A New Year Brings New Garden Projects



New Master Gardeners

Shortly before last Christmas, a fresh crop of newly qualified Master Gardeners emerged from the Gila County Community College in Payson. Master Gardeners are usually experienced gardeners with many years of gardening behind them who go through a formal, but fun, training in things specific to the area in which the course is held. If you have gardening questions, you can always refer them to Master Gardeners at the cooperative extension office in your town. Payson's extension office, phone (928) 474-4160, is behind and north of the chamber building. If there is no one there who knows the answer to your question, they have a list of experts in many fields to refer to and then they will call you back.

Plans for this summer

This is a great time of year to make plans for the coming year. Last October at the annual Master Gardener Conference in Flagstaff, we had a local garden tour. One of the gardens was at a residential home and consisted almost entirely of raised beds. Residents, many of whom were in wheelchairs, tended this garden and their efforts resulted in a pretty floral garden, which contained some vegetables too. The residents had been awarded prizes for their attractive garden. Raised beds permit people in wheelchairs to continue to enjoy gardening. And in colder zones, greenhouses can have a sloping entrance so pot plants can be grown and tended easily on the benches. Raised beds also help prevent rabbits from reaching your produce. This can't be guaranteed -- recently the rabbits in my yard have been climbing the haystack, so they are becoming more athletic. Maybe even the elk will thank you for lifting their food to the right height.

Constructing a raised bed

There is a good selection of products to use for constructing a raised bed. Traditionally, we used to get some old railroad ties and stack those until they reached the required height. But now, the creosote in them has been outlawed, although if the ties are old enough and have been sitting around on the ground for many years, the creosote may have dissipated. Creosote was always good stuff when I grew up. We used to brush it on all the exposed wood in our farmyard in England to help prevent it from rotting. And it smelled good too! We do not appear to have suffered from it in any way.

Today you have the following choices of timbers or beams:

  • Recycled automobile plastics, which may have bits of metal in them, which didn't come out in the processing and manufacture. They can be purchased as 8-foot lengths in either 4-inches-by-4-inches, or 8-inches-by-8-inches. These beams are less likely to burn but, potentially, could melt at extremely high temperatures as in some fires.
  • Plastics out of automobiles mixed with sawdust. Some of these may be classified as fire-resistant due to the high density of the material.
  • Pressure-treated wood, which comes in several grades. If this is to be in contact with the ground, then it must be completely impregnated with copper compound by a vacuum pressure method so the copper gets right into the middle of the wood.
  • Pressure-treated wood impregnated with sodium silicate is cheaper than the copper compound described above, and leaves the wood a natural color, not green. All the pressure-treated woods are more durable than nonpressure-treated timber. Arsenic used to be the material of choice for pressure treating timber, but that is not commonly used today.

Now you have your timber/ beams. They can be laid down in the shape of the raised bed you have planned. Depending upon size, you may have to cut them down in length. Use a regular saw for timber beams, but a carbide-tipped blade for the beams containing metal. Cutting beams is hard on the blades, so make sure you have a spare blade or two. Remember to stagger the corners, so the beam ends are not all lined up.

Once construction is complete, you will need to fill the structure. Depending upon the finished height, you may be able to put some rocks or cans in the bottom of the bed as you may not need it filled with potting mix or garden soil all the way down. Use the dirt in your yard plus any amendments advised for your soil type, bearing in mind the requirements for the plants you propose to grow in it. Around here, many of us live on hillsides. Consider whether you will be able to get the soil into the raised bed when it's ready to be filled. This could be the most laborious part of the whole project. Where I want to build my raised bed, it most certainly will be. Every bucket of soil will have to be hand carried up 24 steps.

While you're doing all that, you may dream about what you'll be growing in your new, easy to tend, raised bed. I visualize growing some curly kale, a green leafy vegetable I've always loved. We used to grow it for feeding to our tame rabbits, but we two-leggeds also enjoy it. There's nothing better than fresh curly kale from your own cabbage patch -- unless you make it into caldo verde, the fresh-cabbage soup made so beautifully by the Portuguese (and drunk with their Vinho Verde, a young wine drunk so fresh and sparkling that I believe it is available only in Portugal and nearby countries.) Some herbs would be useful too, especially the fragrant ones, or those you use in the kitchen.

I have always been more interested in vegetable growing than producing flowers, but you may think differently.

This could be just the place to have a few of your favorite annuals -- taller ones in the middle with the shorter growing ones along the sides. Even a small growing juniper or mugo pine might look good if the total size of the raised bed is not too small. A miniature conifer would contrast well with a few bedding flowers. Consider some trailing plants such as sedums, which would trail over the sides of the beams. They're neat and have masses of yellow flowers.

With luck, you could catch some of your used household water to keep the plants in a modest raised bed in good shape.

Even some bulbs that would come up early in the year, followed by a few annuals for the summer. It's too late to plant the bulbs for this spring, but you could think ahead for spring 2007 and get some in the fall.

To do this month

Check over your gardening implements and service them as needed. Then you know they'll be ready when you need them.

Check all blades, including saw blades, and either sharpen them yourself, or take them to a professional. Don't wait to do this until you need to use them.

I try to put tools away, clean and oiled, as appropriate so that they'll always be ready and pleasant to handle the next time. But, like all good intentions, lack of time sometimes defeats the plan.

If you want to transplant any small trees, shrubs or newly acquired container plants, you could get this done provided the ground is not too cold or frosty.

If there are any more divisions of perennials, which didn't get done last fall, this could also be done.

You will need to water, and keep watering at regular intervals, everything newly planted to help re-establish root systems.

In the greenhouse, or cold frame, you could try to start some lettuces and other salad green stuff.

Enjoy that first home-picked lettuce of the year. And then sow a few radishes, which take even less time to mature.

It's fun to make repeated cuts halfway down a radish, allow to soak for a short time in water, so they open up and look like flowers on the dinner plate.

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