Adventures in Central Texas Gardening – Part 2, by Lisa

(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)

First let’s go over how I built my raised beds. The materials needed for 1 raised bed are:

  • 4 – 8-foot landscape timbers (try to find the ‘untreated’ type)
  • 3 – 12 in by 1 in by 8 foot yellow pine (untreated)
  • 1 ½ – 1 ¾ inch deck screws
  • 2 – 3-inch deck screws
  • 8 – small “L” brackets (approx. 2 inches)
  • 4 – 7 in. 16-Gauge Galvanized Reinforcing L-Angle – Note: I am not a professional carpenter and I was shopping at my local ‘mom and pop’ hardware store for something to brace my corners on the outside. This is what I found. It wasn’t until a more experienced wood worker informed me the braces were meant to go on the “inside” and not the “outside”, but hey, it works!
  • 1 – 4 foot by 8 foot 4 inches section of 1/5 inch hardware cloth. – Optional
  • Old newspapers or landscaping weed block – Optional
  • Linseed oil or Thompson’s Water Seal – Optional

 

Step 1 – determine where you will place your raised bed. Remember the ideal placement for sun and with the use of raised beds, a close by source for watering. Trust me, you do not want to do the traditional ‘back and forth sprinkler’. With raised beds, it is a waste of water AND you will be mowing/weed eating the areas in between your raised beds just as often as you are tending your garden! I have soaker hoses running through each of my beds that I can turn control the watering as the plants need. Also, the more level the spot, the better positioning you will have for your beds.

Keep in mind the space between your beds. You will need enough space to easily maneuver a wheelbarrow and possibly, a small mower if you intend to leave the walkways grassy.

Step 2 – If the area still has remnants of a lawn or weeds, mow the area as close to the ground as possible. Spread the newspapers at least 8 sheets thick over the area or spread landscaping weed block. I have found the professional quality weed block works much better (even against Bermuda grass) than the cheaper brands.

Step 3 – Place the 4 foot by 8 foot 4 inches section of hardware cloth over the covered area. I marked this as optional because without the threat of gophers or moles, this would be unnecessary. However, it is priceless when it comes to preventing damage from pocket gophers.

Step 4 – Cut all of your boards. Some folks might prefer to do the cutting as they go along, but I prefer to group my tasks to complete it at one time. You will need to make three cuts:

2 Landscape timbers – cut at 52 inches – This will cause ‘waste’ with the other 44 inches of unused landscape timber but I always use that in building other smaller raised and/or planters later. I found that if I cut the landscape timbers in half at 48 inches, it somewhat defeats the purpose of the base.

1 – 12 x 1 x 8 – cut in half at 48 inches

Step 5 – If using Linseed Oil or Thompson’s Water Seal – ‘paint’ the yellow pine boards one side at a time, allowing approximately 3 hours to dry between turning over. I try to do two full coats on each board and allow at least 24 hours to dry. Note: as with all paint products/sealants, use in a well-ventilated area, ensure the optimal temperature for application is met, and follow all precautionary warning statements regarding skin contact, flames, children, pets, etc.

Step 6 – Outline the newspaper/weed cloth with the landscape timbers to form an inside area of 4 foot by 8-foot rectangle. Place the two short ends of landscape timbers (in black) at the ends of the long landscape timbers (in green). Using the 2 – 3-inch deck screws, secure the timbers together at the corners. I would suggest using 2 or 3 screws on each corner. More if you are just using the 2 inch to toe-nail them in. This will be your base for your raised bed. This will add several years to the life of your raised bed frame by keeping the yellow pine above the existing soil level.

