low maintenance garden (?!)

We built a raised garden bed last spring.  It was wonderful to be ‘free’ from academics, and spend some time working on a simple project: getting dirty, letting my hands take over and giving my mind a break.

I had missed gardening over the couple of years we went back to apartment living for my second degree.  Our north-facing balcony at that place didn’t make it easy to try container gardening.  Through trial and error in prior years, I learned that any more than three feet wide was hard to maintain as the plants get bigger and that pesky weed hiding in the back corner gets harder to reach.  Also, as small as you think those fence openings are, the young bunnies are TINY, and will happily squeeze through to get at the tasty morsels inside.  This time I wanted to spend the time and money up front to get a garden that is as low maintenance and critter-free as possible.

We have lots of rabbits and squirrels in our neighborhood, and never had a problem with them getting into this garden.

Ready for plants! Spring 2017.

A family member recently asked for the info so she could build one this coming spring.  So, here’s the low-down.

We had a few things on hand that had been left behind by the previous homeowner, so the project is designed around the re-use of those items.  We had two 2 x 12″ x 14′ boards, a dozen or so random brick and concrete paving blocks, and A LOT of rough limestone garden rocks that are commonly used for short retaining walls in Omaha and the surrounding area (you can see in the photo above that we still have plenty of rock leftover in a big pile behind the garden after using a few dozen on this project).

garden 1
Garden sketch, page 1 of 2.

The garden is a U-shaped raised planter bed.  Three feet deep all around makes it easy to reach across the garden from the central path.  Getting the topsoil/compost mix and dye-free wood mulch from a local bulk supplier wasn’t cheap, but it meant many fewer hours pulling weeds than any other year I’ve ever gardened.  So wonderful!

We had a few things on hand that had been left behind by the previous owner, so the project is designed around the re-use of those items. 

Shopping List

  1. Lumber: we went with untreated and expect that we’ll have to replace them in a few years.  It’s a judgement call, whether you are concerned about the treatment solution leaching into your soil or not.
    • (2) 2×12″ x 14′
    • (2) 2×12″ x 12′
    • (2) 2×12″ x 10′
    • 3″ screws, galvanized or coated for longevity
  2. Bed filler
    • ~2 cu. yards of a soil/compost mix available at our local garden store by the pickup truck full (4 trips for our 5′ bed).
    • ~1 cu. yard of wood mulch (dye free).  I’ve also read straw is a good choice.
  3. Path
    • Plastic sheeting or landscape fabric, stapled to the wood
    • Sand ~1/4 ton.  We had about a 2″ bed of sand to take our irregular paver-stones.
    • Gravel ~1/4 ton. Filled in between and on top of the irregular paver-stones.
    • Alternately, you could use regularly-shaped pavers and skip the gravel.
  4. Fence
    • (12) 1/2″ x 5′ garden stakes
    • (2) 5.5′ studded T-post (metal, green finish) for sturdier gate posts
    • (1) 50′ roll of chicken wire, 4′ tall (use ~45′ on the fence, and the scrap for the gate)
  5. Gate
    • 0.5×3″ lumber for the gate frame, approximately 20′ total length cut into 2′ and 3′ pieces
    • Scrap chicken wire from the fence
    • Galvanized screws
    • (2) galvanized hinges
    • Galvanized gate latch
    • Depending on the latch type you get, you may also need a 2×3 or 2×4 for the jamb.
  6. Optional: 25 ft. soaker hose
garden 2
Garden sketch, page 2 of 2.

Tools List

  1. Sod cutter (we rented one like this for about $15 for a day)
  2. Circular saw (cordless is nice) or miter saw
  3. Cordless power drill
  4. Hammer and/or mallet
  5. Staple gun & plenty of staples
  6. Wire snips (for the fencing)
  7. Shovels & bow/landscape rake

We have lots of rabbits and squirrels in our neighborhood, and never had a problem with them getting into this garden. Make sure you thoroughly staple the bottom of the fence to the 2×12 edging boards.  It’s a tedious process, but worth it to keep the critters out.  We stapled ~4″ spacing along the edge in 2 rows (top & bottom).  The top of the fence is intentionally floppy to discourage the squirrels from climbing.  I don’t really need a new oak tree in my garden, thanks anyway guys.

In this garden we grew:

  • Tomatoes, 4 plants
  • Jalapenos, 4 plants
  • Bell peppers, 4 plants
  • Cucumber, 1 bush-variety plant
  • Green beans, 4 rows (across the 3 ft. direction)
  • Snap peas, 4 rows (across the 3 ft. direction)
  • Basil, 2 plants tucked in near the tomatoes
Tomatoes! The Better Boy Hybrid from our local nursery produced these tasty morsels.

Other than tomatoes at peak harvest week, we never had too much for two people to use in a reasonable amount of time.  That said, this is not a large space for gardening, so keep that in mind when selecting plants.  We may eventually extend the rabbit fencing to a larger area so we can do some vine plants like squash and sweet potatoes outside of the raised bed.

‘Garden salsa’ over chicken breasts going into the crock-pot.  We grew the bell peppers, red heirloom Roma-like tomatoes, yellow cherry tomatoes, and jalapenos.

It was not an inexpensive project, all told we probably spent around $250 on materials (mostly on the soil, mulch, sand, and gravel) and 4 days of work.  But for the next few growing seasons, we’ll only have to get a little more mulch to top it off and our seeds and plants.

Here’s to looking forward to spring and yummy food this summer!






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