Newbie Gardener: Raised Bed Garden Build-Out

Creating raised beds and trellising melons in a home garden.

For Mother’s Day a few weeks back, I told my husband, Jon, that all I wanted were some raised beds, installed in our small, city yard. I was ready to try my hand at growing my very first veggie patch. He was amenable to this idea (mostly, I think, because it diverted me, at least momentarily, from my recent talk of “urban chickens”), so off we went to Home Depot to pick up my raised garden kits.

Although Jon is pretty handy, he’s also quite busy, so I didn’t want to ask him to spend a day or more doing carpentry for my project.  And as for me,  I don’t know a hammer from a chainsaw, so I decided that buying prefab raised bed kits was the way to go. I did some research, and read some reviews online, and decided to go with two different Greene’s brand raised bed kits.

Putting the two kits together took less than half an hour, and to give you an idea of just how simple it was, I actually put them together entirely on my own. They are made of pre-cut pieces of wonderful-smelling cedar, and they fit together perfectly, with no tools needed. Here’s one of the corners I put together myself, just like a puzzle. Super, super simple assembly.

The raw cedar is lovely, but I knew right from the beginning that I wanted to paint my raised beds purple (!!!), after I saw the giant all-purple beds at the “kitchen garden” they have installed over at the University of Tennessee’s gardens.
I bought my soil in bags (it took 67 bags total to fill all three) from a local garden center, and at the recommendation of a gardening neighbor, I laid down cardboard and newspaper over the grass in the beds – and then sprayed the paper with water until it was drenched – before filling each bed with my dirt.

After that, I took my time deciding what I wanted to add to each one, and several weeks later, I am still not entirely finished. I have space for one more row, I think.

Rather than being very worried about what would actually grow perfectly in small spaces, I decided to plant stuff I knew we would actually eat. And that meant that I have likely planted things that will get so big that they will escape the bounds of the raised beds entirely by the time I am done. But that’s okay. This is supposed to be fun, and a little messy. Plus, this first year is definitely a learning season for me. I will experiment with what I know we will like, and then tweak and adjust next year based on what works and what doesn’t.

I have eggplant in one bed and small bell peppers growing in the other.

Then, in the bed on the far end I have two rows of pumpkins that I started from seed. They popped right up and are doing great. Clearly, I am going to have pumpkin vines running all over that end of the yard – far beyond the raised bed boundaries. But that’s okay. I’ve always wanted to grow a pumpkin! Next to the pumpkins is a row of Amish muskmelon that I am attempting to grow on trellises made from bright red tomato cages. 

I know I will eventually have to devise some sort of sling to support the melons as they get bigger, so I'm looking for ideas for the best way to create and use slings for melons growing vertically. Next to the muskmelon is a row of sugarbaby watermelon plants (yes, I know, more vines run wild all over the yard).

In the middle of the next bed I have two rows of strawberry plants, then a row of Cherokee Purple heirloom tomatoes with cages, followed by a row of “Old German” heirloom tomatoes, also growing on cages.

Next up, in the deepest bed, I have a row of just-planted carrot seeds – they haven’t sprouted yet – and two very small cherry tomato plants with cages for them to grow on as they get bigger. I think I have room for one more row of something, and I am thinking I may add a couple of spaghetti squash plants. But I think vertical gardening is definitely in my future. With more of us gardening in city-sized spaces, vertical gardening makes good sense, and I want to learn how to do it right.

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