Sunday, February 13, 2011

thinking on the garden...

I am trying to plan my garden, but no sure about the best way to do it. I am considering building a few raised beds this year, because they are easier to contain and protect from beasties and animals were the number one reason my garden failed this past year. In Idaho my first-ever gardens were raised beds near an old cow barn and I built boxes (of various sorts). Instead of a big perimeter fence I built mini fences around each bed. It worked great, and thanks to my slug eating Black Silkie Bantams: I had built in migrant workers on staff.

So that might be the most realistic option, but I really do prefer working right out of the ground, tilling, hoeing, and building the growing rows with compost and straw between them. However, last year animals destroyed this method with an attack on all fronts. I had deer, rabbits, groundhogs, birds, the works. So I am hesitant to use the same "garden" from last year. The old chicken wire and shallow posts the previous owners used did nothing to stop animals. It's getting ripped out for sure and something new will replace it. But that leaves me with a space that needs some serious work to turn the slight hillside into a cascading garden with tiers and new fences.... or just let the whole things revert to pasture and build a hoop house or inexpensive greenhouse elsewhere. A place to keep out large animals and place it over wire to keep out ground animals. Sounds like vegetable jail, but when your farm is on a mountain in the gotta do what you gotta do.

I do want a pumpkin patch. That I am sure of.


Blogger Unknown said...

Critters can sure be an enemy to gardening. The last time I tried there were some great looking tomato plants one day and the next the leaves were almost gone due to worms. So disappointing. Now since I only have my off time from work to tend to something like that I depend on our farmers market instead. I wish you all the luck. I have some friends that have luck with straw bail gardening but you still have to protect it from deer and other critters.

February 13, 2011 at 8:25 AM  
Blogger T.C. said...

I hear what you're saying but if you are looking to grow substantial amounts of food for yourself (as opposed to gardening just for kicks), you have to look at efficiency. Raised beds seem to allow you to grow more veggies in the same amount of space but with less weeding. I'm going that route this year. The last 2 years I battled wiregrass and sandy soil that needed way too much watering, even with heavy mulch. Lots of work for very little return. You're creative-I know you'll come up with the perfect garden for your particular space! :)

February 13, 2011 at 8:29 AM  
Blogger spinnersaw said...

You could just grow and protect a great pumpkin patch this year and work on the hoop house, or tiers, or boxes or what ever you end up deciding to use this summer. Ask your neighbors how they manage a garden, they may be doing something that you have not thought of yet. I always thought it would be cool to build a chicken yard that went around the garden, hopefully keeping the bug population from going inside the garden. The double row of fencing would keep the deer out too because they do not seem to like jumping into confined spaces.

February 13, 2011 at 8:44 AM  
Blogger Staci said...

We went with raised beds for most of our veggies. I have a separate raspberry/blackberry/blueberry bed and then a strawberry bed - those are not raised. I grow some pumpkins in the raised bed, but those are great to tuck in just about anywhere. This year I'm adding a chicken "garden" around the outside of the coop. The girls will love it I'm sure. I have separate boxes for my potatoes (they stack 3 high and are movable so I don't have to keep them in the same spot each year) and counter-height beds for my mesclun mix (all built and designed by hubby and me). Once you start with a couple raised beds it really is easy to tuck more and more plants in. Can't wait for planting time!!

February 13, 2011 at 8:57 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

I definitely had pumpkins come up on their own last year and had quite the collection of various ornamental gourds.

I have heard of people using a plastic child's wading pool as a raised bed, drilling holes in the bottom and filling with soil/compost, etc. My rest beds in the garden stay so DRY I can never get anything to grow unless I water for hours every single day.

The deer were attacking my sweet potato vines last year, but after putting out chopped up soap bars and spraying with a mixture (hot sauce, eggs, milk, garlic) I had no problem the rest of the season and now have more pounds of sweet potatoes that I'll ever be able to eat!

Good luck - I just finished your book and loved it! :)

February 13, 2011 at 8:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We are doing raised beds this year as well. I've been fighting it for a few years. I'm 33 and have gardened since I was a toddler (with my mother, of course), but always in the ground. So, when my husband and I moved into our current home with plenty of land, I wanted a HUGE garden. We did *in-the-ground* semi-raised beds the first two years, a huge row bed last year(which my mother always did), and this year we are building raised beds. For the the last few years we have gotten attacked by squash bugs, Mexican bean beetles, and the most evil of all pests - crabgrass. I had to actually take the shovel to the crabgrass last year. My husband's bad back became worse last year, so I figured raised beds might be the best option to help him still garden and keep most of the weeds from choking out the plants. Plus, I can grow more in a smaller space. So, now I'm actually excited about the plans and we are in the middle of building beds. It's a long process. As you know.

