Raised beds, square foot gardens & Our soil Mix

Nothing is better that growing your own food!

Ollie pulls carrots from the raised beds....

Ollie pulls carrots from the raised beds….

After trying to get things to grow in Colorado – a high desert location – we basically gave up.  Lack of water in extremely dry air meant water was as sacred as it comes…and every drop that fell on our property was actually owned by someone else!  It was against the law to collect rain off the roof of the barn to use for our gardens.

The barn we built in Colorado

The barn we built in the high desert of Colorado

When we moved to Maine we found we also also had a water problem, but it was exactly opposite!  We had too much water – and waterlogged vegetable gardens was the problem.  The solution  – raised beds!

There are so many ways you can make raised beds – you can literally just pile up soil into mounds, use old tree limbs or trunks to form a ‘bed’ and back fill, use fancy paving or field stones to form a boarder and backfill…the list goes on and on.

I decided to make wooden boxed raised beds.  These looked neater to me and would fit into our garden outline design.  We also had a leaning towards more intensive companion planting and these are perfect for that experiment.

Making the raised beds was easy.  They are simple boxes made from 1 inch by 8 inch rough cut untreated lumber so that the inside is roughly 3 foot by 4 foot.

Raised bed box.

Raised bed box.

We lined the bottom with weed mat so we could place the box right on to of the existing vegetation (for us lawn) .

The next question was – what do we now fill the box with?

This is where Square Foot Gardening really came into play.   Square Foot Gardening is a great system developed to allow almost anyone (including me) to intensely plant a vegetable garden using a simple set of principles and planting techniques.   See here for instructions on how to start a SFG!

Included in the system is a special soil mix (Mel’s Mix) made up from one third compost, one third peat moss and one third vermiculite.   These were all things we could get locally – the most expensive was the vermiculite – and so we mixed it all together and filled two boxes.

Raised bed boxes filled with  'Mel's Mix'

Raised bed boxes filled with ‘Mel’s Mix’

We used wires to divided the boxes into one foot x one foot ‘zones’ into which we plant – as per the Square Foot Gardening method.   This worked great for us…because it made ups really think how much of which plant we needed to feed our family.   Rather than just rows and rows of beans for example, we had like 6 plants.  And we had rooms for so many other things in less than our original garden space.  What is strange is that we have 12 acres…but our vegetable gardens take up such a small footprint!

Raised bed in action

Raised bed in action

This year we have expanded to two box raised beds, but this time we have a new ‘mix’ made up from things we have on the farm.  Our new mix is:

1 part river sand
1 part compost (it’s made up of mostly broken down wood chips)
1 part old horse manure (thanks to our horse Maggie)

This seems to be working great.  It is what we used on our potatoes-in-tires gardens, our new asparagus beds and our daughter’s first vegetable garden (she is 6).


Asparagus growing in a raised bed

Asparagus growing in a raised bed

Nothing is better than seeing our kindergartner out watering our garden and learning about the cycle of life and food.


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About Gaz

I'm an Australian transplanted to rural Maine where I live on a small property with my wife and two youngest children. Life about family, work and trying the make the planet a better place for everyone.
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