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.
(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.
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.
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.