer
  • String or twine
  • a tape measure and pencil

Step One – Site your box

Choose a full sun location.  Here in the Sunshine State that can mean as few as 5 or 6 hours of sun.  When I grew vegetables up north the minimum was 6 to 8 hours.  You can grow some leafy greens and herbs in part shade, but for now let us assume that you are interested in doing the majority of vegetables that require “full sun”.

The location you choose should also be as level as possible.  Not only does this look better, but it improves drainage.  I did have to dig out a few inches on the back side of where I wanted to put my boxes to get them level.  Your box doesn’t need to be perfectly level, but it should be close.
Step Two – Line the bottom

Once you have your box relatively level and in place, grab that cardboard and line the bottom of your box.  Even if you have already killed your grass in the place you are putting your box it is a good idea to put down a barrier.  It helps keep out bugs and weeds.  I like to use cardboard because it very effectively smothers the grass, it’s “free” because I have it laying around the garage and it is permeable enough to breathe and allow for drainage.  Both cardboard and weed cloth will break down over time, but by the time they do weeds and grass should be completely smothered.  But you have to buy weed cloth.  I don’t like plastic because, well, I don’t like plastic.  And like the weed cloth, you probably have to buy that, too.

You could get really fancy and dig down about a foot and line the bottom with gravel or stone but that requires a lot more forethought and will be much more difficult to re-sow with grass should you ever want to move your box.

Step Three – Fill your box with your growing medium

Pretty self explanatory.  Here is what we did: every four or five buckets of CSI Natural Spent Compost we added a layer of earthworm compost and Black Kow.  Once the growing medium was within and inch or two of the top I added one pound of Azomite to help add trace minerals.  I then finished with a fine layer of earthworm compost.

In the fourth box I had less of the CSI Natural Spent Compost that I used in the other boxes.  So I amended with also coir, or coconut husk which is a sustainable alternative to peat moss.  It will help lighten the compost and improve drainage, something that is even more important for root crops like garlic and onions (which is the purpose of the fourth box).


Step Four – creating the planting grid (optional)

I am not a Square Foot Gardening devotee, but the grid method is very helpful for planning your plantings and making sure things are spaced appropriately.  If I had more space and were planting directly in the ground I wouldn’t do this very intensive form of gardening.  Instead I would save on water and fertilizer by spacing my plantings out in long rows.  My last raised bed garden I tried to do more like a traditional space, planting fewer things, doing rows instead of using the grid system of SFG and I was not very successful.  I knew that this time I was going to work with the grid system.  In the SFG book they suggest using strips of wood to make your grid.  Kind of silly and costs more money.  My husband came up with the great idea to use some twine that we had laying around.

To do this part you will need your tape measure, nails and twine.  Make a pencil mark on the top side of each board every foot.  Then take a small nail and drive it part way in at each mark and drive one in the upper right hand corner and the lower left hand corner.  It is helpful to put the nails in at a bit of an angle going out from the box to help make the twine tight.

Tie a loop at the end of your twine, and wrap it around the nail that is at the one foot mark on the board closest to you.  String it straight across the box to the corresponding nail on the opposite side.  Wrap it a couple of times around that nail and then string it over to the nail next to the one you are at on the same side.  Wrap it around that.  Now string it all the way across to the nail that is next to your first nail.  Rinse and repeat!  It’s kind of hard to explain and much easier to show:

You will use the two corner nails to hold the twine in place as you switch sides.

When you are done creating your grid, you will be ready to plant your box!  Which is the fun part, if you ask me . . .

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