Filling the high raised bed.

Today worked out to be a longer day than planned. I had intended to do a Costco trip to the city tomorrow but decided that 1) I didn’t want to deal with weekend crowds and 2) Halloween is around the corner, and I didn’t want to deal with even bigger crowds because of it! So I headed into the city this morning. After this, we’ll need to go over what’s left that we need to pick up, then make one more trip – after Halloween!

Once that was done and everything was put away, I headed to the finished high raised bed, to start filling it, modified hΓΌgelkultur style.

While making the bed, I tried to put all the scrap bits of wood inside, so the first order of business was to spread those out more evenly. Then the short logs that had been used to frame this bed over the summer were added to the bottom. There weren’t a lot of those, but we have plenty of piles of wood to raid. I tried to put the bigger pieces on the bottom, then smaller pieces on top, using them to fill gaps as best I could. Then I started adding bark to fill gaps, too. Ideally, there would be no gaps, but with so many odd shaped pieces of wood, that wasn’t really an option.

Thankfully, we have lots of bark debris. This spot used to have a pile of logs between the two spruces. There is just one long one with a weirdly shaped end left. It needs to be cut up before we can use it.

The nice thing is, along with the partially decomposed bark, I was able to pick up quite a bit of spruce needles. Not enough to increase the acidity of our very alkaline soil, but every little bit helps!

I added a couple of wheelbarrow loads of bark into here, and even went around the bed to pick up little bits of wood and handfuls of sawdust to toss in. I wanted to fill the gaps as much as I possibly could.

Next, a few shovels full of soil was added. This is the soil that had been dug out of this bed before the high raised bed was built. Just a very thin layer was added to fill in the gaps a bit more, and give the breakdown of the wood a bit of a boost of soil microorganisms.

Next came a nice thick layer of corn stalks that we saved, just for this! If we did not have the corn stalks, this layer would have been straw, because straw takes longer to decompose than the other things that will be added.

Yes, we have straw, now!

This got delivered while I was working on the corn stalk layer.

I broke that baby open almost right away!

With the layers, I was alternating between “brown” and “green” layers. The corn stalks were a brown layer, so the next layer (after a bit more soil) was grass clippings, which are considered a “green” element.

I stole the grass clippings from the nearby garlic bed, replacing it with straw. I was concerned the grass clippings might smother the garlic. Later, we will replace the grass clipping mulch on the other two beds with straw as well.

But not today.

With each additional layer of soil, I added a bit more than the previous soil layer. The layers were still pretty thin, comparatively speaking, but I could already notice the weight of it was causing the looser layers below to settle and sink. If I had any, I would have been using compost or manure to layer instead of, or in addition to, the soil.

The next brown layer was leaves.

The final green layer got all the bitter lettuce and frozen chard that had been pulled from the other beds. The kitchen compost buckets got added as well, so there’s also things like egg shells and coffee grounds in there.

Now, it was time to add the rest of the soil. This job actually took the longest, because I frequently stopped to spread it out, pull out the roots and rocks, break up clumps, and make sure any worms that hitched a ride were gently and safely buried.

I stopped adding soil when I was getting too many crab grass rhizomes and rocks to make it worthwhile anymore, and the last of it got raked out evenly, as did the soil in the raised bed.

The very last layer was a mulch of wood chips. Thanks to my mother’s generosity in getting us the wood chipper, we had enough to add a couple of inches to the top.

I expect the contents to settle and sink over the next while. We’ll probably be down a few inches, by spring. Which is okay. We will continue to add more organic matter to build it up.

I must say, I am so thrilled with the height of this. It is SO much easier on the back to work at this height! I don’t even have a back injury. I’m just old. πŸ˜‰ It might be a bit low for my husband, if he ever wanted to do a bit of gardening, but he would be able to reach while sitting in his walker just fine.

One down, five more to go!

