Saturday, July 23, 2011

Building My SFG - Part I, Planning

The very first step, of course, was to plan the layout of the garden: the size and numbers of the boxes and the width of the paths. I measured the dimensions of the plot, then did the  planning at home on graph paper. I used the New Square Foot Gardening scheme devised by Mel Bartholomew in the book of the same name. Mel recommends 4’ wide paths between boxes, which would be nice if I had the space. But with a 15’ by 22’ plot, I had to make some compromises to fit in the number of boxes I wanted.

I took advantage of the particular location of my plot to maximize the amount of space for beds. Since I had wide community garden paths on three sides of my plot, I positioned the boxes 6 inches from the edges of those paths and planned to use the garden paths for access to my raised beds. On the fourth side, where I abut another garden plot, I also positioned the beds 6 inches from the neighboring plot. I figured I could use the paths within my plot to access the beds.

The first row contains two 3x6 boxes. The idea was to use these boxes for plants that take more space than a single square, such as summer squash, broccoli,and Brussels sprouts. These boxes were positioned 6 inches from the borders of the gardens, with two feet between them (rather than Mel’s recommended four). So far, this is workable while not ideal.

Next were two rows of 3 4x4 boxes. I skimped a bit (actually, a lot) on the spacing for these boxes. The plot is only 15’ wide, so paths between the boxes are only 12 inches. I figured I would be able to access squares in the boxes from the sides and only use the paths between boxes to get from row to row. What I didn’t consider is the vertical space taken by hoops for row cover and the trellises. When trying to squeeze between beds, my feet can traverse the foot wide space but my shoulders collide with the trellis supports. So I would recommend at least 2 feet between boxes if you can’t meet Mel’s 4 foot specification.

The last row will eventually contain two 4x6 boxes with 2 feet of spacing between them. These will be built next year and used for tomatoes trained up trellises. This year I just tilled the soil and used row cover to plant my tomatoes. So far they are doing great. Hmmm, should I really build the raised beds?

The next step was to look for suitable material to use for the boxes. The choices I considered were cedar or redwood dimension lumber, composite decking material, and standard framing lumber. Pressure treated lumber was ruled out. I did a tour of my local Lowes and Home Depot stores but found no cedar or redwood. I suspect they carry it or can order it, but I didn’t find anyone to ask. I found Lowes has its own brand of composite decking lumber that is fairly cheap if grey color is OK. I also considered pre-fabricated beds from various sources, but they were too expensive for my budget.

My final decision was to build the 3x6 boxes from composite decking, which comes in 12’ lengths. Three 12’ pieces are required to build the two boxes, for a cost of about $32 per box. Five of the 4x4 boxes were built from fir framing lumber at a cost of about $9 per box. I also purchased one 4x4 Suncast resin plastic raised bed from Lowes for $44 to give it a try.

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