Once upon a time a young woman set out into her virgin, one acre yard with lofty dreams of extreme gardening. This garden would grow bushels of organic, perfectly imperfect veggies. She would follow in the farming footsteps of her great grandfather and till acres of clay soil with old fashioned hand tools. Like her mother before her, she would design a garden that would swell with the colors of lush flowers and always smell of sweet honeysuckle dew. The animals of the forest would follow at her feet as she sang to the birds and she would live out her years as their fairy queen and a steward of their land. Alas, I was this young woman, these were my gardening expectations and reality gave me a swift kick in the fanny.
The red clay soil that my grandfather tilled by hand (like some giant Wizard of the garden) proved to be more of a monster than I was prepared to battle. I broke many a shovel and garden hoe trying to soften it's sticky orange consistency. Then there were the rocks, so many rocks that for over a year in my new yard I wasted many an hour pulling and throwing rocks into the woods, just so I could run a lawn mower over the lawn without chipping the lawn mower blades.
Growing up in the country can make farming and gardening seem deceptively simple. I expected to bleed, cry and wet myself a little, but I did not expect to fail, not when my entire family walks around with a bunch of green thumbs. Living in a rural town, I was accustomed to seeing garden vegetation sown directly into the ground soil. Ground soil in these parts of the world is more often than not, red clay. North Carolina is by tradition an agricultural state. This red clay soil has produced much of the U.S.'s tobacco, corn, and soybean and many great gardeners are able to grow all kinds of perfectly delicious fruits and vegetables directly in this red clay. These gardeners and farmers will tell you that a big part of their success is contributed to amending the soil and good crop rotation. For some folks, there is old fashioned “know how” to this and for others it literally is a science. I have a lot of respect for these folks that take the time to study and know the soil that they are working with. I am not one of these people. At least not yet.
Ironically, I finally found a solution to my gardening dilemma in the city. The answer was right in front of me all along. Here in Durham, little mill houses sit right on top of each other with not much space for the large traditional garden. In town, people resort to container gardening and using raised beds. This was my answer! A city solution for a country girl. Raised beds would be my salvation.
Once established, raised beds are super easy to maintain and basically anything that is grown in the ground can be grown in raised beds and containers. The greatest thing about raised bed and container gardening is that you can control your soil quality on an intimate level. You don't need to wine and dine a raised bed to get it to perform. All one really needs is a great soil and fertilizer source. Lucky for Durhamites, Barnes Supply is an eager dealer of many great soils and fertilizers. From experience I can attest that the FoxFarm brand fertilizers and soils are too legit to quit and have worked wonders in my garden and in gardening displays here at the store.
Some of the same rules for the traditional garden still apply to raised beds. Seasonal rotation and nutrient replenishing is still very important for the soil. Root veggies like potatoes and carrots easily drain soil of nutrients. Beds bearing root veggies will benefit from a season off with a cover crop such as clover. Rotating the type of vegetables grown in a bed is a known way to cut back on disease build up and other issues. Replenishing your soil seasonally is as easy as adding compost, or a compost tea to your existing soil. Personally, at the beginning of a new season I always add a fresh bag of the Fox Farm Ocean Forest a few weeks before planting . Which brings us to Part 2 of “ A Bed Time Story”, which possibly should have been Part 1.....but you are still reading so bless your heart and thanks! Consider this dessert before dinner. Now, onto the main course.