Eventually. πŸ˜€

Temperatures are expected to continue to be mild over the next couple of weeks; a few degrees above freezing during the say, and just barely below freezing overnight. We’re expecting some rain tomorrow, then possible rain and snow over the next couple of days. Which means we can still continue preparing garden beds for next year. I might even be able to start cutting down more dead trees before things start getting too cold. It would be good to have the lengths pre-cut to build more beds, even if building them ended up waiting until next fall. Mind you, there’s nothing stopping us from adding more beds to the main garden area, other than possibly running out of material to layer with. My only hesitation is that we intend to expend our garden area into the outer yard, where there is better sun exposure, and those will all be high raised beds. Perhaps by the time we’re ready to build those, we’ll be able to use materials other than salvaged dead spruce trees!

Gosh, I’m having so much fun with all this!

The Re-Farmer

Our 2022 garden: high raised bed build, day 2

I did a fair bit of running around this morning, and was even able to get a quick visit in with my mother. We are hopefully now well stocked with cat kibble for the rest of the month. It’s also coming up on Thanksgiving here in Canada, which means cheap turkey season, so I got one for this weekend, and another for the freezer. πŸ™‚

Once back at home, I grabbed a quick lunch and the girls and I headed outside. While they worked on raking leaves for me – and running to and from the house for any tools I needed – I worked on the high raised bed.

The bottom got prepared a bit, first. I straightened out the edges and shoveled out some more soil, then used a thatching rake on the bottom. I eye-balled four feet across and raked up the edges where the logs would go. Then I got two nine foot lengths in. The first one was placed right where I wanted it to go (that’s the one on the right), then placed the two sticks against it. From the sticks, I measured four feet and placed two more sticks, then rolled the second log up against the second pair of sticks.

Once those were in place, I rolled an end piece against them and used their width to judge where to begin cutting. This end piece was the bottom of the trunk, so it had one very uneven end. It was measured and cut at more than four feet to compensate for that. That made it long enough to cut a notch out to fit the logs, rather than cutting right to the edge.

I used the baby chainsaw to cut the outer edges of the notch, then made a cut lengthwise. I then spent the next while using a hammer and chisel, sometimes a hatchet, to cut out excess wood, which you can see inside the bed. After most of the wood was chiselled out, I use the baby chainsaw to cut into the remaining excess wood, as you can see above.

Then I kept running it over the area to level it more. I wasn’t after perfection, here, and don’t have the tools to do a better job, so this was as good as it was going to get!

It didn’t take long for me to drain the battery on the baby chainsaw and have to switch to the second one

When I started working on the other end, I made plenty of cuts to make chiseling the excess out, easier!

I got it to this point with the chisel before going at it with the baby chainsaw to level it off some more.

Then I got a daughter to help me place it on the logs, so I could use it to mark were to cut wood out of the ends.

By the time I finished making cuts to depth, I drained the second battery. That’s okay. It was enough to get started, and since I was removing wood to the edge, it would be easier to take off the excess with a chisel than with the notches.

Right?

Ha! Of course not.

Both logs had knots in them. One of them had two.

Those were a real pain in the butt to work through with nothing but a chisel or a hatchet to cut through them!

On the plus side, working on this took enough time that the first battery was almost fully charged again, so I could use the baby chainsaw to finish off the area.

That done, the end piece could be set in place.

As you can see, there is quite a bit of a gap under the end piece. This is not a concern, as the bottom of the bed will be filled with logs. It will be an easy matter to find a piece that can be fit under that cross piece.

The good thing is, all those bits of wood I’m cutting out will not go to waste, as they will be buried with the old logs. We’ll have things decomposing at different rates, all of which will release their nutrients slowly over time while the wood will act like a sponge, reducing the need for watering.

By this time, we started to get a bit of rain, so I stopped for the day. The girls finished raking and headed in to make supper while I prepped to continue later.

I chose a second cross piece that was close in size to the one at the opposite end. As before, I will use the other logs to see where to make the cut outs. Hopefully, I’ll be able to continue on this tomorrow. It depends on whether or not my mother will need me to drive her around or not.

This would go a lot faster if I had a full sized chain saw. πŸ˜€ Ah, well. We use the tools we have!

