The Power of Stacked Concrete Blocks

Well, we’ve been eating salad now for a few weeks and I don’t think all the garden construction pictures were ever assembled in a tidy manner.  There’s been some interest in it on an online garden forum so I thought I’d put the pictures here, too.

This is the fifth stacked concrete block garden so far.  The first three were on flat land and the same height all around.  The fourth is just off the side of this newest one, although I planted too many ‘permanent’ plants there (grapes, cotton, papaya, mulberry) so it is too full to plant lettuce and salad greens.

This newest garden is not only a garden, but also a terrace to hold back the hillside.  I’m planning to make another garden behind this one to continue terracing up the hillside.  Perhaps for that one, a much longer but narrower one which wouldn’t be accessible from the back.  We’ll see when it gets built what it ends up looking like.

 

This is the beginning picture with the problem hillside.  It’s too steep to mow very easily and we have things growing 24/7 around here so it is a continual problem.  Turning it into small terraces will hopefully make a problem into a benefit.

This new salad garden is very close to the kitchen door, so that will be handy for greens and herbs.  In the picture, the digging has already started a little bit.

I should have taken more pictures at this stage, but we were busy digging in the dirt and hauling concrete blocks around.  We were using whatever blocks we had laying about, it’d be easier with all the same size blocks.

When choosing the final size of your garden,  layout the first layer of blocks where you’d like your new garden.  That will give you an idea of how big it will be.  Then stack up a column of blocks as high as you’re planning on building the sides.  Reach into to the middle of the garden area over the column to see how easy it will be to garden in the middle.  It’s easy enough at this point to make the garden a half block narrower or wider depending on how far you can reach.  Since it’s accessed from the front and the back, you can make it as long as you like.

When building multiple gardens, leave a walkway wide enough after the plants have reached their mature size to still fit through between the gardens.  I had one set of raised beds that were too close together and after the rosemary had gotten large in the garden on one side and the asparagus on the other, there wasn’t much room between them.

At this stage in the picture, we’d dug down to the level of the lowest concrete block and spread weed mat across the bottom to keep weeds from growing up inside.  There’s also weed mat along the sides to keep weeds from growing in from there, too.  Depending on how aggressive your weeds are, you may not need to do this part.  If you’re in a dry area or concerned about anything in the concrete blocks leaching into your soil, then a layer of plastic would be an option there.

Notice the rebar stakes stuck in the blocks.  It would be better if it were every hole but we didn’t have that many of the rebar stakes.  You could also use old pieces f metal pipe, short fence posts, pretty much whatever metal reinforcement you can find.   The wire bunny cage in the middle is being used to screen out miscellaneous roots and rocks from the soil being shoveled back into the garden.

That’s 1/2″ x 1″ screen for the bottom of the cage which is a nice size for screening garden soil.  Being part of a cage, it holds it up nicely, too.  If you don’t happen to have a small animal cage handy, you could make a wood frame and nail the screen to that.  It’s rather a lot of soil, buying screened soil would possibly get expensive.  For this particular garden, it was made with stuff laying around so we didn’t have to go buy anything specific for it.

Well, we did get some new seeds while on vacation.  There’s a seed bank in Petaluma, California which is just an astonishing place.  All heirloom and open pollinated seeds and varieties I’ve never heard of before!  Woot!  I don’t know if you enjoy seeds as souvenirs, but I think they’re great.

view looking out of the seed bank's windows

This was one of the highlights of my vacation in Napa, California.

interior view of the Petaluma seed bank

It used to be an old bank building, now it’s full of seeds.  All of them heirloom and open pollinated so I can grow them and save seeds and continue growing the same varieties.  Having all these seeds and nowhere to plant them had been a driving factor in building the new garden.  Okay, back to the garden now!

garden helper co-opted with a bribe of new seeds

All those new varieties of seeds were useful in bribing our local youth to help shift soil and blocks around.  We added in some bunny manure from the bunnies we have here along with the bribe of seeds so he was enthusiastic in helping.  A bit disrespectful sticking his tongue out at the camera, though.  Ah, youth these days, eh?  It’s so hard to get good help, too.   (insert grins and snickers here)

pile of soil behind garden being built

It was rather a lot of soil to move around, the pile there is what was dug out of the area to start with and still needs to be moved back into the raised bed area.  It was a lot of moving of soil.  Fortunately, once it’s built, it doesn’t need that level of effort again.

almost filled new raised bed garden

It doesn’t look all that much different from the previous picture, but it was hours of work to screen and fill.  These gardens have more soil in them than you’d expect.

I’d thought about lining the top row with solid flat concrete blocks, but didn’t have enough of them and decided to plant small plants in the concrete block holes instead.  Small low herbs like thyme will go well there.

At this point when the added soil was several inches down from the top, we started adding in the best soil as well as the amendments.   We have acidic soil, so crushed oyster shell was added.  We have really high rainfall which washes out the nutrients, so we added bio-char (crushed charcoal) to trap and hold the nutrients for the plant roots to find.  There’s also a lot of bunny manure added.  We have a whole herd of English angora bunnies who are very interested in garden greens so they do their part to help.

Planted five types of lettuce only three showed up
Missing two lettuces

All the little round things at the top of the soil is bunny manure.  It is a ‘cold’ manure and doesn’t need to be composted although by the time the greens are big enough to harvest it will have broken down quite a bit.

picture of a raised bed garden
New garden April 22nd, 2017

This is the garden after it’s been seeded and we put the little fence around it to keep the chickens out.  At least, we thought it’d keep the chickens out.  One still got in and scratched things around and ate a lot of the hulless oats we’d planted.  So now we have a fence across the front, too.  I may make one big fence panel to make it easier to put the fence up and down.  Or build a fence about six inches shorter so it can be gardened over easier.  I can reach and weed the front several feet but can’t reach the middle with the fence up.

That picture was taken on April 22nd, just after putting in the new seeds from the seed bank and a thyme plant at the front and Joey’s Tomato at the back.  The same person who gave me the Bleak Hall Sea Island White cotton seedlings also gave me what he swears is the world’s best tomato.  He had been growing it for ages so it’s acclimatized to the islands, but he was down to only six seeds so I’m growing it out for him and will hopefully get some new seed.

picture of tomato seedling

Interesting leaf shape and he says it’s an indeterminate variety so we should continue to get a lot of tomatoes from it once it starts.  I put it in the back corner so it can grow huge and escape out the side.

The other little sprig of green in the beginning garden is a small thyme plant.

the new garden at six weeks later

This is the garden about six weeks later.  As usual, I put in too much seed.  The lettuce still needs some severe thinning and the beans are at war with the tomato.  The ‘mater will last longer, though, so in a couple months the beans will die off and the ‘mater will still be there.  The beans provide nitrogen for the growth stage of the tomato.  They provide beans, too.

growing beans

These are ‘Good Mother Stallard’ soup beans, I should mark the first pods to be saved for seed later.  With things like beans that I want to make pods early on, I’ll save the first seeds.  With lettuces, which I want to take awhile before bolting, I’ll save the last seeds.

I should take another picture from the same angle as the first, I suppose.  Just to show what six weeks and a small excavator can do.

six weeks later

 

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