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MAY 13, 2009   

Raised bed experiment

There are several advantages to planting your garden in raised beds, not the least of which is you don't need to worry about the existing soil. You provide exactly what you want when you fill up the bed. Also, if you made the bed high enough, tending to it requires a lot less bending down. We decided we'd give it a try this year.

Door marked to be cut in halfOne thing that's always bothered me, though, is the amount of lumber you need to make the raised bed frames. Seems like a waste to go out and buy wood just for this purpose. If only there was something that could be reused instead.

Aha! We just happen to have a basement full of old interior doors, victims of one remodeling effort or another.

PIeces of doors leaning against one anotherHere's our old bathroom door which we just replaced with a wider one. I've marked where I'll cut it into two equal pieces (about 37" each) with a circular saw.

Raised bed with sides made from pieces of doorI found another door in the basement about the same size (actually a bit taller and wider) and cut it in half. We had some scrap 4x4s out back from an earlier deck-widening project. They became my corner posts.

So you see where we're going with this. I just screwed all the pieces together with galvanized exterior screws and presto!—raised bed, ready for soil.

To keep down the weeds and grass I covered the area with cardboard which we also have in abundance thanks to our kitchen rehab.

All those cabinets came packed in sturdy cardboard boxes which just yesterday I'd Car filled with cardboard to be recycledloaded into my car to take to the recycling dumpster.

Out came a few of them, one lining the bottom of the box, the rest put over the surrounding garden area.

Now obviously to fill this box would take an awful lot of soil, so I plan to use about two feet of straw and a foot or less of a planting mixture called Mel's Mix (recipe from the Square Foot Gardening website).

Tomorrow I hope to borrow a truck and go to Broadview Seed & Feed to buy straw, vermiculite, peat moss and compost—everything I need to get this raised bed ready to plant. I'm also going to use a couple bales of straw as "instant" raised beds. I've seen a number of articles about straw bale gardening and it sounds promising.

Update, Sept. 2014

Paint peeling from old doors can definitely be a problem, as one reader pointed out. Could be lead-based paint that would contaminate the soil. I don't think that's the case with my doors, but it's something to be wary of with recycled building materials.

My straw bale experiment was unsuccessful. I didn't realize that you have to fertilize heavily all season long, so all I got was a few straggly plants. The link above has good instructions, so I may try again.

I've also finally learned how to keep a good compost pile going. If you're new to it, this guide to composting is very helpful. Thanks to Michelle at EducatorLabs for the tip.

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