Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hard Labor

You may recall that several weeks ago my husband made nine 4'x4'x2'high raised-bed frames for the vegetable garden. We set up the first one after the spinach bolted, and when I say "we," I mean my husband and the guys who at the time were installing the slate patio. Conveniently, the patio builders had a front-end loader which they used to transfer some of the soil which they had (also conveniently) dug out to make the patio and pond into the raised bed.

All I had to do was to dump in a cartload of compost, mix it into the soil, and plant my beans, which sprouted beautifully and seem to be prospering in their penthouse.

When last week's heat delivered a coup de grace to the peas, I pulled up the plants and threw them into the chicken house, where the hens--God's own composting machines--will peck at them and poop on them and make them ready for next year's garden. That left space in the garden for the next raised bed.

But the builders are gone now, with their front-end loader, so it's been up to the two of us to do the job. It's heavy work, and filling a bed that size takes a whole lot of dirt. In the interest of our backs I've been dictating terms: small cartloads, and short stints.

Yesterday and today we went out right after breakfast with the garden cart, a couple of shovels, and a can of homemade bug repellent. The patio builders left us two separate piles--one of dark brown, rich, crumbly topsoil, and one of grayish, clayish "underdirt." My plan is to fill the beds with 50% underdirt, 25% topsoil, and 25% compost.

Doused with bug repellent, we shoveled dirt into the cart, wheeled it over the dew-wet grass to the garden and--this was the killer part--lifted the cart over the two-foot wall of the raised bed and dumped in the dirt. While my husband started filling the next cartload, I distributed the dirt somewhat evenly in the bed, then returned to the dirt piles to help fill the cart.

When I called "time!" we leaned our shovels against the wall, tipped the cart over in case of rain, and went inside to close down the house against the coming heat. I lay on the bed under the fan and hugged my knees to my chest in an attempt to avert a back catastrophe.

So far, so good. The bed is three-quarters full of dirt and both of us are still ambulatory. Tomorrow we'll dump in the compost, and then I'll plant more beans. It's dicey planting beans this late around here, but if frost threatens before the harvest, I can save the crop by covering the bed with plastic.

Two beds down, seven more to go. Those last seven will have to wait until the warm-season vegetables are finished.

It's going to be a suspense-filled autumn, I can tell. I always let the chard and kale stay in the ground and keep producing until an Attila-the-Hun-type frost does them in. But if I wait that long to install the remaining beds I may find that the mountains of dirt have frozen solid. We'll have to work quickly.... If it takes us three days to fill one bed, however, it will take the better part of a month (allowing for weather) to fill the rest, by which time the snow will be so deep we won't be able to even find the garden.

And I thought that raised beds were going to make my life easier.

3 comments :

  1. Save one or two beds for us to help: we'll be there in less than a month ;-)

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  2. This is why my kale is two inches high - it took me until late June to get the last of the 3' x 3" x 12' beds filled. The filling of the beds is the hard part. Once that is finished it is all feasting and fun.

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  3. mrb, that is utterly kind of you...but I think we'll spare you!

    Elizabeth, I'll take that on faith.

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