Meanwhile, I now have a nice pile of leaves to use when it’s time to start layering on top of the logs that will go on the bottom of the new raised bed! It’s been pretty windy, but hopefully they won’t blow away. πŸ˜‰

I’m glad we have found a way to make use of all those dead spruces we need to take down!

The Re-Farmer

First low raised bed: part one. It’s good to be flexible!

This evening, I finally got around to working on the first of the low raised beds in what had been our garlic beds this year.

The boxes are ready and waiting, and the beds had been left for any weeds to get larger, so they would be easier to pull.

The plan: dig out all the soil and buried layers of compostable material beneath, set up the box frame, then add the layers back, Hugelkultur style, with wood at the very bottom layer.

The first order of business was to loosen the soil a bit further than the new length the bed will be, and clear out all the weeds by the roots.

The first problem was in adding length. I was originally going to make it longer just at one end, only to find myself hitting large roots and rocks. So I did a bit at one end, then extended the other end, only to have the same problem!

Once the soil was as clear of weeds and roots as I could, it was time to remove the topsoil onto the waiting tarp.

The original plan had been to remove the soil up to the buried straw and compost pile contents into one pile, then remove the straw and other matter onto another. With the extended length, there was already the problem of not being able to dig far because of the roots and rocks I was hitting.

As expected, the straw was barely decomposed. It takes a long time for straw to rot away. That made it harder to dig down further.

I decided to leave it and modify my plans. If it wasn’t practical to dig down further, I would just have to build up higher!

Using a garden hoe, I flattened and somewhat leveled the perimeter, pushing the soil into the middle.

The box was then laid over the bed and stomped on, to create guidelines.

Then, it was time to raid the junk pile of old boards and create a foundation.

A first layer was placed on the guide lines, leveling the soil out more in the process. Then it was just a matter of digging out more boards and adding more layers. The boards are in varying states of condition and length, and a few were cut to size to fill in gaps.

I stopped at 5 layers of boards, which put the foundation at about level with the ground.

Then the box was lined up on top of the foundation.

That was definitely a two person job. πŸ˜€

The next step was to use the hoe to move the soil from the middle to the sides, burying the foundation on the inside.

Now it was time to do our use-watcha-got, Hugelkultur layering.

I raided one of our branch piles and brought small branches and twigs to cover the bottom. If we were doing a high raised bed, I would have used larger branches and logs, but these will do for a small bed. The idea with the wood is that, as it decomposes, it acts like a sponge, absorbing moisture that later becomes available to the roots of the plants above, and reducing the need to water.

The next layer was shredded paper. We’ve been saving and shredding our compost safe fliers and other paper, just for this purpose.

Then a layer of grass clippings from our new little “haystack” got added.

Then, the contents of our compost pile was added. Plenty of egg shells, coffee grounds, banana peels – all sorts of things that “garden hack” lists include. πŸ˜€

The last step for today was to hose the whole thing down, partly to keep things from blowing away. We have thunderstorms predicted for tonight. If we do get rain, it will help soak down the layers and get a kickstart in decomposition. If we don’t get rain, it will get saturated with the hose before the soil is returned.

Before the soil is added, however, I’ll have to find something I can pound into the ground on the outside of the long sides of the box, to prevent the boards from bowing out.

As lovely as the soil here is, it did test low in nitrogen, so before returning the soil to the bed, I will be mixing in some of the new garden soil, as well as more grass clippings, plus some of the pellets we’re using for cat litter now. It’s just compressed sawdust. As they get wet, they expand and break apart. This will add organic matter to the soil to keep it from compacting, plus the sawdust will absorb moisture and act as a sponge. The clipping and pellets will have the fall and winter to break down, and help increase the nitrogen levels.

If we had wood chips, they would have been included in the layers, and would be added as a layer of mulch at the very end. Alas, that will have to wait until we either get a wood chipper, or hire the tree guys to come out with their massive chipper for a few hours, and break down some branch piles for us. πŸ™‚

Which, weather willing, I should be able to work on tomorrow. πŸ™‚ Unless something else comes up. Which happens often! πŸ˜€

The Re-Farmer