I spent a lot of this summer wondering about how gardening would change if I moved my efforts from containers on the patio into a garden bed.
No more wondering.
My initial opinion after a month of fall gardening in a bed at our community garden is that container gardening is great…if you can’t have a garden bed. But the garden bed seems far more forgiving to a neophyte gardener and her vegetables.
If I have a choice of gardens, I’ll take a bed, thank you very much.
Catching Up on the Tales of a Gardening Wannabe
To Recap, while I’ve grown plants in the past, this summer I took my gardening efforts a lot more seriously than I had in the past. Naturally, I had to write about it.
Jon and I planted a bunch of different vegetables and a few herbs in containers on our patio. It worked okay at first, and we got some lovely squash and tomatoes. Then we went on vacation during the heat of summer without making arrangements for anyone to water our plants. Some survived, some recovered, and some (zucchini) shriveled up and died.
Then came late summer and a bumper crop of hot peppers. As we approached the end of summer, I made plans to spend the fall and winter reading up on the best way to grow the plants we love and possibly looking for a place in the yard to put a garden bed.
Late last month, I was given an opportunity to use one of the garden beds at the community garden at my church. Since part of the purpose of the garden is to grow food for the Interfaith Food Shuttle. I hurriedly planted some romaine, red cabbage, and brussels sprouts.
And for good measure, I planted a couple of red cabbages at home in our containers.
Oh my gosh. There is no comparison between the results in the container and the results in the bed.
Or rather, the contrast when you make the comparison is huge.
The plant on the left is the best of the three plants I shoveled into my pots on the patio. The plants on the right are from the same group of seedlings, but enjoy all the benefits of the garden bed.
I won’t say all my plants over at the church are thriving. I noticed that I had one plant that hasn’t thrived. Still, out of the 40 or so seedlings I transplanted, all but one is going gangbusters.
And I haven’t even done that much…
I was concerned a bit that I might not make it over to the church as often as might be needed. Life gets busy, and it’s a 30 minute round trip in a direction I don’t often head.
I think I’m making it over there about every 5 days.
Because it’s fall, though, that’s been plenty. There has been plenty of rain, so the plants have needed minimal watering. I’ve dug up a few weeds, but not a ton.
Last time I went, I didn’t do anything but take pictures.
Contrast this to my container garden in summer. Some days, I watered in the morning and still noticed thirsty plants by mid-afternoon. The pots could only contain so much moisture in the soil, and the roots had nowhere else to go.
Cooler days and more room mean a lot less watering.
Labor Up Front, Or Constant Attention?
Here’s what I think I’m learning from my fall gardening experiment:
Container gardening is easy to set up. You buy a few pots and some soil. You put the plants in the soil. They grow…or not. To keep your healthy plants going, you need to give them regular attention, particularly in the heat.
A garden bed takes some real physical work to set up, much more than a pot on the patio. (I didn’t even do most of the labor on the one I get to use.) Soil needs to be broken up and mixed. You need to remove grass and weeds. Planting takes a bit more exertion.
Once you get your garden started, though, you seem to have a larger margin of error for leaving your bed unattended for a few days. The soil holds more moisture and roots can delve deeper.
Now I admit, I could be misreading the situation. It could be that my seedlings in cool weather were more resilient than the plants I started as seeds in May. Or it could be that my results just reflect the milder weather. I haven’t needed to water the plants here as much either.
And I benefit from someone else’s labor to get my garden plot started. Someone had already built it and filled it before I got the chance to plant it.
But there’s also no doubt that the same cabbages are doing better in the garden than they are on the patio.
So I’m sold on having a garden bed. And I’m glad I have the community bed because we don’t have a really terrific place to set one up in our well-shaded yard.
I have one area where I think we could possibly set one up, though.
Just for fun, I looked up the price for a raised bed kit. There are a ton of options, ranging from around $25 to well over $100. I really liked a 3 tiered version I found on Amazon for $62. I suspect if I poked around in the garage I could find some usable boards and put one together. (well, maybe not the tiered kind.)
It’s a box, right? I can do a box. And although specially treated lumber would last longer, it’s the first go. Hmm….
I’d have to add soil. While we compost at home, our composting efforts aren’t always as consistent as I might like, so any bed we buy would need to be filled with gardening soil. I think I spent $30 on potting soil last summer, so I figure triple that? Maybe more.
Plus, in our yard, we’d need some sort of critter protection. Even assuming I used an inexpensive fencing solution and a small area, I figure I would spend over a $100.
That’s a base budget of $200-$300, even before plants and seeds. These are mostly one time expenses, of course, although I’d want to add new soil each growing season. And any effort would be greater at startup than as I used them.
It’s doable, but I think for next year I’ll stick to the community garden and some pots of herbs.
Anticipating a Harvest
So when do I get to harvest my goodies?
Some of the romaine is probably edible now, although it will continue to develop. The cabbage and sprouts both need longer. Maybe I’ll serve red cabbage slaw with my Thanksgiving turkey and Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Balsamic for Christmas.
In the meantime, I’m still mulling over winter plans and watching my plants grow.
Have you built a raised garden bed? How much did it cost you, and what recommendations would you make if I pursue that route?
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