Wednesday, August 15

Cinderblock Garden: Planning

Hi, friends! If you're reading this post and would like to see an update from my Summer 2013 garden, click here!

Also, to read about the assembly and planting stages of this project, check out this post.

Folks who knew me in Augusta are probably familiar with my kiddie pool garden. This makeshift veggie patch was wonderful for our old rental house. It left minimal damage to the yard, required only a smallish financial investment, and was low maintenance. But when we started dreaming about our new home I was ready to leave the kiddie pool behind.

The kiddie pool at its prime

I pictured rows and rows of produce plentiful enough to fill our plates in summer and fall. But all of the houses we looked at in the Memphis area had modest yards, and the house we fell in love with has one of the smallest! I know now that this is a good thing considering Michael's schedule, which will sometimes require him to choose between mowing and sleep. But it has caused me to rethink my dream garden. Here are a few things to consider when planning your own veggie patch.

Type of Garden

The kiddie pool was simply a raised bed that I planted using the square foot gardening method, only the "squares" along the edge were oddly shaped. Since I knew I could get a lot of produce out of a small space using this method (100 tomatoes last year from four squares!), I decided to stick with it for my new raised bed.

Measuring squares for the old kiddie pool

I was researching how to build raised beds from wood when I found this post that mentioned cinder block gardens. Perfect! I could easily assemble it without Michael's help (although he did help), I could save valuable square footage by planting herbs along the outside of the bed, and I could fit cinder blocks in my little Honda much better than long planks of wood.

**Note: I considered using wood pallets to build beds, but there are a lot of articles floating around the internet about the risks of using wood of unknown origin, especially chemically treated, to grow veggies. I might try them for flower beds, though.

I wound up needing much more dirt than this!

Materials and Cost

The week of garden construction, I went to Lowes every day after work and got my trunk loaded to capacity with cinder blocks, peat moss, topsoil, and cow manure. I already had most of my veggie seeds leftover from last year, but bought a few extras and ordered my herb seeds from Amazon. By using cinder blocks instead of pricy wood and using seeds instead of plants, I feel like this is shaping up to be a very cost effective garden. I could have saved a little more if I'd bought more topsoil and cow manure for the dirt mixture. I didn't have enough to fill the cinder block holes so I used potting soil, which is more expensive. Keep in mind that the biggest cost is dirt, so the larger your bed, the more expensive it will be. My 16'x4'x8" bed required almost a ton of dirt!!

Here's the cost breakdown:
32 cinder blocks (8x8x16) x $1.20 ea = $38.40
35 bags topsoil (1 cu ft) x $1.25 ea = $43.75
2 cubes (3 cu ft) peat moss x $9.74 = $19.48 - discount for damaged bag = $14.94
6 bags (50 lb) cow manure x $4.77 = $28.62
3 bags (32 quart) potting soil x  $6.88 = $20.64
Newspaper - free (gathered free local publications at Kroger)
Seeds - mostly leftover from last year; herbs were free w/ Amazon rewards points
Total Cost: $146.35 - including leftover seeds and potting soil

Topsoil is cheap, but requires additional nutrients

I got a big discount thanks to the hole in the bag!

Considering I probably spend at least $25/year on herbs alone I think I'll easily recoup my investment over the next several years.

Planting Time

You may be thinking I'm crazy to plant a garden in the extreme heat of early August, but this helpful website confirmed that its the right time to plant seeds for a fall harvest in Memphis. I'll water the garden daily with a sprinkler until the heat calms down a bit.

If you want to be fancy you can start your seeds indoors and transplant to the garden later, but our cat loves to chew on plants, so that's out of the question for us. I also think it's a lot simpler to sow seeds directly. They're easier to water that way and if something doesn't sprout I can always plant another seed or buy a plant later.

Depending on what types of veggies you choose you may want to sow some of your seeds a few weeks apart for a continual harvest. For instance, I planted only half of my carrots, spinach, and beans and will plant more in a few weeks. Also, consider that some plants, like bush beans, have a short harvest time, which may allow you to plant something else in those spots when they finish. I plan to plant more spinach once my bean squares are empty.

Plant Selection and Placement

One of the most important parts of planning is to think about the types of veggies you like to eat and how many plants you'll need to produce a good yield. I've learned that I have to grow a ton of bean plants in order to eat more than five beans at a time, but one cherry tomato plant will produce more than we can hope to eat before they spoil.

Once I selected my veggies and decided roughly how many I wanted, I planned where they would go. The easiest way for me to do this is to draw a diagram of the garden and divide it into one-foot squares. If you're looking for something a little more tech-savvy and have very cool drag-and-drop garden planners with guides for how many seeds to plant per square. Something important to remember is that the tallest plants in your garden should go to the north so they don't shade other plants too much. I planned my plants tall to short.

Planning was the hardest and most important part of the process. I'll post again soon with details about setting up and planting my cinder block garden. Thanks for reading!

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