I grew up gardening with my family in Michigan. It was a staple to our Spring, Summer and Fall and we all pitched in and helped (the whole family, my parents, siblings and grandparents). I guess thats when the love of gardening and growing, seeded in my soul. As an adult, I have continued in this tradition and now have my own mini-me out there with me at 6:30 am to help with the watering. When I began my gardening adventure I didn’t know how to build a raised bed, but I figured it out and had some successes and MANY FAILURES. The failures didn’t stop me from trying again and again. Over the years I have gotten better with every season. The last few years friends and family have asked me to offer my personal tips to help them build their own garden. I’m always happy to offer suggestions from my experiences but I’m not a professional and I’m still learning so much myself.
I decided to find someone that was a professional to assist me with putting together a series outlining how to build a garden, plant it and care for it. I met Sean Murray from Murray Heirlooms farm through mutual friends and I instantly knew this was the guy that I wanted to work with on this project. I love his personal story about how he got started. Sean literally woke up one day and realized he wasn’t feeling fulfilled in his career and that his true passion was in growing and gardening. He decided to take it to the next step. He now has a farm of his own and sells his produce to local restaurants. Murray Heirlooms produce can be found in well known and respected kitchens of Charleston that include: FIG, The Granary and Hominy Grill. Sean and I decided the best place to start this series was at the beginning: HOW TO CONSTRUCT A HOME GARDEN BOX. If you have ever wanted to start a home garden and didn’t know what to do…we have outlined a step-by-step guide. Now is the time…the next few weeks offer great weather and it is ideal planting time. If you have always wanted a garden but don’t have time to build a box, Sean constructs custom home gardens and his rates are provided at the end of the article. Either way, I highly recommend giving it a try, growing your own food is extremely rewarding and A LOT OF FUN.
THE SOIL IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING, SO SPEND YOUR MONEY HERE! Soil and dirt are not the same thing. Dirt is found in your backyard, around the periphery of parking lots, along sidewalks, under pools…I think you get the point. Dirt is dirt. However, soil is something much more complex. Soil is comprised of minerals, air, water and living matter. I must admit that I myself did not know much about soil until Sean helped to break it down for me. There are several reasons you want to spend $20 a bag for the good stuff (which is full of rich nutrients) opposed to the $5 a bag super imposed dirt with mega grow chemicals. Its simple…if you are spending the time, the money, the energy to grow your own food…then take the extra measures to buy the soil that will produce great produce longer than just a single year! Sean recommends the following places for purchasing your soil: Possum’s Landscape & Pest Control Supply (Mt.Pleasant and West Ashley), Ace (national supply chain, several locations in the area), Charleston Co. Recycling Center (Bee’s Ferry Rd. West Ashley). Listed below are Sean’s recommendations for a 4×8 box (most bags are approx. $15-20 per bag):
1. (6) bags of Happy Frog Natural Potting Soil-avail. at Possums
2. (3) bags of Cotton Burr Compost (3 cubic feet)-avail. at Possums
3. (2) bags of Back To Nature Flower Bed Soil
4. (2) bags of soil conditioner
5. (3) bags of manure
6. (2) bags Natures Blend
To calculate how many bags you will need, use Google soil calculator. It will estimate the cubic feet/bags needed for the space you are working with. The bags listed above should be used as a reference of ratio of soil, compost etc…
Composting tip: The bags of compost from Bee’s Ferry are great to use and are a minimal cost, but you don’t necessarily need to compost until the fall after your first season, then you should compost every fall and spring after and 2 weeks before planting.
Manure tips: Using manuer gives the soil more nutrients and will make your plants HAPPY!!! Yes-it may be stinky business, but it is helpful!!! Cow and chicken manure are both acceptable to use. Cow manure has less nitrogen than chicken manure (do some research to better understand what your soil may particularily need) but in general-its good stuff!
BUILDING THE BOX:
When selecting a spot to build your garden box, find a spot that will get A LOT of SUNSHINE! The plants need 8-10 hours of sun a day. SUN, SUN, SUN. When I started my box several years ago, I went into the garage and looked for supplies I already had on hand, I had some untreated wood, nails and a hammer, mesh screen and I pulled it all out, and that was how I started my first box. I built it by myself, used many swear words as I hammered away and failed multiple times (I’m sure my neighbors got a good laugh those first days of my construction). But the box worked, plants grew (the garden actually did great that year…I was really proud)! But the following spring when I went out to do some prep before planting, I was horrified to find that the boards were completely infested with termites and rotted out (I was devastated)! If using regular wood, it has to be untreated otherwise the soil and plants will be contaminated with chemicals. Feel free to use regular untreated wood if you want, but as Sean recommends and I learned the hard way-its best to use cedar wood (yes, it is expensive…but it will last 5+ years and is a MUCH BETTER investment in the long run). Cedar wood will run about $70 for (2) 8ft. pieces. Sean recommends starting with a 4 ft x 8 ft box. The width shouldn’t be more than 4 ft, but the length can be as long as you want. You never want the boxes width to be more than 4 ft. because it will force you to have to stand in the box to tend to plants and gather ripened produce. At that point you compress the soil and push the oxygen out. Oxygen is vital for the soil because the roots need it to thrive.
What you will need:
4 boards, 2-4ft. 2-8ft (untreated wood-preferablely cedar), approx. $70
4 brackets to connect boards (USP CONNECTORS in wood section of Lowes), approx $3 each
32 screws (3/4 inch) you don’t want them to be too long so they don’t punture boards
Soil combo. (previsiously listed)
Heavy duty metal rake, for evening out and mixing soil well
Tips for constructing box:
Fasten a hinge on both ends of the 8 ft long boards, securing the hinges in the middle of each board on the ends, do this on a flat surface such as the drivway, then place your boards in the designated area and screw in the remaining 4 ft boards…this will make construction much easier.If you have had a problem previously (or sadly-currently) with moles, then buy chicken wire to put along the bottom of your box before filling it in with soil.A great home tool is the Google soil calculator, it helps to figure out how many cubic feet (or bags) of soil you will need for your project.
Filling In The Box:
There are many ways to go about filling in the box, one of the most important things to remember is to saturate the soil heavily with water after adding each bag to the box. Suggested piling techniques: spread the soil mix, 1 bag at a time, evenly throughout the box (2-4 inches deep) and saturate with water. Repeat adding soil (1 bag at a time, spreading the mix) again, repeat saturating with water. Repeat, repeat, repeat and once box is almost filled in…add manure on top. Ideally leave for 2 weeks, before planting. The box should be filled to the top of the frame when finished. It should be about 10-12 inches deep (minimum soil depth of 8 inches for plants to root properly).
Estimated cost for building your own organic home garden box: $300-450
Estimated cost to hire Sean to custom build your home garden box: $600-750. (Prices may vary and can be discussed during a consultation.)