I grow a full natural and organic garden and at first, always fought putting even organic pest sprays on the plants, but I broke down a couple of years ago and bought Pyola from Gardens Alive. It works great as an organic, last resort, type of pest relief. Gardens Alive has some other options for all kinds of pests as well, if you end up going that route. Pyola does work for me when I need it. I know it's all apart of the cycle, but having your hard work terrorized by hundreds of evil bugs is extremely frustrating. Okay, I've rambled enough. Good luck with whatever directions you choose!

February 13, 2011 at 8:59 AM  
Blogger Crystal said...

I'm making a vegetable jail. I have a 50x150' plot in which I'm making a garden I hope will feed us all most of the time this year. I'm fencing the hell out of it too.

I've divided the area into three managable 50' plots, I used the ideas from three different sources combining companion gardening with square foot gardening. My chickens are free ranged in the true sense of the term but I have a tractor and space to put it in the garden if I need to and am researching geese or ducks that eat bugs/weeds to keep inside the jail yard soley for that purpose.

February 13, 2011 at 9:06 AM  
Blogger Amy McPherson Sirk said...

I don't fight critters but we do have bermuda grass. In fact, the whole town is nothing but bermuda grass so there's no getting rid of it. My beds are made of 1
x 12 and they are sunk 3" deep in the soil with weed block fabric underneath. Some folks put chicken wire across the bottom to keep the tunneling beasties out. Raised beds are also great for drainage. We have sandy soil here but we also get tropical downpours so the raised beds keep my plants from being inundated. I like my raised beds but they are a lot of work to build so I don't have as many as I would like. I build a few more each year while I still grow some things in the ground. Jenna, I think what we need are minions. Yep, having minions would solve a lot of our problems.

February 13, 2011 at 9:08 AM  
Blogger Kathleen Stoltzfus said...

Can you do an affordable hoop house attached to the south side of your house in some fashion? You would certainly see some solar gain on sunny days to help heat your home. Also would be easy to get to in deep snow, even if you had to crawl out through a window. You can buy pipe benders for cheap at If left unvented an unheated, my greenhouse gets up to 80 degrees on a sunny winter day when the outside temps are well below freezing. I had greens growing in there all winter without heat. Good times!

February 13, 2011 at 9:08 AM  
Blogger Kathy P. said...

Mother Earth News has a good article on a "chicken moat" surrounding a garden similar to @spinnersaw's idea. You can read it here or just Google 'chicken moat'. The author says it even keeps out deer.

February 13, 2011 at 10:10 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

that chicken moat idea sounds genius!

February 13, 2011 at 10:16 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

If you plant in the ground, you can still use diagonal spacing for most things and get the efficiency of weed suppression and good use of space that you would in a raised bed. Then you sort of get the best of both worlds. As for the critters, I don't have good answers. We've found that low (3 ft) rabbit fence is perfectly adequate for keeping out chickens, rabbits, etc. (and inexpensive) but would do nothing at all for anything larger like deer.

February 13, 2011 at 10:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We built eight 4'x8' raised beds, 12 inches high, last year, and I loved them. We put wire and 10 yr biodegradable weed paper underneath. Worked lots of compost in and had a wonderful bounty. Amazing how much you can plant in what appears to be smaller space. I even had 16 heirloom tomatoes growing in one bed..lots of pinching out suckers/clipping them to wires set on posts at either end of each row (plastic clips from Johnny's Seeds-perfect and reusable!). A neighbor liked what we had and started with one last year. I liked how he drilled a hole in the 4 corners of the wood and hooked his wire on that (we have fence around ours). This year will grow the tomatoes outside of the beds...7' posts lose a lot of height advantage between the bed and needing to be in the ground itself but great way to tie up the tomatoes! Enjoy your day, Jenna! :)

February 13, 2011 at 10:28 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

We've always done rows in our garden, but raised beds, or patches of crops are more efficient than rows. This year we're switched over to beds. They're not exactly raised, because they are in a tilled garden plot. I am also looking more into companion planting and am hoping to suppress weeds (especially the crab grass) through efficient use of space.

February 13, 2011 at 10:38 AM  
Blogger Whiffletree Farm said...