Step 7 – This step can be done by one person BUT I highly recommend having an extra pair of hands as it makes it much faster and the quality of the end result will be much better. I will divide this into both options:

One Person

  1. Select an 8-foot yellow pine board and attach two of the small “L” brackets 8 inches from either end of the board on the outside of the board (meaning the side that will be the ‘outside’ of your raised bed).
  2. Match up the length of the board with the long side of the landscape timber. Place the board as close to the inside edge of the landscape timber as possible.
  3. Secure the bottom of the “L” brackets to the landscape timber.
  4. Select a 4-foot yellow pine board and attach two of the small “L” brackets 6 inches from either end of the board on the outside of the board.
  5. Match up the corner of the 4 foot board to the upright 8 foot board making it as vertically and horizontally level as possible. Match up the length of the board with the landscape timber. Place the board as close to the inside edge of the landscape timber as possible.
  6. Secure the bottom of the “L” brackets to the landscape timber.
  7. Repeat the process from step “a” until an upright rectangle is formed.
  8. The final step in construction is to secure the corners of the rectangle. I placed the 1 ½ deck screws in the top and bottom of the outside boards on each corner. Then I attached the 7 inch “L” angles to reinforce the corners.

Two Person – The two-person method follows the same process as the one person except the “box” is built and then placed on the landscape timber frame as above and secured. The extra pair of hands keeps the ends together forming a tight fit while the screws are being put in and unless you are a weight lifting champion with a very long reach, they will be needed to lift the box and place it on the landscape frame (without it tearing apart).

  1. Select an 8 foot yellow pine board and attach two of the small “L” brackets 8 inches from either end of the board on the outside of the board.
  2. Select a 4 foot yellow pine board and attach two of the small “L” brackets 6 inches from either end of the board on the outside of the board.
  3. Match up the corner of the 4 foot board to the upright 8 foot board making it as vertically and horizontally level as possible.
  4. Repeat the process from step “a” until an upright rectangle is formed.
  5. I placed the 1 ½ deck screws in the top and bottom of the outside boards on each corner. Then I attached the 7 inch “L” angles to reinforce the corners.
  6. With the help of your volunteer, carefully lift the upright box and move it over the landscape frame. Place the uprights as close to the inside edge of the landscape timber as possible.
  7. Secure all the bottom “L” brackets to the landscape timbers.

You are now ready for the fun job of filling your garden! Soil combinations can be endless and can also get very pricey! Due to the restrictions of entry into my garden site, purchasing a load of several yards of garden soil was not an option so I chose the next best alternative. Note: I try to substitute as much composted material as I can from my compost pile however, with 9 raised beds that is A LOT of compost. The amounts of the bagged soil will be dependent on the availability of your own compost.

I use:

  • 2 cu ft bags of Garden Soil – I try to find Organic as much as I can.
  • Organic Top Soil
  • Aged Cow Manure – (oh the dream of being 20 years old again and living on a ranch!)
  • Organic Mushroom Compost or even better Cotton Seed Compost
  • As a “mulch” for raised beds – Hardwood mulch or Soil Conditioner works really well at retaining moisture and deterring weeds.
Trellis Garden Incorporating Hay Bale Methodology

My trellis garden is made from old metal patio gazebo uprights and 2 cattle panels. I secured the corner pieces of the uprights to form a “u” shape for the end of my trellis area. I secured them together with the “farm and ranch workhorse/universal tool” bailing wire! (If using this technique – ensure the ends that were twisted together are on the inside of the area and flattened down. Even if you have had a tetanus booster recently, it’s not fun getting a cut from rusty wire!)

Once I had the two ends made, I measured the length of the cattle panel and dug a small trench area approximately 6 inches deep to sit my end pieces in. I placed them into the trench and covered the bottoms with the soil I have removed, tamping it firmly as I went. This gave them extra stability in standing up on their own accord. Next, I attached a full cattle panel in between the ends. This not only better stabilizes the trellis area but is also a primary part of the trellis itself! I then repeated the process of adding another cattle panel above the bottom one.

Next, I filled in the bottom of my trellis garden with hay bales. Information on the benefits of hay bale gardening can be found on numerous websites and under many different names – Straw bale gardening, bale gardening, Straw gardening, etc.

