By Susan Nye
May 1, 2009
My grandfather was a devoted gardener. The rail fence in front of his house was covered with beautiful, old-fashioned roses. There were garden beds, large pots and window boxes filled with dahlias, geraniums, zinnias and marigolds all around the house, and he grew tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, parsley and chives in his vegetable garden. He spent hours in his gardens and when I was little, I helped him, weeding and picking Japanese beetles off the roses.
Years later when I had my own apartment and a small patio, I took up gardening. With little space, my garden was made up of a few oversized pots. I planted herbs, cherry tomatoes and a few geraniums, daisies and lilies.
Now I have more space and my front yard overflows with iris, lupine, daisies, sedum, nasturtium and hostas. Day lilies, hydrangea and lavender, herbs and vegetables can be found out in the back. My niece and her cousin claim it is an enchanted, fairy garden and friends describe it as the perfect spot for a vacation.
Gardening is a hot topic and I am far from alone. Gardening, particularly vegetables, is on the rise. First Lady Michelle Obama was joined by 23 fifth-graders on the first day of spring to break ground on a White House kitchen garden. Eleanor Roosevelt’s World War II victory garden was the last vegetable garden grown on the grounds of the White House. The Obamas and their guests will soon be enjoying a rainbow of produce from red romaine to rhubarb and berries, black kale, green oak leaf lettuce, fennel and collard greens, 55 different veggies in all.
Childhood obesity and diabetes are a national concern and promoting healthy eating is high on Mrs. Obama’s agenda. A key goal of the White House garden project is to help educate and encourage children to eat healthy, locally grown fruits and vegetables. You can’t get more local than your own back yard.
Join the Obamas and plant a garden in your yard with your children. Fill it with your children’s favorite vegetables, perhaps a few herbs and flowers. If you enjoying sharing projects with your children, you can’t beat gardening. It is a neverending series of projects. From building the frames for your raised bed to preparing the soil, planting, feeding and weeding there is always something to do in the garden.
Get your hands in the dirt and have a wonderful time with your kids, now and throughout the summer.
Building a raised bed
The White House garden plots are in raised beds. This is an excellent approach. If this is your first garden or the first with your children, you might want to start small. The White House gardens cover 1,100 square feet, but before you bite off more than you can chew, consider a simple 3-by-3-foot garden. You can always expand next year.
You will need:
Use a weather resistant wood such as cedar.
2 x 6 boards for all four sides
4 x 4 boards for the corner posts
32 or more 3” galvanized spiral screws
While a 3-by-3-foot bed is recommended be beginners, if you decide to go larger, your bed should not exceed four feet wide. Otherwise, it will be hard to reach the middle of the bed. If your frame is longer than six feet, you will need additional stakes in the middle of the two long sides to keep them from bowing. Stick to naturally rot-resistant wood or recycled composite plastic lumber.
Building the frame for your raised bed:
1. Create the corner pieces by cutting the 4x 4s into four 18-inch lengths. Create stakes by sharpening one end of each piece with a handsaw or hatchet.
2. Create the sides of the frame by cutting two pieces of the 2x6s for each side of the frame, a total of eight. Cut to the desired length and width of your frame, again 3x3-foot is recommended for beginners.
3. Now lay two of the corner pieces on a firm, flat surface. Set two of the 2 x 6s on top and line up the edges. Pre-drill screw holes to avoid splitting the wood and fasten the 2x6 lengths to the 4x4s with galvanized screws. Repeat.
4. Stand one of the assembled sides up on its top edge; the sharpened ends of the corner posts should be pointing up. Pre-drill two more of the 2x6s and then screw to the corner posts.
5. Pre-drill and screw the remaining pieces to the other side.
6. Flip it over and you're ready to install.
Installing the frame:
1. Find a nice sunny spot in your yard. Remove any grass and weeds. Turn over the soil to a depth of 12 to 16-inches and pile it up in the center, way from the edges.
2. Set your frame in place and tap down the corners. Drive each corner down a few inches at a time and repeat until bed is at ground level.
3. Use a level to check and level the frame.
4. Spread the soil out evenly. Add soil amendments, such as peat, manure, compost or lime, and spread the soil evenly across the bed. Water the bed with a fine, even spray. The soil will settle a bit so add more soil and compost. Rake again to even out the bed. Once you have added the soil and amendments, avoid stepping in the bed.
5. Create a clean pathway around your bed. Put a thick layer of bark mulch around the outside of the frame. If you want, you can put down landscape cloth first and then cover it with mulch. This will prevent some weeds from growing up in and around the raised bed.
You’re ready to plant
You can plant seeds or seedlings. I find that the birds and squirrels eat my seeds as soon as I plant them so I stick to seedlings. Take a trip to the garden center and help your children pick a nice variety of their favorite vegetables. And if they don’t like vegetables? Hopefully spending time with you in their new garden will change their minds.
Susan Nye of New London is a freelance writer. You can read more of Susan’s articles and essays at www.susannye.com.