Raised beds are great but I need a garden that can I can till more easily. To keep out turkeys, deer, rabbits, etc. etc. I put up two easy fences. The first is just a 3 foot high wire fence that goes into the ground about 2 inches. I use wooden posts to keep it upright and tight. Then, using fiberglass posts, electric wire and plastic conductors, I place this 5' fence right in front of the metal one. It's a simplified livestock fence. I have a solar fence charger hooked up to this fence. This keeps out everything. The deer and turkeys are the worst offenders and they keep away entirely.

February 13, 2011 at 11:33 AM  
Blogger Paula said...

There was a letter from a reader in the last Mother Earth News where he'd kept deer out of his garden with 20 pound test monofilament fishing line strung around his garden, one at two feet and the other at four feet. They can't see the line so they can't jump over it, and if they walk into it, it spooks them. I know that deer have notoriously bad eyesight, so this makes a lot of sense. Anyway, he said that he knew it worked because he had some late chard that he hadn't harvested yet, and he removed the fencing for the year, and two hours after he'd taken down the line the chard had been eaten to the ground.

Boxes will give you a head start on the growing season because the earth in them warms up sooner than the earth in the ground. They are pretty easy to cover with row covers. The first year I gardened, I put bent PVC over them and clamped plastic over that to make a mini greenhouse, which worked well.

Good luck with everything!

February 13, 2011 at 12:00 PM  
Blogger SouthernHeart said...

Jenna, raised beds would be wonderful. A lot of work in the beginning but so much easier once established.

My husband (the macho logger tree farmer) got one of his longtime heart's desires this year - an 8' x 12' greenhouse. He's building raised beds behind the greenhouse. I'm looking forward to growing lots of herbs. A greenhouse may be something for you to look forward to one of these years. There are pics on my blog:


February 13, 2011 at 12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our house sits on a lot in a subdivision with a little more than half and acre. The raised beds are great for us, and tilling is as simple as forking in new compost and amendments in the spring and saves my back. For urban gardening, Patty Moreno's Garden Girl TV is a great site for info on utilizing a small space for your organic gardening using raised beds.. For larger scale gardening (and I just love to learn from this guy), The Bayou Gardener is great.. Both can be viewed on youtube. We purchased the The Bayou Gardener's dvd collection, although checking out youtube gives you all the info you need as well. [I spend way too much time researching on the net, I know.:)]

February 13, 2011 at 12:55 PM  
Blogger CJ said...

I have both raised beds and a couple 50x50 traditional gardens. I can't say one way is better than the other, just different. With the traditional garden you need a tiller (or know someone who has one) to work organic material into your soil. The raised beds you can do it with a pitchfork. I also have a greenhouse that I built out of scrounged materials (cost me $20 bucks but looks awesome I think - it's on my facebook) but I think I'm going to build another one this year. I've been working on a design for a geodome greenhouse that I will make out recycled materials. I hope to sell these once I get proof of concept with mine. I would gladly give you one to try out and give an online review (sorry for the shameless plug).

Anyway, there is a very clever guy (Herrick Kimball) in Moravia, NY who works a small piece of property - maybe you could get some ideas from him. His main blog is and one of his gardening blogs is

February 13, 2011 at 1:02 PM  
Blogger CJ said...

If you go with a hillside garden, get another pig and fence the pig in the area you want turned over - you can get a better sod turner than a pig.

February 13, 2011 at 1:05 PM  
Blogger kippy said...

We have a dinky urban yard with two fenced off 3x8 raised cedar beds. Last year we had very productive crops. My hen "rooms" with three other hens at the neighbors. Maybe I'll see about the hens making a one hour visit to fluff up the raised bed soil. The dogs and cat will be kept inside and away from the garden windows.
This winter I kept the soil covered with burlap coffee bags. Raised bed gardening is very enjoyable and the veggies taste better than store bought. Go for it!

February 13, 2011 at 1:16 PM  
Blogger Cosgray Gardens said...

A master gardener in the area said to hang old smelly shoes about every 5-10 feet around your garden. It will keep the deer out definitely and some other critters too.

February 13, 2011 at 1:16 PM  
Blogger Jennifer Smith said...

I have several raised bed gardens, and deer ravaged my beautiful lettuces and cabbages this past fall. I looked online for organic solutions, but most of them did't seem very promising...or they involved having to put out scented products over and over again (which I'd never remember to do). However, I came across a solution that I think will work for me, and that you might be interested in. The "Scarecrow" can be purchansed online from Amazon for about $40. It's a special sprinkler head that attaches to a hose. It has infared sensors can "see" a deer, bunny or whatnot that's approaching your plants (up to 90 feet out from the garden). It then sends a forceful squirt of 2 or 3 cups of water at the animal That, along with the sprinkler "chittering" is enought to send critters packing. The device is always on, uses very little water, and is apparently just random enough that animals don't get used to it. One unit can protect quite a large plot of garden (you can, or course use more than one). I have yet to try it out (it being winter), but its gotten lots of good reviews online (the main drawback seems to be forgetting its on and getting squirted yourself!).