Most websites I’ve visited all state you “must” use “straw” for this method of gardening, however, I can tell you, I have searched within a 70 mile radius of my homestead and there are no “straw bales” to be found. I have always bought “horse quality hay” from a local feed store. They know their supplier of hay and know that it is pesticide-free (which I believe is very important in this method of gardening!). I have also never had any issues with weeds overtaking my bales (as some websites warn about using “hay”).

There are two important considerations to make in hay bale gardening – location and conditioning the bales before planting. While a bale of hay is not lite to begin with, it is very heavy when wet. Therefore, before starting the conditioning process, place your bales where you intend your garden to be.

Hay bales are usually 2 foot by 3 foot, so in my trellis area, I have 8 bales laid side by side the length of my trellis. When placing the bales, the “up” side is very important. The sides of the bales with the twine or wire around should be on the “sides’ of the bales. On one side of the bale, the hay will be ‘folded over’ and the other side it will be ‘cut’. Place the ‘cut’ side up. This will ensure adequate water and ease of planting of your garden.

The most important part of hay bale gardening is conditioning. Here is the method I have used:

  • Day 1-3: Soak bales thoroughly and keep them damp.
  • Day 4-6: Sprinkle each bale with ½ cup urea (46-0-0) and water well into bales. You can substitute bone meal, fish meal, or compost for a more organic approach.
  • Days 7-9: Cut back to 1/4 cup of fertilizer per bale per day, and continue to water it in well.
  • Day 10: Stop applying fertilizer but continue to keep the bale damp.

Now, one step that a lot of the web sites seem to leave out but I think is very important is to check the internal temperature of the bale. Do this by opening up a small area in the middle of each bale, just large enough to put your hand into. If you have done the conditioning correctly, it should feel really warm, almost hot to your hand. Check the temperature on a daily basis before you water the bales. Once the temperature still feels warm (like warm tap water), you are ready to plant! If it still feels hot, it will cook your seeds or the roots of your plants. Continue watering the bales to keep them damp and continue to check the temperature. I have found that in usually 5 to 6 days, my bales will be at the right temperature.

While I have seen YouTube videos of folks planting seeds in the bales, it has been my experience that plants do much better than seeds. I have used this method with brassicas, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and melons with success.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I hope that this helps encourage or maybe gives people ideas on alternatives to traditional row gardens. While I am not by any means a “master gardener” as others here in the community, I am continuing with my gardens adventures. Sometimes, I only get enough produce for a few meals while other seasons I am canning, freezing and dehydrating every spare minute. I look forward to comments from the community on improving my process.




27 Comments

  1. What a great article! Thank you so much for giving us the building method you use. I hope to see others comment in how they build their beds. I have only used wicking buckets the past two years for my urban garden. They work great. There was a comment yesterday regarding watering their buckets and how to know how much water to use. When you use wicking buckets you place the water into the tube that goes vertically into your bucket or tub. There is a hole in the side of your bucket that is your overflow escape. You just water your plant until the water overflows the escape hole. Each time your water you add a diluted fertilizer. The method that I use can be found on youtube Gardening with Leon.My vertical pipe for water is a 2 inch PVC. My tomato plants are seven feet tall this year. I had a great crop of summer squash also until the vine borers arrived. Tellesilla of Argos yesterday commented on the use of this method using beds. I hope she will comment further on her method as it really excited me to think about expanding the bucket/tub method to a wicking bed method. I would especially like to know what container she uses as well as the pipe sizes. Thanks again. I will be printing and saving your article and comments for future references.

    1. Thank you sewNurse!

      Telesilla of Argos commented with some additional details. I have yet to watch the videos but I am very excited to watch them this weekend. (We are forecasted to have an 80% chance of rain, YEAAAAA!!!)

      The link she gave from Albo Pepper was:
      https://youtu.be/Lp9Jdyno9hI

      I am planning on a couple of new beds for next spring and am thinking about incorporating this method.

  2. Good morning all 🙂

    I hope you enjoy the 2nd part of the article! I did notice I am going to have to give a written warning to my proofreader for failing to see two typos in the 2nd part. 🙂

    The size of the hardware cloth should be 1/4 inch, not 1/5 inch.

