Semi-novice Gardener – Raised Bed Vegetable Garden Adventure (vol. 2)

I’m back with a big update on our raised bed vegetable garden efforts!  It’s been eventful: wildlife has eaten some of the plants, we built a whole new raised bed from scratch, and we’ve begun harvesting some of our first crops.

Tomatoes need support!

Our three tomato plants have been growing up well.  We procrastinated on adding support because I wanted a better solution than those flimsy conical wire doodads you can buy at the hardware store.  I eventually located some old lengths of wire fencing and just set them around each plant in a cylindrical shape and then attached them to a single metal garden stake to keep them steady.  I criss-crossed some twine back and forth which will give the tomatoes something more to grab onto and keep the support from bending outward.

Somebody is munching my plants!

Wildlife and insects have been having a feast on our garden, unfortunately.

Insects on our squash and zucchini!

Our zucchini started getting lots of small holes in the leaves, and then huge parts of the leaves went missing.  It looked like someone fired a shotgun at my cucurbit! I was able to find striped cucumber beetles on the leaves.  These guys look like skinnier, orange ladybugs to me. I became more vigilant, picking off the beetles and squashing their eggs.

We also have spotted a few squash bugs and plenty of their eggs underneath the zucchini and squash leaves.

After I was still seeing damage, I purchased some Neem oil to use as a natural pesticide (as recommended by HGIC).  I mixed neem oil with water, shook that up in a spray bottle, and sprayed the zucchini plant with that.  I believe I did see a reduction in damage for a few days.  I need to more consistently spray with it.  I’ve seen less damage, but am still finding the beetles on the plant.  We also began finding groups of squash bug nymphs and eggs under the leaves.  I pulled off and crushed the sections of leaves with eggs on them.  The squash bugs page on HGIC says that the neem oil can be effective against those guys, so I will begin a neem oil campaign against these insects again in full shortly.

The insects seemed to only eat our zucchini, and a little bit of our pitiful cucumber plant.

In addition, our poor zucchini plant may have a squash vine borer issue. We noticed some wilting on some of the leaves, and some of the older branches seemed to be dying.  These branches pulled off very easily and the main stem in the center has a lot of orange junk around it (“frass” is what the HGIC page calls it).  I think I will need to do some surgery with a knife to try to pull out a potential larva like in the below video, but I’m not looking forward to it.  Yuck!  Take a look at this recent blog post on squash vine borers.

 

Rodents!

Big chunks of leaves were getting munched wholesale from our green beans and our jalapeno plant.  We believe this is either rabbits or groundhog as we see both often in our yard.  It could be deer, but we don’t see many in the neighborhood.

New construction projects

A few weeks into our gardening project this year, my wife suggested we take on a major expansion project; build a new raised bed (from scratch this time – not hardware store kits) and a gravel path area around our beds.  This was about at the time where we discovered the rodents first eating our crops, so we had to hurry so we can finish the construction and get the rodent fence up.

I’m not particularly handy, but I know how to screw stuff together with deck screws, and I got a circular saw for Christmas a couple years ago that is still sitting in the box, so I decided to build the raised bed with my own basic design.  We ended up building a 12’x4′ raised bed that has three 4’x4′ sections, one being double height.  The wood was 2″ by 6″ pressure treated wood from the hardware store.  I had some wood posts in my garage (came with the house, I think) which I cut up to make joints.

We stapled chicken wire on the bottom of the raised bed to prevent burrowing rodents from finding their way in, and set it down on cardboard to kill the grass below it.  We had a landscaper doing some other work and asked him to get us a delivery of compost we could use to fill it up.

Before we filled it though, I had researched whether pressure treated wood is safe for food gardening.  The HGIC page on Materials for Building Raised Beds states that Alkaline Copper Quaternary (ACQ) treated wood (which is common, and what we used), ” does not contain arsenic, but it does contain copper. It is considered to be low in toxicity.”

New raised bed

We then created a 20’x20′ border with wood, lined it with landscaping cloth, and shoveled roughly 2 tons of gravel into it.  We added our rodent fence around the border, and I made a step with scraps of wood so we can hop over the fence more easily and then remove the step so rodents can’t also hop in.  Next year, we’ll work on making a gate or more permanent fence solution.  We’ll also see if we need to create a deer fence if crops are still being eaten.

Finished garden area

Finished!

Moving forward

Now that the plants are protected, we planted a couple new cucumber plants in the raised bed and we’re trying corn in the tallest part of the bed.

Current garden

Cucumbers on the top right and corn is sprouting in the center bed

Our zucchini and squash have grown large despite the pest problems and have been producing fruit for the past couple of weeks.

Big cucurbits

These were hidden and we didn’t find them until they were quite big!