February 13, 2011 at 4:08 PM  
Blogger daisy g said...

Enjoy whatever design you come up with. We are soon going to be eating carrots, lettuce and herbs from the backyard. Cheers!

February 13, 2011 at 5:00 PM  
Blogger SuzieQ said...

I have been following you for years and have cheered you on. I am so proud of your courage and you have reason to be proud of yourself. I watched this on another blog and thought it would give you some ideas that will be alot cheaper for your farm. He is funny also. So check it out and enjoy.

February 13, 2011 at 6:54 PM  
Blogger Kimberlie Ott said...

We have a group of ELEVEN deer on adjoining land to ours, it grew from 3 to 11 in 4 years.........we have tried everything to keep them out......last year mesh over the tomoatoes they ravaged the year before, it worked so so, they still got blossoms and all lettuces and just hooved others into the ground.......sigh, I am very appreciative of the advice about fishing line, thinking it is in our financial ball park and easy to use..........thanks so much and good luck Jenna!!!!

February 13, 2011 at 7:06 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

One thought about tilling - it disrupts the subsoil, and all the worm tunnels, microorganisms and mycelium that live in it. And in our area - rocks the size of small cars which will destroy a rototiller in short order. Last summer, I built raised beds, each surrounded by a small fence tied to posts stuck into the corners of the beds, and all of that inside my chicken yard, which is itself surrounded by electric netting. Very few bugs, no deer, and the bunnies never seemed to figure out how to get in. And lots of great veggies!

February 13, 2011 at 8:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's a ton of work to set up, but i know a great design for a garden fence that will keep out deer, rabbits, and groundhogs. You put in 10' tall 8x8" posts at the corners (something really substantial, nothing that will eventually come down on its own or that can get knocked over), and dig a two foot trench between them all the way around your garden perimeter. Line this with 1/4" hardware cloth, and at the base, fold the hardware cloth over about an inch with the spines poking outwards, so that tunnelling animals run into it and turn away from the sharp. Run hog panel, or a heavy-duty welded wire fence with really small holes in it (i see it with 2x4" holes regularly) to 8' tall along the length, and wire it to the hardware cloth so there are no gaps. fill the trenches in with dirt and pack it hard.

doesn't answer for birds, but my aunt in California has this fence around her garden, and she has groundhogs, rabbits & deer every place in the yard *exept* the garden. they might also spray predator-pee around the outsides of the garden perimeter -- if you eat meat, your own pee will work; but you can buy mountain lion pee from hunting stores, or sometimes local zoos will provide you with something similar, which odor will convince the herbivores that the area is not safe for them.

if you go with raised beds (easier to build than that fence!) predator pee might still be a really good idea. :) best of luck!

February 13, 2011 at 9:16 PM  
Blogger David said...

We have problems with deer too. I am probably thinking along the same lines as you are with garden boxes with tall hoops and chicken wire over them, for the produce most interesting to the critters (tomatoes and such). For the rest of the garden, I bought some inexpensive deer netting held in place with T-posts around the larger garden. Eventually I will build more boxes, but for now this approach seems to work.

February 13, 2011 at 11:11 PM  
Blogger Justine said...

I read in mother earth news that if you string fishing line (the heavy kind) 2 feet and four feet off the ground it will deter the deer because they get spooked not seeing what is touching them. That takes care of them as for the other animals.... I dont know. Ive heard all sorts of thinks to banging pie plates to ivory soap hanging from poles... this year will be my first garden so I have no surefire tips I hope it goes well for you. At least raised beds will have the advantage of less weeds but being on a mountain (as we are) its seems they will have to be watered more. Hmm I wish you luck!

February 14, 2011 at 7:32 AM  
Blogger Jasmine said...

You could always do it in stages you know... The teired garden overflowing with goodness sounds like a dream I could see you living... maybe 5 years out? Dig in a bit this year and do some raised beds, a bit more next year....

Also, I don't know as much about deer, but this past year, the moose didn't touch my potatoes, and only went after the beet greens a little late in the season. What if you did root crops in the ground and tempting veggies in secure raised beds, just for this year, and see how you feel for next year?

February 14, 2011 at 6:44 PM  

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