    In step 6 – I mentioned black and green. When originally writing this article, I tried to get fancy and put in diagrams to illustrate the steps. It proved to be too difficult as I couldn’t get them to make sense. Therefore I removed the diagrams and references to them but missed that one.

    I’m looking forward to suggestions on part 2. I loved all the suggestions from part 1.

  3. Chuckling just proves your human 🙂 Depending on how high you want your raised bed to be (I’m older so mine are 24 inches tall) filling that space with bagged compost can be pricey as most annuals only root in the first 6-12 inches. I use old chunks of wood to fill the bottom third or so a technique known as Hügelkultur (German for hill culture). The old partly decayed woods act as a filler, a good organic massive water sponge for the plants and breaks down over a few years into even more good soil. DO Research however some woods are allelopathic and release chemicals bad for other plants. No treated lumber ok? Yes I saw someone do that as they had a lot left over from a decking project…..

    Also remember to keep roundup and it’s chemical cousins OUT of your garden! I’ve had a friend destroy a nice garden site by applying roundup contaminated straw mulch on it. Takes years for the biological actions in the soil to break it down.

    I don’t rototill my gardens, in NH too many large rocks, a lot of used rototillers for sale around here 🙂 I use lasagna gardening technique on raw land after I bush hog off the brush. The layers of cardboard or thick newsprint smothers the light seeking weeds. Just cut a slit to plant your transplants. I have poor success direct seeding in lasagna gardening.

    You can also use a tarp about a month+ before planting season, it has to be sun opaque so test it by looking at the sun through it. A lot of tarps need to be doubled to be effective. Then you can use direct seeding as most of your weeds have been killed from trying to grow up into the light with out success.

    Chickens can be quite effective turning an area into a nearly sterile dust plains. I use them to clean up in my gardens after harvest. Chickens also greatly reduce the amount of bug eggs and larvae for next season. Enough chickens in a small enough area can eliminate ANY pesky weeds trust me on that.

    1. Hi Michael,

      Thank you for the “proves your human”. When I read the article this morning, I was SO embarrassed that I made such a dumb mistake! Wouldn’t have been so bad if it was just the size of the hardware cloth, that could have been excused by “fat-fingering” (yes, i still 10 key on a laptop! LOL) but the references to the former diagrams was just plain missed. 🙁

      I will need to research the Hügelkultur method. I have been in “denial” for a while now but it is getting to the point that I too need the extra height of the raised beds. This would alleviate the need to buy so much additional soil.

      I’ve been adamant about the use of NOT using roundup or any other herbicide in my garden area or in places where water runoff could carry it into the garden. I am also very careful about any any baits like Amdro or Surrender. I know they “say” they are safe but I am doubtful.

    1. Hi Red Baron,

      I have heard of that before but I have never had an issue. I think it is because of the fertilizer (conditioning) that the bales are put through and then the consistent watering.

      I hope I just didn’t jinx myself especially considering it is still “Twilight Zone 2020”! 🙂

  4. I have had excellent success using cardboard as a weed block. On a different topic, the raised bed mix I used seemed to cause my tomatoes to become deformed. Although it was organic, I wonder if it had herbicide in it, as there was no other explanation. Thanks for the advice on using hay that was not treated with pesticides.

    1. Hi Woodsprite,

      I was told by a very knowledgeable local lady that “hay” is notorious for retaining the pesticides used in the fields. She has been gardening all of her life and had a small ranch locally for years. She would not even buy hay for her cattle unless she personally knew the grower.

      While I am not totally organic, I try to grow as organically as I can. I just don’t trust “poisons” that say they are safe for the vegetable garden!

  5. Hey Lisa, this was an excellent article! I now feel inspired to redo two grow boxes that I threw together five years ago from recycled lumber while I was tearing an old house down. They are finally succumbing to the termite population.

    Your instructions were very clearly worded and easy to understand, that’s always a big plus!

