Posts Tagged ‘raised beds’

Success growing backyard pumpkins

July 17, 2008

Last year we tried to grow pumpkins and failed miserably. Admittedly, the attempt was half hearted. The planting bed was hard-packed clay in an area that was formerly used for storing pipe. I dug deep holes and filled them with planting mix and compost, but the resulting vines were spindly and produced a small, thin crop.

Our first try at Big Max (Giant), Lumina (White), and Jack-Be-Little (Miniature) produced only a few little pumpkins. I blamed the poor production on the lack of bees, but after the changes we made this year, I can say that the bees were not totally to blame.

On the left is the BEFORE pic of our strawberry box in front of the newly planted pumpkin patch. On the right you can see our flourishing pumpkins (AFTER), now invading the strawberries.

Before

After

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Success! Two white “Lumina” pumpkins on the vine.

Two white pumpkins

After making the changes below, I am happy to say that we have a strong crop of pumpkins this year and daily visits by the local bees. We’ve never been more excited to see bees in the garden.


If you want to grow pumpkins in your backyard, try these 6 steps:

  1. Full sun. We planted our pumpkins in the same spot this year because it gets full sun all day long. It has a southern exposure and is the warmest and sunniest spot in our yard.
  2. Raised bed. This year I built a 4ft x10 ft box and filled it with 6 inches of “garden mix” from the local landscape yard. In large beds, always add a few stepping stones or boards to walk on so that you won’t compact the soil. Pumpkins like to root their vines into the soil as they grow, which provides more nutrients to the plant and, more importantly, the pumpkins! A raised bed creates the perfect environment.
  3. Drip irrigation. Pumpkins like water…lots of it…and at regular intervals. I recently read about a woman who lost her prized Big Max pumpkin when it received a large amount of water all at one time and swelled to the point of cracking. Our drip system is on a timer so the pumpkins get a daily dose of H2O.
  4. Mulch. We added a 2 inch layer of shredded cedar mulch to the raised bed once the plants were about 4 inches tall. This serves two purposes: (1) Moisture is retained in the soil and is less likely to dry out on hot days and (2) the pumpkins have a dry surface on which to grow. If pumpkins come in contact with damp soil for an extended period they can discolor and, in the worse cases, soften and rot.
  5. Flowers and Bees. Pumpkins need bees. Bees like flowers. Attract bees to your pumpkin patch and your flowers are more likely to be pollinated. We planted a row of sunflowers along the back of the box, along with zinnias, marigolds, and rosemary, but the pumpkins grew faster than expected. There are pumpkins on the vine but no sunflowers yet (we’ll plant them earlier next year). Other bee-friendly flowers that we have in the yard include azalea, rhododendron, rose, thyme, red apple, agapanthus, lobelia, lavender, columbine, cosmos, daisy, pansy, primrose, lamb’s ears, sage, poppy, basil, boysenberry, orange. Check out this list of bee-friendly flowers for ideas.
  6. VF-11. We apply VF-11 plant food weekly. This stuff is incredible, and seems like magic. Buy some and use it on all your plants.

Check out these amazing photos that Calvin took of the bees in our pumpkin patch.

Two Bees

Can you say pollination?

Can you say pollination?

And here a few more pumpkin pics…

Jack-Be-Little

Jack-Be-Little

Lumina (white) on the left & Big Max (giant) on the right

Lumina (white) on the left & Big Max (giant) on the right

Trevor just finished an iPhoto class. Here’s his take on the pumpkin patch…

Thank you, Sarah, for the seeds!

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3 Steps to the Perfect Vegetable Garden (Part Two)

May 23, 2008

Step Two: RAISED BEDS

Raised Beds

This one tip can make your garden grow lush, with better seed germination, fewer weeds, and higher vegetable/flower production. Soil prep is also greatly reduced, saving you a ton of prep time and effort each Spring.

Why it works:

  1. You never compact the garden soil by walking on it.
  2. Rototilling is eliminated.
  3. Weeds come out effortlessly.
  4. Vegetable roots spread quickly in the loose garden soil.
  5. Plants grow and fill out rapidly.
  6. Gardening is compartmentalized.

For years I planted our vegetable garden in rows in the existing clay soil. I did amend our soil each year but it became compacted as I walked between the rows to pull weeds, water plants, or harvest. Winter rains further compacted the soil. In the early Spring I’d pull out the rototiller and go to work. I don’t know about you, but in the spring I want to plant, not rototill. I typically avoided the tilling until late in the season. Some years, the Bermuda grass and weeds took over and we never got around to planting a garden at all.

Then I decided to bite the bullet and build a few raised beds and fill them with garden mix. I used old lumber I had collected over the years from past projects or tear-downs. The boxes don’t have to be pretty, just functional. You don’t even need nails. Some of our boxes are made up of a few 4x4s laid on the ground with a couple stakes hammered into the ground to hold them in place.

Raised Bed

Craigslist is a great place to find free lumber and keep it out of the landfill.

I used 2×6 and 4×6 boards for other boxes…whatever I had on hand. I recommend that you fill the bed with at least six inches of good planting mix or garden mix. Most vegetables will root into the top 6″ of soil. The underlying soil will help retain moisture and give aggressive roots a place to go. If your lumber is only 4″ high, dig out 2 inches of existing soil before filling the boxes.

Add planting mix

You can buy planting mix bags at your local nursery or home supply store. If you have a truck, call landscape supply yards and see if they have a “garden mix”. You can save a lot of money if you buy the soil mix in bulk. They will deliver large loads. If you go this route, you may need to add compost to the bulk mix. In my experience, the bulk mixes don’t contain quite enough organic material. The loamy soils are nice but can form a “crust” on top and hinder water penetration. I’ve remedied this by mixing compost into the top layer or adding a product like Soil Moist when planting. Check the soil quality before you buy. The mixture will vary between landscape supply companies. If you want more organic material in the mix, see if they will mix more compost into it for you before they load it into your truck.

Strawberry Patch

You can make boxes in any size but, ideally, you should be able to reach the veggies without stepping inside the box. This keeps everyone from walking on the soil. A good size to start with is four feet by four feet.

TIP: If you have to go with larger boxes (like I did above), add stepping stones or planks to avoid soil compaction. I put three stones in the (far) pumpkin patch above.

In the winter, cover the unused boxes with a 2″ layer of leaves or straw to keep weeds in check. I leave the mulch in place until I am ready to ready to plant each box. If you only get one box planted, no problem. The weeds don’t get out of control in the other beds and they are still waiting for you when you are ready.

Rototilling is not needed. Just add a layer of compost on top of the garden soil in the Spring. Mix it in with your favorite hand tool. A hula hoe works well too.

Garden Tools

Start small and test it out. Build a 3 or 4 foot square and see how it goes. I’d love to hear how this works for you.