Semi-novice Gardener – Raised Bed Vegetable Garden Adventure (vol. 1)

Hi all, I’m Dan Adler – a part-time employee that works on web and communications at the HGIC.  I work on the website, video creation, posting others’ blog content, newsletters, design, and other web-media technical things.  I’ve been with the HGIC for several years, but I came into the job with close to no gardening experience.  Over the years, I’ve absorbed a certain amount of knowledge by osmosis in the office, but no one mistakes me as a subject-matter expert at the HGIC!

This growing season, I am going to record my raised bed vegetable garden exploits and post several in-progress reports here on the Maryland Grows blog.  I hope to go through my thoughts about decisions we (myself and my wife Krysten) made, where I went to find answers from the HGIC, what worked, and what didn’t.  Hopefully, this blog will help newer gardeners by acting as a bit of a case study on a fairly simple gardening project.  Learn from what I do right, and what I do wrong.

This page on vegetable gardens on the HGIC website has been a good starting point and reference for information along the way.

The project

(This blog post is about a month late; we did the work mentioned here about a month previous to this post.  Future blog posts will catch up and be closer to real-time as they happen).

We live in Baltimore County and have an area that gets full sun which is great for tomatoes and a lot of vegetables.  Last year we bought a couple 4’x8′ raised bed kits from the hardware store.  These are dead-simple to put together with no tools and get the job done for growing, but they are a bit thin and fragile after a while.  At the time, we had calculated buying the kits vs materials to make a similar-sized (but a bit more robust) raised bed, and for us, they were similar. Two things we did to improve it, however, was to staple some chicken wire underneath so digging rodents couldn’t come through the bottom, and we set them down on cardboard to smother the grass underneath.

Birds eye yard view
Picture of our yard area with old raised beds with weeds in them

We had some old soil in there from last year (with weeds in it) already, but this year, we topped it off with a bag of generic hardware store gardening soil in each 4’x4′ square after pulling the weeds.  We definitely expect that we will have to continue pulling weeds.

What we should have done: (You’ll see this a lot moving forward.)  Last year, when we were done growing, we should have protected our soil by either covering the soil with fallen leaves or leaf mulch in the fall, or planting cover crops that are easily mowed or string-trimmed away. This would have staved off weeds and kept more nutrients in our soil.

Let’s get planting

We’ve had some minor success with tomatoes, green beans, peppers, zucchini, and cucumber in the past, so we decided to do similar this year, but hopefully keep a better eye on them and build better support this year.  Previously, we have had cucurbits get eaten by squash vine borers, and our cheapo cone-style tomato support didn’t hold up the plants very well as they got bigger and fuller than they should have (we did not prune diligently).  We’ve also had issues with something eating up our green bean leaves; probably a groundhog.

Planting plan diagram

We bought seedlings from the hardware store and a packet of green bean seeds, and planted them like the picture above.

  • Big plants like tomatoes and the cucurbits that need some space were planted diagonally from each other to maximize the distance.
  • The top-left and bottom-right bed squares are taller and have deeper soils, so the tomatoes were planted in those, as I am assuming they like to go deeper with their roots than our other crops.
  • The bean seeds were planted according to the package’s instructions: 3″ apart in rows, down about 1″ in the soil.
  • We intentionally left spaces in the center of the bean planting and elsewhere in our beds with the plan to add some flowers to bring in pollinators.  Pollinators are essential for food crops, and attracting them is essential. Our area is in the middle of an ocean of grass, so we feel we need to incentivize these good bugs to visit a bit.  Read this blog post on Pollinators and Food Gardens.

We watered every day and added the flowers the next weekend.  The week after that, we have this shot:


The flowers we added were Zinnia and Marigold*.  Krysten also snuck in a celery plant in the bottom right corner as well.

You can see all the vegetables are larger and the beans are coming up well.  We are prepping for some renovation of the area around the garden as you can see, but I will talk about that later.

We have plans to create some fencing to keep rodents out, but that sort of depends on other renovation plans we have to happen first, so we are hoping at this point that the varmints don’t find the garden before we can get the defenses up.

As I’m writing this in hindsight, everything looks peachy and hopeful at this point in time about a month ago.  However, we definitely hit some snags and added some more challenges ourselves pretty soon after this.  Stay tuned, and I’ll fill you in shortly!

Dan Adler
HGIC Web and Communications Manager

*Previously, we had mistakenly labeled the marigolds we added as mums.  Text and images have been updated.

8 thoughts on “Semi-novice Gardener – Raised Bed Vegetable Garden Adventure (vol. 1)

  1. George Lambert June 15, 2020 / 6:16 pm

    No doubt you get advice from HGIC pros, but for those reading this blog, I believe they should know the following: 1) Mum a bad pollinator choice since only blooms in fall. 2) Cardboard is good for killing grass/weeds but should be removed or replaced with newspapers before adding soil. 3) Groundhogs are not so discerning as to only eat leaves so more likely rabbit. 4) While watering daily appropriate for seeds, not for plants except perhaps tomatoes; regardless, as with grass, deep not shallow. Finally, hope you spend time on improving HGIC search engine. Good luck.

    • Maryland Grows June 16, 2020 / 12:10 pm

      Hi George,

      We actually planted Marigolds, not mums – we just got mixed up when writing. An edit was made to fix that and note the change.

      I checked with HGIC experts and they confirmed that unwaxed cardboard is an excellent material for smothering turf and weeds. When covered with topsoil it degrades within weeks and plant roots can push through it into the underlying soil.

      We often see both groundhogs and rabbits around. Coming up in the next update, I will mention that we found a couple of the ornamentals dug up from the soil at the same time we noticed the leaves had been eaten, so we were assuming it was groundhog damage to everything. Either way, it does not change our strategy as we hope the fencing we put up soon will keep any and all rodents out.

      I watered daily to get seeds to germinate and to get transplants established.

      The HGIC website has had record downloads in 2020 and a comprehensive plan is underway to upgrade the website, including the search feature. I do not personally develop website features; I just work on content on the site, if that was unclear from my description of my role in the blog post.


  2. Fran Murphy June 16, 2020 / 6:02 pm

    Enjoyed your post Dan.

  3. SCMGA June 17, 2020 / 5:52 am

    Gardening is like a science experiment that can be severely affected by nature and weather. Each year is unique. I applaud your efforts, and we all learn from experience. I will offer one thought when you are ready for winter. For several years, I’ve cut a piece of landscaping fabric which I pin down on the top of our raised beds. Weeds do not settle in, moisture can still get through, and cleanup in the spring is as easy as picking the fabric up. I hope you have a wonderful harvest.

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