Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Urban Agriculture DIY Low Cost Raised Vegetable Bed for Urban Core Sustainability

Our yard soil is well drained sand.  Gardening in Florida sand is difficult to say the least.  It does little good to water with a hose because the moisture disappears almost immediately.

Even our native horsemint, Monada pnctata wilts on a daily basis here in the dry, hot sandy soil.
Here in Palm Coast the Atlantic winds are constantly blowing hot, dry air across our yard.  Even the native plants such as spotted horsemint, Monarda punctata and black eye Susan, Rudbeckia hirta, are all wilting by the time four o'clock in the afternoon arrives.

I wanted to do some serious gardening this year without spending hundreds of dollars each month trying to keep the impossible to irrigate sandy garden patch, irrigated.

The idea of a raised bed filled with organic matter to hold the moisture stayed in my thoughts as I considered different gardening bed design options.

But raised beds can be expensive.  After totaling my first materials list for a 8' long by 4' wide by 3' deep bed, I was shocked at the price tag. No way will I build this.  I'd be better off financially by buying organic veggies from Publix, I told myself.

The affordability component of sustainability and urban agriculture is crucial for long term success.  So rather than spend the four hundred dollars it would cost to buy nice straight cedar boards and stainless hardware, I spent the morning looking at what few scrap materials were stacked neatly (lol) in the backyard.

I soon found out constructing a raised growing bed for pennies can be easily accomplished.

After gathering about thirty metal stakes and laying them out in the shape of a rectangle, I retrieved the big hammer from the garage and enlisted my tall teenager into tapping them into the sandy ground about one meter apart.

Soon the rough outline of the garden bed appeared above the sand.

Recycled stakes and old chicken wire form the perimeter of the urban agriculture raised planting bed
Once the stakes were in place, reused chicken wire was stretched and attached to the stakes with ties fashioned out of copper strands from an old, worn out extension cord.

With the 'frame' in place the next step was to line the interior of the bed with saw palmetto.  Our back backyard is filled with saw palmetto.
Urban agriculture raised bed lined with saw palmetto fronds

Saw palmetto, Serenoa repens, grows broad and fibrous fan shaped leaves approximately two to three feet in diameter.  Saw palmetto, besides being a Florida native plant, provides a variety of ethnobotanical benefits from fiber from the leaves, nectar from the flowers and medicine from the berries.
Urban agriculture planting bed uses saw palmetto fronds as an organic bed liner.

We placed three layers of fresh cut, green saw palmetto fronds inside the chicken wire and over the bare soil.   The fronds served two main purposes of; A. keeping the dirt from spilling out of the chicken wire, and B. slowing down any vertical drainage of water from the bed into the thirsty sand below.
Urban agriculture planting bed layered with leaves and sandy soil

Urban agriculture planting bed layered with leaves and sandy soil
 Once the saw palmetto fronds were in place, sandy soil from our old garden beds was added over the fronds.

With four inches of soil over several inches of fronds in the raised bed, we then added a foot of decomposing oak leaves, another four inch layer of sand-dirt and them more leaves, then more dirt.

Soon our bed was a full three feet full of sand and decomposed leaf compost.  We watered in the bed and allowed the organic planting mass of leaves and dirt to settle for a week.

Urban agriculture planting bed, scatter seeds and water.
Judy always keeps a chest full of seeds in the house, so when it came time to plant I had fun selecting a variety of summer vegetables.  Seed packets are usually so pretty and jump-start a gardener's imagination.

I simply scattered the seeds across the top of the raised bed and watered them in.

The enormous amount of organic matter in the bed holds moisture, keeping the planting area from drying out like the sand in our backyard.
Urban agriculture raised bed, seeds soon sprout and vegetables grow
Earth worms have already made their way to the raised bed and in turn the robins and mockingbirds frequent the area daily in search of any raised bed bugs.

One of the most important keys to a successful urban core agriculture project are pollinators.  The native Rudbeckia hirta, best known as 'black-eyed Susans' grow around the perimeter of the bed, loudly calling the pollinators, attracting them en masse and in turn facilitating the development of many yummy veggies.
Urban agriculture raised bed with pollinator plants, Rudbeckia hirta
The bed is the perfect compost pile.  The raised growing area also keeps the plump, furry saw palmetto rabbits from grazing on our veggies.

Growing plants in the rich, deep leaf humus is so much easier than in our well-drained sand.  Water tends to stay inside the frond lined bed instead of draining away quickly down into the surgical aquifer.
Urban agriculture raised bed easily grows organic vegetables

Urban agriculture raised planting bed with three week old squash plants and lots of baby squash

Urban agriculture raised bed plant roots and saw palmetto fronds hold soil in place, eliminating need for side boards.
Though I first considered lining the outside of the planting bed with boards, I can see now that an outside covering is not necessary.  The root architecture of the plants weaves into the chicken wire forming an impenetrable vertical wall.  In fact, flowers and veggies are growing out of the side, forming an edible and blooming living wall of sorts.

Urban agriculture can be effective without becoming expensive.

Recycling, reuse and use of locally available materials are key.  As is a little imagination.  Just hold a packet of veggie or wildflower seeds in your hand and look out back and think - 'in just three weeks'....