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Enjoy winter produce from your backyard

By: Kurt Voigt Special to The News Messenger
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Tired of high priced organics? Grow your own I finally received a plentiful bounty out of my garden after a long, mild summer. Too bad it came in September! But we weren’t let down; we have tomatoes coming out of our ears. My son, wife, and I gathered two huge bowls of Romas, Better Boys, Mr. Stripey and tangerine. We had tomatoes all over our counter tops and my wife made homemade spaghetti sauce out of 20 pounds of Romas! Fresh cucumbers, crookneck squash and zucchini, bell peppers and jalapeños. All pesticide- and synthetic fertilizer-free. I regained my faith in the taste of a fresh tomato. Over the winter, buying store tomatoes had reduced me to “baseball” with them more than eat them. Even though summer is over, a vegetable garden isn’t just for the summer. I have my best salads in winter because you can grow most of your lettuces, carrots (root crops), onions, garlic, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc. during the cooler season. Enough of my experiences, I’m sure a lot of you can share in what I just mentioned. It doesn’t take much room, and you don’t have to plant in the native soil if you can’t get a shovel in it. Getting older in years and more self-conscious of what I put in my body, growing my own fruit and vegetables ensures that I know what’s in them and on them. Face it...organic anything isn’t cheap. During my landscaping tenure we built a lot of raised garden beds for my parents, friends and clients. It’s very simple and easy, and the design helps make it easier to work in the garden. All you need is a space about 10’ by 12’ which leaves enough room to get around the bed without feeling cramped. I usually use rough-cut 2” by 12” redwood for the sides. You can purchase two 12’ boards, cut them into two 4 footers and two 8 footers and you won’t waste any wood. Now you have two 8-foot sides and two 4-foot sides. Next purchase a 6-foot or 8-foot 4” by 4” and cut them into four equal pieces. They will be the corner posts with which you fasten the 2” by 12” boards into with either lag bolts or nails. I recommend flat black lags for aesthetics, but you can choose whatever color you want. If you’re handy with woodworking, counter sink the lags with a washer so it’s flush with the wood. Now, since the legs, (corner posts) are longer or deeper than the walls of your bed, dig a hole, and counter-sink the 4” by 4” posts into the ground for stability and preventing the bed from moving. (If you want your garden on automatic drip irrigation, make sure you run your pipe underground and up into the bed before you backfill with amendments). Next, back fill the bed with a mixture of compost, steer and chicken manure and maybe some bags of a “planting mix,” which usually has some sand and topsoil in it for structure and drainage. Of course, this is a very simple design. I’m sure you could enhance the beauty of it by adding 2” by 6” redwood “caps” or “rails” on top of the sides for sitting or kneeling as you work in the bed. I estimated materials per bed between $100 and $150 (depends on redwood prices at the time), without soil. Not only is the bed raised up for a better working height but also prevents stooping, which leads to lower back pain. You can also add another level and make it higher. Also, you’re planting in a rich, loose, workable soil mix that needs no shovel. Chicken manure is high in nitrogen, twice that of steer manure. However, they both contain phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and calcium. They also add organic matter to the soil structure and help with water holding capacity. There are other forms and designs of raised garden beds you can find online, at Sunset Western Garden books or other garden project books etc. They all talk about raising up the workspace to a more comfortable level and planting aboveground, not in the native soil (having more control over your soil). Kurt Voigt is a landscape designer/consultant.