Problem Solving the Landscape
1 of about 250 in Transylvania County.
I may have mentioned before that I live in Western North Carolina. In Transylvania County. Smack dab between Pisgah National Forest, Gorges State Park and Dupont State Forest. Fifty percent of the county is park land. Pisgah National Forest is a temperate rain forest and Transylvania county receives more rainfall annually than any other county east of the Rockies. These forests are in the Appalachian mountains. Not as tall as the Rockies, but trust me--they're still gorgeous!
All of which to say that the average garden in this region is a) sloped and b) frequently wet, if not soggy, since the soil is primarily clay. What to do with all these plants that want "well-drained" soil? Especially the vegetables?
If you live on a small lot in the city limits, one of your best bets is raised beds. Raised bed solutions may help with other problems, as well.
One of the first installations on this lot when we moved in was a decent-size (room to turn around in!) shed. On a slope, this meant that the southern side of the shed is a good two feet off the ground, leaving an aesthetic nightmare of a gap. So very early on, we hastily threw together a raised bed on that southern slope comprised primarily of tar paper and old fence boards. This summer it became apparent that tar paper is no match for all that rainfall (up to 80 inches a year) and the dirt started making its way out of the raised bed. In the photo at right, you can see how the raised bed functions to hide the gap and its relation to a small deck on the left.
A close up reveals the extent to which the soil was migrating out of the bed--along with the remains of the tar paper.
In re-doing this end, I was not going to be able to replicate (quite) the look of the front of the bed because structurally I needed to be able to put screws through the bottom of the boards, and you can see in the photo that the existing 2"x4" is too high to secure a board bottom which will surely warp.
Hence the addition of new 2"x6" at the very bottom, notched to accommodate the concrete surrounding the uphill post.
You will also note that the tarpaper has been replaced with a much more robust non-woven textile landscaping fabric. This is not the flimsy, useless stuff pawned off on you at the big box. This stuff can take and hold nails, staples--whatever--and not rip. A function of the "non-woven" part. You can find it by brand names like "Mirafi" or "Terratex" and I'm sure there are others--check with a local landscape supply to see what they have in stock. It is typically about 12 feet wide and sold by the linear foot, meaning that if you buy 1 linear foot, you are getting 12 square feet. It is very economical and frequently used by the Forest Service and others for road repair, among other things.
Visually, these textile products, uncompressed, look to be nearly 1/8" thick. Soil will not pass through. Water will. After redoing the end as you see here, I put up the same boards that had been there plus one more to close up all the gaps. The soil inside (partly a result of wood scraps I threw in the bottom that got consumed by various insects) is now well-drained---and contained!
Dry creek, frequently wet!
The bigger problem for us (aesthetics, frankly, are easier) is a vegetable garden. Tomatoes in this area are prone to a number of blights and other problems, but they taste too good to not plant! Lots of our other favorites also prefer "light or well-drained" soil and of course they need good sun. Good sun that isn't sitting under a
. So our main veggie plot, situated on our west side in limited, but sunny, space was in a raised bed. That bed was the remains of an old play area from the previous homeowners and was achieving an advanced state of decomposition. Time to re-do!
One of my goals with the new bed would be to raise it enough to make it comfortable to sit on the edges--an accommodation for aging gardeners. My other goal was to construct it in such a way as to use up as many scraps of lumber I'd been hoarding as I possibly could. I decided on a height of 14" plus the cap board, which would make it 15 1/2" total. The additional height would also help in keeping soil out of our local "flood path," a dry creek bed that funnels water around the house during downpours.
In the photo at right, you can see the vertical "inner wall" of the new bed. This wall is sacrificial, untreated wood. Having seen what the bugs did to my scraps in the first raised bed, I know the end result will be worth it. I used leftover flooring, boards from pallets, just about anything in a 1"x6" board left in my shed. We had purchased a sourwood tree for the front yard that came in a wooden "pot." The root development was so much nicer than the standard potted tree that I have to believe that it preferred the environment created by the wooden box to the environment created by black plastic. Hence the double-walled new bed!
The interior dimensions of the bed were dictated by the existing soil footprint, making it an odd approximately 5'x8' foot bed. A raised section in the middle planted with strawberries makes it easier to reach in for harvest. Structurally, the bed is constructed with treated 4"x4" corner posts with 2"x4" treated dimensional lumber stretched between them. The soil side of the bed was created using any scrap of 1"x material (boards that are actually 3/4" of an inch thick) that was untreated and not long enough to use for anything else. Each "wall" was created separately, using 16 gauge 1 1/2" galvanized nails and a pneumatic nailer to attach the short pieces to the 2"x4" top (flush with top of posts) and bottom (1" above soil level). An appropriate gap was left at each end until the new piece of wall was fitted into place so that the 2"x 4"s could be attached to the corner posts (using screws and
). You can see from the photo how the inner and outer walls of lumber surround the treated 2"x4" so that no treated lumber is in contact with the veggie soil.
Black Locust wood frames the outside, with 2"x6" boards recycled from a friend's old shed caps the wall.
The final product should hold up for a good number of years. After the inner wall decays, the outer wall, made from
, should still be there for a good long while. Take that, rainforest! :)