    Since I am overly frugal, I would eliminate the L brackets and use a 2 x 4 brace instead. A 2 x 4 is really 1½” x 3½ inches and if you’re looking at the end of the board, the left hand side plus the bottom form the “L” you need. With galvanized nails nail the 1½” side to the pine 1 x 12 and the 3½” side to the landscape timber. I get 40″ 2 x 4’s for free at my local hardware store. When lumber arrives from the mill, it is strapped to those 2 x 4’s on the bottom so they can get a forklift under it. They all end up in a big pile at the hardware store and they let me take them for free just for the asking. The lumber comes wrapped in waterproof tarps which I also get for free, and could probably be used to line the bottom of the grow boxes. I’m going to try that on mine, punching some very small drain holes in the tarp with a screwdriver. If I cut the tarp so it goes up the sides as well as covering the bottom, that should keep the wood drier and help slow down the termites and the rotting process.

    Also due to my frugalaciousness I fertilize with urine (diluted 1:4 due to salts) which is sterile so nothing to worry about. Urea is called that because it was first isolated from urine so I said to myself, “Why not use the free stuff?” 🙂 It speeds things up in the compost pile too.

    How often do you have to water the hay bales?

    I also like your linseed oil treatment. Have you had any problems with termites? I think I’ll do some experimenting with that as a termite protection. Today I’ll cut some short pieces of 1 x 4 and treat one but not the other, then bury them side by side in my current aforementioned termite-infested grow boxes and see what happens.

    Again, great article!

    1. Thank you, St Funogas!

      Actually the “free stuff” also works well on fire ants! I hadn’t thought about it with the hay bales but it would definitely be worth a try. We have an aerobic septic system (was with the house when we purchased it) and I always wondered why the areas around the outflow sprinklers were so lush and green when everything else was dry as a bone. I just thought it was because of the consistent watering but there may be more to it than that. 🙂

      We do have subterranean termites. That is the reason I began putting my raised beds on the landscape timbers. One thing I will mention, I have noticed that the linseed oil will not last as long as the Thompson’s Water Seal but I still use the linseed oil as much as I can simply because it is organic.

    2. I totally forgot to answer your question on watering the hay bales. After planting I usually give them a good soaking once a week. More depending on the weather. We are in such desperate need of rain here that I have been watering the bales every third day.

  6. Off Topic — Gold to Silver Ratio

    The ratio has moved from 1:101 on June 24th to 1:81 this morning. JWR, at what ratio do you typically recommend trading silver for gold?

  7. NE Texas here. We have trees of all types, and our property also produces a sizable amount of cedars. We use those for almost everything, including our raised beds. I just stagger the joints at the corners like a log cabin, and the cedar lasts a good long time. Plus its cheap…

    1. Hi JW,

      Yes, cedar lasts forever! My grandfather built many a fence using cedar posts and/or bois de arc. Most of our property here is various Oaks, fortunately, a hickory nut tree, and wild plums. We do have a few cedars.

      I’m curious though about using them in raised beds. Do you let them cure out first? also do you strip the bark? What do you use for “chinking” (not sure that is the correct word) between the posts?

  8. Lisa in TX! Great second installment, and extension of the gardening conversation too.

    We haven’t yet moved into “hay bale” territory, but we have been exploring the idea! We did use a layered hay approach in our potato beds this year, and will see how we do!

    Mother Earth News offers a book title on the subject (straw version of the endeavor), and may be a helpful resource:

    https://www.motherearthnews.com/store/product/growing-vegetables-in-straw-bales

    An additional idea related to cattle panel trellises to share also! Ours are arched between two raised beds in the greenhouse (and this year we will add trellises to outdoor beds as well). We use redundancy measures (for safety) in securing the ends to the wood because the panels — when arched — are under some tension. These have been wonderfully productive for our cucumbers and cherry-like tomatoes. We can’t wait to get these into use in the outdoor growing area as well.

    Michael made several excellent points too — including his notes about chickens! Our hens are located in an area far from most of our garden. We do have a couple small beds within their ranging area, and when those are in use, we must cover and protect the plants with netting.

