Closer To The Finish

If you read this blog regularly, you may recall we started building a vegetable garden for a client about 6 weeks ago.  A lot has gone into that project, but finally the physical structure was at a stage where we could plant. 

The first to be planted was a collection of 5 espalier fruit trees.  A pair of double candelabra apple trees trained in the shape of an arch were planted on either side of the gate.  Centered on each side of the fence, a pair of quadruple cordon pear trees. 

 fenced vegetable garden

The idea is to allow the horizontal arms of the pears to grow the entire width of the fence.  Though this heavy wire mesh and cedar fence is handsome, I can imagine the entire front face of this garden covered in leaves-and hopefully, pears.  

wire fencing

Though the Gala apple arches had been trained in this arch shape for years, we built a simple steel rebar arbor onto which each branch could be tied.  Once the major branches put on sufficient caliper, this arch will no longer be necessary-nor will it be visible.  The trees had been trained to form an arch that was 4 feet wide.  I wanted the entrance to the garden at least as wide as the double gates.  The bald spot at the top of the arbor will be covered in just a few years.  The walkway into the garden, and all of the garden floor is compacted decomposed granite.

pear espaliers

Though the pear espaliers have 4 distinctively horizontal arms, the secondary branches could easily be allowed to grow out,  making a solid green wall.  The espaliers we buy are grown in giant containers, with the trunk at the back.  This makes it easy to plant the espalier close to the fence.    

tiered plant stand

This vegetable garden table was inspired by English auricula theatres.  Tiered stands that permit the staging of potted specialty plants, as in auricula primroses were very popular in England in the 19th century.  This steel three-tiered plant stand will be covered in clay pots, planted with herbs and small growing flowers.  The copper pipe through the center of the table is for irrigation.  At the east end of the garden, a spigot was installed for handwatering.  Though each box has drip irrigation, there is no substitute for the sure hand and good judgment of a gardener. 

raised beds for vegetables

Steve built a bamboo teepee for pole beans.  The beans are planted only on the north side of the box, so the orange bell peppers planted underneath will still have good light.  Some of the vegetables have been growing in containers in a greenhouse, waiting for the garden to be ready to plant.  Each group of plants is clearly marked as to variety on large wood markers.

By no means do I mean to imply I am a vegetable gardener.  I am a serviceable gardener.  My clients have to take ownership now, and grow with this garden.   This first year will provide an opportunity for them to decide what they really wish to grow.  Everyone’s taste in food is so individual.  This first planting has a little bit of a lot going on for them to try. 

There are leeks, onions, and salad onions.  A fresh crop of lettuces.  Bell peppers, pole and bush beans, and 4 types of tomatoes.  Eggplant, patty pan squash,  and four varieties of cucumbers.  There are loads of herbs-rosemary, Greek oregano, flat leaf parsley, three types of basil, and thyme.  Three types of mint, and lots of cilantro.  Steve laid this garden out from the plants and seeds that I bought, as he has lots of experience with this sort of thing.  The yellow marigolds-just for fun.  Early next week, we will plant the clay pots, plant perennials and roses outside of the garden, reconfigure the edge of the driveway, and plant some grass.

A Formal Vegetable Garden

vegetable garden layout

Every now and then I have a call for a formal vegetable garden.  By this I mean a garden with a formal layout and structure.  These clients wanted raised beds for their vegetables for several reasons.  They liked the idea that they could tend the garden easily.  They liked the idea that the soil mix would be especially tailored for growing vegetables.  They have children; their lives very much revolve around the dinner table.  They have strong ideas about good food, and where it comes from.  Their soil is very heavy clay, and the site chosen for the garden does not drain particularly well.  I designed the garden, and laid it out with stakes and strings for them to see. 

Once they approved the plan, we stripped away the existing sod. We excavated the area, as the garden would have a decomposed granite floor.  This is a great surface on which to push a wheelbarrow.  It is a surface that requires little to no maintenance. 

vegetable garden boxes

Steve and his crew built the boxes on site.  Several courses of lumber were installed below grade, and set level.  When the garden is finished, we will reconfigure the edge of the driveway to run parallel to it.  There will be some regrading involved as well.  But at this point in the project, we are a long ways away from the finishing touches. 

A 3″ base of 22AA road gravel levelled the floor of the garden.  The sloping lawn will be regraded to meet the finished floor of the garden.  The poor drainage became very clear after a rain!  The raised beds will insure that water drains away speedily.  Vegetables attract no end of disease and insects.  A clean growing, well draining site is a good natural defense against trouble. 

growing vegetables at home

Once the bases of all of the boxes took shape, it was easier to see the overall plan.  Four boxes were simple rectangles.  The four center boxes were L-shaped.  A three tiered theatre for the center will hold pots of herbs, and culinary flowers.  At this point in the construction, we were going over lists of vegetables and herbs.  Like most families, they have vegetables that appear on their dinner table frequently.  Others-not so much.   

worm castings

Steve is an expert with soil.  He spent 16 years as superintendent of grounds at Grand Hotel, on Mackinac Island.  The island has very little in the way of soil.  A thin layer of compost covers layers of big rocks, and little rocks.  The cost of transporting soil from the mainland was considerable.  He composted thousands of yards of soil for their 165 acres of golf courses, employee housing, and hotel grounds.  He knows how to cook up great soil.

growing vegetables in boxes

This soil is compost of his own making, to which he added sand, and lots of worm castings.  It is rich, and friable.  The the idea of worm castings raises eyebrows, but vegetables thrive in it.  Decomposed organic matter is an essential element of good soil. 

drip irrigation

Each box has its own drip irrigation lines.  Water from drip hoses does not migrate very far away from the hose.  The drip is so so slow that the water sinks straight down-gravity, this.  Thus there is a need for multiple drip hoses, so the plants are evenly watered.  A drip irrigation system is not perfect.  A person needs to be in charge.  A person who can pick up a hose, if there is a need.  This spigot was run off the irrigation system.

vegetable garden fencing

My client has 7 acres of property.  This means they have all manner of wildlife.  Deer, raccoons, mice, rabbits and woodchucks, just for starters.  The garden had to be fenced.  The mainstay of this fence is a very sturdy galvanized steel mesh. A vegetable garden has to be sited and planted to take advantage of the sun.  A privacy fence might shade the garden.  The steel mesh does not impede the sunlight.     

Each panel of steel mesh is enclosed in a cedar frame.  A horizontal bar of cedar midway up the panel adds a good bit of reinforcement to the mesh.  As much as you love your home grown vegetables, all of God’s creatures love them too.  This fence says keep out in a very simple way.   

The fence is 6 feet tall.  The 6 feet wide gates are just 3/4 of an inch shorter, to permit the gates to be opened wide.  The decomposed granite finished floor has yet to be installed.  A second short round of steel mesh will be buried below grade.  This will deter the crafty diggers and the little creatures.

vegetable gardening

We are a ways from the finish here.  The tomato towers and herb theatre will be done shortly.  7 espaliered fruit trees are yet to be planted.  The drive needs to be reconfigured.  A cutting garden will be planted ouside the fence on the gate side.  Roses for cutting will be planted on the far side.  As for the planting of the vegetables and herbs-Steve is in charge of that part.   

This is a big garden. Not like a field of corn in Iowa, or a grove of cherry trees.  This is by no means a farm.  But it is as big a garden as they will ever need.  It is a working garden.  Sturdy, simple, plain-and organized.  I hope within a few weeks it will be a good looking working garden.