If we’re not careful and pick at the right time, the squash and zucchini will grow larger than we want.  While huge produce is impressive to look at, I understand that you shouldn’t take too long to pick because a) they will have bigger seeds and won’t be as tender, and b) it wastes energy the plant could be using to create more new fruit growths.

Our tomatoes are just now beginning to produce.  They got very tall and have grown a lot of foliage.  I have been pruning suckers here and there, but I don’t think I have kept up as well as I should have. Some of the lower foliage on the inside has begun to wither so I have been removing those recently.  According to the HGIC website, it looks like this withering may be early blight, and I need to prune to increase air circulation, remove infected branches, and possibly apply a fungicide.

Withered tomato leaves

Potentially early blight on my tomato

The first tomatoes produced were near the ground and had some problems.  I tossed the most affected one.  The newer ones coming in look good though!

The garden has been a lot of work so far, but mostly that is because of our new construction.  I think we’ve ignored the care of the plants a bit as we’ve been overwhelmed with the building.  We’re hoping to prune better, stamp out insect pests, and hope no mammals hop in and eat our veggies.  We’ll see how it goes and check back in with you in the future.

View previous update

Dan Adler
HGIC Web and Communications Manager

12 Comments on “Semi-novice Gardener – Raised Bed Vegetable Garden Adventure (vol. 2)

  1. Very impressive, Dan. Your new raised bed is great and I like the simple symmetry of the whole. Next year you might consider ways other than or in addition to pesticides to prevent the squash and cucumber beetle damage, such as a barrier. Try draping lightweight floating row cover over hoops made of pvc pipe (drive some 2ft rebar into the soil along the inside edge of your raised bed and fit the pipe over the rebar to hold in place). Do this immediately after planting. Of course you’ll have to remove the cover when blooms start so they can be pollinated, but the plants could benefit from a head start. Good luck!

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  2. Do you do this ad hoc or ask for help first? I assume the first but suggest the latter. You have wasted so much space within the fence: confirm by measuring your sq ft within fence, then the cultivated area vs gravel. I think 3′ max paths suffice, but for sure should have 1-2′ deep planted around the entire perimeter vs. your zero!!! Your design is opposite of ideal.

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    • There is space allowed on the paths for future things like plants in pots, storage, etc. My wife has plenty of ideas. I have plenty of space on the lawn, so I wasn’t trying to be economical with space. Also, buying 10ft boards for the garden made it easy to make 20ft sides of the border without more cutting.

      Not sure what you mean by 1-2 ft deep planted. If you mean my border should be 1-2 inches deep in the ground, it is about 3 inches deep in the ground.

      Thanks for the feedback.
      -Dan

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      • I meant the width from path to fence. When plant around the perimeter you will have more planting area and less paths, so win-win. You could use gravel in one corner if need storage. Pots are never a good substitute for being in the ground since roots will be cooler and less watering required. Pots only for when no alternative.

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      • Thanks George. As I said, space efficiency was not a priority in the design. The path looks and functions how we like it, and we will enjoy the flexibility to fill the area with other items or non-permanent container plants that will enjoy the protection the fencing provides.

        -Dan

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  3. I think it is great that you have used your extra time at home to build this garden. Experience is an excellent teacher and you will learn on your own (but HGIC is an excellent resource) what works best for you and your garden. Each year is different between the weather and pests when gardening but look how much you have learned already. I really like the cages you created around your tomato plants. Enjoy your harvest!!!

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  4. Dan,
    Love your can do spirit and willingness to experiment! The garden looks so clean and tidy and inviting. From your pictures, it appears that the fence has fairly large openings….I’m afraid you may be amazed by how little space rabbits need to pass thru a fence! And as for other rodents…..chipmunks, squirrels, voles, mice, and others…..fences don’t really deter them at all. Sigh….I know from experience. Also, ground hogs can and do climb fences. I have watched them climb 6 ft fences, and suspect they prefer to climb rather than spend their time with all that pesky digging! I hate to sound discouraging, but I fear you may need to re-assess your current fence strategy. Fingers crossed that your experience differs from mine!
    Pat

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  5. Hey those who battle the vine borers despite doing aluminum foil, etc I like to call it the accidental gardener 🙂 Conduct surgery remove the borers then wrap the injured section of the plant with plumbers tape. So far this year me 11 borers 1.

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  6. That’s great results. Checked online betting but you vs borers isn’t listed. Am sure I’ve read that it is recommended to cover the cut area with soil.

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    • Yes, However I grow my squash in pots and grow bags so it’s kinda hard to do that. Sometimes the plant, (re: spaghetti squash) is well on its way climbing up a trellis and the borer isnt near the base but higher up. No way to cover it with dirt. Tape helps plant live.

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  7. Pingback: Semi-novice Gardener – Raised Bed Vegetable Garden Adventure (vol. 5) | Maryland Grows

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