    Here’s a link with a minor discussion about allelopathy from Gardening Know How to help:

    https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/garden-how-to/info/allelopathic-plants.htm

    This link adds to the resource information as well:

    https://www.ecofarmingdaily.com/eco-farming-index/hugelkultur-gardening/

    Enjoy and have fun!

    1. Thank you, Telesilla!

      I also use the arched cattle panel for my raised beds. My pole beans do great on them!

      I don’t know if you have seen them or not but I’m thinking about trying a “cattle panel greenhouse”. I think it would be a fun project and also about even par for my basic carpentry skills. 🙂

      Thank you very much for the links on the hugelkultur gardening. I was just replying to Michael that this is something I would like to research/try.

  9. Lisa,

    This was a fantastic article!! Thank you for sharing such detailed information about your methods. I’m going to have my husband help me get some of these built for next year!

    Rock on 🙂

  10. My hips and knees are shot. I cant plant weed
    or harvest on the ground.

    So i invented counter top height beds. I use used
    tires. You can go 1 tire wide or 2 tires wide.
    If you go 2 tires wide you can get the sides
    straighter. If 1 tire wide bring tape measure
    to the tire shop. Ive always been thanked for
    taking the used tires. Go 3 tires high and as
    many as you want the length of your rows.
    My rows are 53 feet long. I can get 6 buckets
    of sweet potatoes from 1 bed. Metal roofing
    is 38 inches wide. I screw the metal to the
    sides and use vinyl siding outside corners
    for the corners. You screw into each round
    part of the tires. The metal is several inches
    higher than the tires. Then i put old used
    metal roofing on top of the tires then i put
    plastic sheeting on the old metal and up the
    sides. Then make your soil. It is very easy to
    plant, weed, and harvest. Also ground hogs
    and other varmints cant get at the plants.
    if you use 2 tires wide its easier to keep the
    sides straight. You will be surprised at the
    different widths in 16 inch tires. I use green
    metal for the sides and cream color corners.
    They are very good looking. I use a string line to keep the sides straight. Hope this helps. Mountain Man 417 741 0607

    1. Hi John,

      This is very interesting. I have used tires before in planting ornamental trees/shrubs. I actually have a 5 year old rosemary bush in one in my garden area. I planted this before I started seeing the “potential dangers” of doing this.

      I do have a question. I have heard through various websites, that the tires retain a lot of the chemicals used in manufacturing. Are you not concerned about the potential drawing/leaking of these chemicals into the plants root system? In this day and time it is hard to know who/what sources to trust (referring to internet sites). How long have you been using this system?

      I’m not trying to be argumentative or offend you for the idea. I have actually seen videos on youtube where folks actually use farm tractor tires in the same method. Their gardens look absolutely awesome! I’m just concerned with the possible leeching of chemicals, somewhat like the leeching of lime at the foundation of a home.

      Have you seen any negatives in any plants you have planted? As I have stated in previous comments, it’s been my experience that some plants do better with other methods than others. One size doesn’t fit all! 🙂

  11. Thank you so much for sharing these ideas, Lisa! I’m a raw beginner when it comes to gardening, and it’s nice to read perspectives from other non-master-gardeners. Working my way through Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening book, and just assembled the box frame yesterday. I am abysmally sllloooowwww because I have lots and LOTS of little “help,” lol. Oh well–they are learning!

  12. the plants really dont come in contact with
    the tires. with metal on the sides they dont get sunlight and they are pretty fire proof.
    it sure is easy to weed at this height. i also did this in my greenhouse. i grow greens all
    winter. it does take a lot of soil to fill them up.
    never bend over to weed again. thats the good part.

    1. Hi John,

      I apologize, as I completely missed the the main idea of your comment! I was picturing planting directly in the tires but you are using the tires as the foundation for the bed itself! That is really a great idea. I too am getting to the point where I need higher beds.

      Someone mentioned in the comments last week, – “Old age is not for sissy’s!”. It’s definitely not for sissy’s but it just makes room for creativity to adapt and overcome! 🙂

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