Raised Vegetable Beds, Part One

As I mentioned in my previous post, this past weekend the Husband and I embarked on a pretty big project. This post is the first of many related to it, I’m sure. We have been planning to build raised beds for vegetable gardening for a while now, plotting how to go about it in down time for the past few months, but that pesky bar exam studying always got in the way. Well, our first free weekend, and we knocked two of them out!

Please excuse the lack of detail oriented pictures. And a warning: this will not be a photo-heavy post. To be honest, we were so busy working that we didn’t take very many… and I actually forgot to take any before pictures! Such a bummer. Anyway, if you’re interested in attempting this yourself, I’ll attempt to recreate the details for you here.

First off, after looking at various family members’ raised beds over the past year or so, we came to the conclusion that we wanted to build ours with railroad cross ties. We knew that there is some concern regarding the creosote that railroad ties are treated with before they are used in the railroads (see the above link to wikipedia if you need further explanation) and using them for vegetable gardening before we started. However, after some research, it seems most of the concern is regarding the use of new railroad ties. The ties we purchased (from Stone’s, a local hardware store) are old ties, and we felt comfortable using them to build our gardens. In addition, the ties are extremely durable (why they are used as railroad ties, obvi), thick, fairly uniform in size, and readily available. It was a bit pricier than building them out of new wood and metal brackets (about $10 per tie), but we tend to lean toward the more substantial, permanent nature of the ties. So, that’s that.

We had Stone’s deliver the ties (24 in all) to our front yard. We (naively) thought that the two of us could lift the ties one by one and carry them into the backyard to build the beds. Oh MY GOSH were we wrong! When it came time to attempt to lift the ties… I could. not. budge. them. Not one little bit! I have since googled around for back up, and found this that stated that used RR ties weigh upwards of 200 pounds a piece!! Luckily, Wheat is much stronger than me, and the two of us together managed to get them, one at a time into the back of his truck. We then drove them around to the backyard, four at a time, and somehow managed to get them in place on the ground. Now, you can have pictures.

DSCN2153I apologize that this is the first picture I took. Let me summarize. After we got them to the backyard, to start, Wheat would unload one tie, line it up where we wanted the back of the bed to be, and I dug out a trench of sorts along the side of the tie. We wanted to do this because 1) our ground is no where close to level here, 2) we thought it just looked neater when the ties were embedded a little into the ground, and 3) we thought it might help with erosion down the slight incline when it rains. As designated digger, I dug the trenches and eyeballed level, then we rolled the tie into the trench, and checked it with a level. Probably far more painstaking than necessary, but I’m OCD about things like that. And besides, if you’re going to put this much effort into it, you might as well make it as perfect as possible. We did two “inside” and two “outside,” and repeated the trench digging until we had a square, as you can see above. Or below.

DSCN2154You may be wondering what’s with all the beer case boxes… Well, during other veggie garden research, I read that putting cardboard down in the beds before you fill with dirt (more on that in another post) will kill the grass/weeds/whatever underneath and will naturally biodegrade after a while. So, we saved everybody’s beer boxes from Saturday… and Wheat went ahead and put them down. Don’t judge.

The next step is much easier, but still hard, because those ties are so ridiculously heavy. Just loaded four more back up, brought them around, and stacked them on top of the first four. Attempted to make sure they were all level and met snugly at all four corners. The first one was a rousing success!

DSCN2156Here is a close up of the corner, just so you can see how the bottom layer is sort of dug in and how the top layer fits on there.

DSCN2157I may have made the job of designated digger sound easy, but let me assure you, it was not. You may have noticed the loppers laying around in the pictures. We just recently cleared this area of the yard, as it was previously wooded. There are TONS of roots that I would run into in every trench. Some of them I could just pull up by hand, but many of them had to be cut. It was a time consuming and exhausting process. My neck, arms, and back still hate me.

DSCN2159I found it easiest to lay the tie just past where we wanted it, then dig right along side it. The width of a square shovel is almost exactly the same as the wide side of the railroad ties, so that worked out well.

DSCN2161We finished up the second one the same way as the first. After it was said and done, I attempted to even out the ground on the inside of the beds, which is what I’m doing above. We think that they are fantastic! But we are partial. We still have eight ties and one raised bed left to be done, so our work this coming weekend is cut out for us!

I hope that this is the first of many, many more gardening related posts on O&P, and in that vein, I thought I’d share a couple of the items I’ve currently got growing in the herb garden next to the house… which will be reserved for herbs only from here on out, now that we have designated vegetable beds!

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Oregano and rosemary, with some scraggly lemon verbena in the background. Oregano THRIVES in South Georgia, apparently. I had been growing it in a pot at my apartment in Tallahassee, but it is taking ovah here in Bainbridge. It’s so pretty, and is also delicious, so I don’t mind. Another fun fact: it can take the frost. Three cheers for fresh oregano year round!

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Rainbow chard: because it’s pretty, it tastes good, it makes your salads pretty, and it is so good for you! This rainbow chard also apparently comes with a dusting of pollen. In the very beginning of MARCH. Gotta love the South.

All of this manual labor had us all extremely exhausted, including Harold, who was busy following us around the yard, sunbathing, and barking at the neighbor’s horses all day. It’s a rough life.

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