Monday, March 21, 2011

Starting a Raised Bed Garden in the Backyard

QUESTION(S):  I’m starting a raised garden bed in my backyard. I live in Orlando Florida. It’s my 1st garden experience. I’m building it out of cement blocks. It is 10 blocks in length and 4-5 blocks in width. Could you please help me with the following issues?
1.  What would be the best way to kill the grass under the bed?
2.  Should I put down a layer of weed block? 
3. On top of the weed block should I put a layer of gravel down for water drainage? 
4.  What kind of soil mixture should I use?
And finally, what would be the best vegetables and herbs to plant for this time of year? I’m going to transplant them with starter plants raised at a nursery. Thank you so much for your time and help. Any sites or tips you may have would be greatly appreciated!
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ANSWER(S):
Congratulations to taking the plunge into growing the best tasting vegetables you will ever enjoy --- your own.

Why don't you stop by our office at 6021 S. Conway Rd. sometime and talk with a Master Gardener Volunteer.  Additionally, there is some information or our website at:  http://orange.ifas.ufl.edu/res_hort/index.html, look toward the bottom of the page for some UF Publication specific to vegetable gardens.

In the meantime,

1.  Your raised bed is about 12' x 4' on the inside.  An ideal location in the yard is an area where you get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily.  More would be better.  The best way to ensure the weeds are gone is to open one end of your raised bed and dig them out with a shovel.  You only need to remove about 2" of soil with the grass and weeds.  You will only have to do this once.   We have a 4' x 16' concrete raised bed garden in our Demonstration Vegetable Garden at the County Extension Education Center.

2.   A weed block will slow the weeds up a little but corrugated cardboard (recycled cardboard boxes) may be better.  A combination of both weed block and corrugated cardboard is a little overkill but gives one some comfort.  Just a single layer and over lap the joints between pieces of cardboard will work for quite a while.  Weeds will show up in your garden eventually but most of them will be from wind blown sources close by.

3.  There is no need to add gravel for drainage.  Our typically sandy soils usually drain better than we like for our vegetable gardens.  If you have no standing water in the area of your raised bed garden after a rain storm, you are ready to put your growing media in the raised bed.

4.  Ideally a quality potting mix would be fine for growing your vegetables in the raised bed garden but can be expensive in that volume.  You do not want to use soil from the surrounding area because of the potential for harmful organisms.  If you wish to make your own growing media, a good recipe is 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 compost.  The peat moss can be purchased at the big box stores in "compressed bales".  Coarse horticulture grade vermiculite can be purchased in 4 cubic foot bags from a company just north of Apopka called BWI (3700 W Orange Blossom Trl., Apopka, FL 32712-5843 (407) 884-0242).   The compost can be a commercial product such as Black Kow composted cow manure.  You may also get quality compost from the Orange County landfill.  It is available at three locations in the county (Porter Transfer Station in Ocoee, LB McLeod Rd, and the main landfill on Young Pine Road --- call our office for more details if needed (407) 254-9200).  You did not indicate if your raised bed is one block high or two so I will try to give you what you will need for both situations (and I will try to keep it in one bag units): if it is only one block high you will need 32 cubic feet of material:  8 cubic feet of Peat Moss (one "compressed bale"), 12 cubic feet of vermiculite (two 4-cubic foot bags) and 12 cubic feet of compost, and if it is two blocks double the recipe.  (For future gardening seasons you will only need to add compost --- no more peat or vermiculite)

The vegetable gardening season for the warm season crops started about three weeks ago.  Quality transplants will be helpful to get an excellent harvest by June.  Start small, grow what you like to eat, and use varieties known to do well in Florida.  See the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide (see link on the right side of this blog page) with a planting chart for use in Orange County.  Pay particular attention to pages 10-12 that list varieties that grow well in Florida to help you choose what you will grow.  Additionally, look at the WARM SEASON planting chart to grow the right vegetables for this time of year.  (example:  Spinach and Onions are not listed because they grow better in the cool season)

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