Attention Gardeners

Attention Gardeners March 22, 2012

I’m dramatically expanding my garden this year, in one of those DIY projects that’s probably way too big for me. The plans are below. I’m going to dig up a total area of 18′ by 28′ and put three raised beds therein. Around the edges, I plan pumpkins, melons, and other gourds, sunflowers, and herbs. In the plan, up is West.

So, I’m asking those of you who garden, what am I missing? Got any tips on how I should build and how I should plant?

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  • Don’t know if you do this or not, but I have found that planting marigolds around the perimeter for pest control has been very effective.

  • Norm Deplume

    Do you own the book “Square Foot Gardening” yet? If not, you should probably get it and put it on the top of one of your closest book stack.

  • Agree with David about the marigolds. It sounds like a good plan to me.

    My immediate thought was about watering. It might be cool to experiment with some Ollas.

    I know water isn’t a big issue for you, but it might be cool to try some really old techniques along the way.

  • Nadia

    Carrots beside onions, basil near tomatoes and plant any leafy greens near your sunflowers so that the flowers provide some shade for them. There lots more, but that’s a start. And marigolds, though not the prettiest plant or smell, does help a lot with pests. Also if you plant a wildflower mix near your beds, especially near your fruit, you will attract bees which is great for pollination and more fruit!

  • Courtney

    Tony forgot to mention the most important element of our expanded garden: Texas bluebonnets. It’s an experiment this year to see if Minnesota Nice soil can handle Texas Bold Blue.

  • Tony,

    Four feet width is standard for raised beds so that you can maintain it without needing to step into the bed itself. It’s nice to have some kind of mulch between the beds for a walking path and leave yourself room to navigate. Your pumpkins and watermelons are going to need a lot of room unless they are a bush variety. If space is an issue you might want to consider going vertical with some kind of structure for the squash plants.

    Go to for some simple instructions.

    Some pictures of my experience with raised beds: Those are all 10 foot by four foot beds.

    Don’t use treated lumber.

    Looks like fun.

  • Sean Gladding

    six foot wide beds involve some stretching over to reach the middle – i might consider doing 4′ x 12′ beds – you should just about be able to fit in four and keep 3′ between them. of course, that requires more materials. good advice from Nadia. best way to learn is to do – and make notes of what you observe!
    hope the bluebonnets make it – my mum (in the UK) grows some in a pot from a packet i took home one summer. 🙂

  • DRT

    Anytime I put watermelons or cucumbers near my garden I end up letting them take over. I put them in a separate plot now.

    Find someone with a tractor and rototiller for that baby. It is fairly large.

    I could come help. Check out my plot and tiller.

  • Start a worm bin! … you have to put back what you take out when you harvest. Six foot wide beds mean a three foot reach to the center, pretty long … you don’t want to be walking around in there much (flagstones can work). It’s traditional to have the rows go east-west to even out the sun exposure … how about 2 four-foot wide beds running the long way? All depends on location, to be sure…

  • Beth Walters

    Where are your compost piles going to be — though I know how wonderful Minnesota soil is. And where are you putting the rhubarb?! Being able to grow rhubarb would almost get me to move back to Minnesota!

    Also, I agree with DRT. I think your cucumber/watermelon area is too limited. My cucumber s alone in my last garden there had taken over an area about 12×8 by earlyAugust.

  • I second Norm’s recommendation of Square Foot Gardening. The core principles helped me break my “way too big” veggie patch dream into manageable ‘bites’ – hopefully, it’ll do the same for you.

  • I cannot tell you how valuable all this advice is. Please keep it coming!

  • Phil Miller

    We tried growing pumpkins last year at our house (we live not far from you I believe, near Edina), and the vines grew and grew, but we never had any pumpkins. It turns out that there were no bees to pollinate them… You can supposedly pollinate them, but by the time we found that out, it was too late.

    This may be common knowledge, but I hadn’t heard of it before.

  • Ethan M

    Some of this has already been said.

    1. 4 ft width on the beds.
    2. Try half as many vines the first year to get a sense for how much space they need.
    3. Marigolds++
    4. Cucumbers or gourds growing up a fence make a great wall to a garden.
    5. No treated lumber
    6. Strawberries take a lot of work. Raspberries are basically free food.
    7. Don’t forget to compost somewhere. It is worth the work.

    Have fun and ignore all my stuffy advice.

    Eat well!

  • I already compost. Forgot to add that to the plan above.

    So, regarding the viney plants, can I put down a weed barrier and mulch, then have holes for the goards, cukes, etc. to come up through?

    Also, what mix do you put in the raised beds? I assume it’s soil plus manure. Any peat moss?

  • I’d get a nice garden mix from a local soil supplier. Usually a mix of organic material and sandy loam. No peat moss unless you need to acidify the soil. If you use manure make sure it’s well composted or it will fry your plants. I put down straw over several layers of newspaper on my pathways and then do old-fashioned weeding in the beds themselves. You can mulch with grass clippings next to plants, just make sure they don’t have any weed killer applied to them in recent weeks. Don’t mulch with bark or wood chips because those will fix nitrogen in the soil and keep it away from the plants. Plant basil next to tomatoes. Pumpkins will spread their leaves and keep weeds from growing so don’t worry about mulching them. Biggest mistake is to crowd your plants – it will make your fruit/vegetables smaller and be a hassle to maintain.

  • I think you want healthy dirt, and covering it up with plastic or the like doesn’t encourage that anymore than wearing a bandage on your skin continually. Mulching by itself should keep weeds down and is a form of composting-in-place. If you gently stir in weeds as they sprout, it’s easy-friendly garden time, it cultivates and nourishes the soil (think bean sprouts), and you won’t have to deal with plastic or fabric next year or the year after.
    You could send a sample of your dirt to a soil lab; they will give recommendations for additives. You can mostly fill the beds with dirt dug out from between the beds, depending on site drainage. Loosen up the soil under the beds, go deep. Don’t need to turn it, just lever with a fork a little. Depending on your ground.
    What everybody said about treated lumber. Concrete block works. You could also just heap the soil up with some minimalist edging.
    Think about chickens? Maybe next year.

  • Hey tony,
    Sounds like you have a lot of great input!!
    The melons and pumpkins will take up a ton of space, do consider keeping them separate!
    Sunflowers in the middle of a bed could look awesome depending on heighth!
    I found that keeping herbs separate or on edges of beds is best as they will be very handy to use that way.
    Love the marigold idea.
    One key element, work that soil now and get it as pulverized as possible.
    Have fun,
    all my best to you!

  • Paige

    Yikes–the pumpkins and squash are going to take over the space you’ve allotted and then some. I recommend segregation to a location you won’t want/need to traverse (at all). And also, if up is West, you’re going to lose afternoon sunshine when those sunflowers spring up. (I’m at nearly the same latitude in eastern Washington, and we need all the afternoon sun we can get.)

  • Nice! And very organized. I have a more “organic flowing” English style garden. My plan is to eventually cover the entire yard and only provide stepping stones…then I will never have to mow again, and I will cerimoniously ditch the evil mower. Anyway, you may consider incorporating native plants of your area along the borders. They may provide extra shade or water retention in addition to a softer visual appearance. Mine attract lots of butterflies. I like to think of it as God’s choice for gardens

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