Starting a Garden in the Desert ~ Part 2 ~ Raised Beds

As I mentioned in Part 1, I started out trying to amend in-ground beds in my own backyard, and had issues with plants dying and/or not growing.  The previous owner had used pavers to outline a veggie garden area, but when we bought the house, everything she’d planted was very small and very dead.  We ripped all that out, added dozens of bags of soil and compost over two years and still couldn’t get things going.  I never had the “soil” officially tested but I concluded that there must be something in the ground that is not conducive to any sort of growth.

I decided to switch to 100% raised beds so I could have more control over the soil.  I took a full spring/summer off to overhaul that area of the yard, and it was worth it, being able to implement the new plan slowly over several months. It’s a more costly option since you have to (1) build or buy the beds and (2) completely fill them with purchased soil.  We started out by removing the paver border and then leveled the area (which is our side yard).  We carefully chose a spot for the new beds, where they would get enough sun in the fall/winter and some decent shade in the spring/summer.  We left room to plant fruit trees and some vining plants along the block fencing.  We have a bay window in the our formal dining room that faces the side yard, and I really want to eventually look out into green space and not just crushed granite and block fencing!

We built six beds.  They are four feet by four feet, and 8″ tall.  Two of them have a two feet by four foot second tier, because I wanted some deeper areas for root veggies.  We settled on pine common boards from Home Depot because they were cost effective.  We chose the 2x10s and used 2x4s to anchor the corners to the ground, so leveling would be easier and so we would not have to worry about shifting.  The beds are situated in our east side yard, which gets enough sun for a fall/winter garden, and some decent shade for spring/summer (we will be installing shade cloth for the hottest months).  We put down several layers of cardboard on top of thick layers of crushed granite, in hopes that whatever IS in the soil would not leach into the new beds.

Filling the beds was a bit tricky.  Not having a pick-up truck or a vehicle capable of driving a long distance with a trailer full of hundreds of pounds of dirt, we found someone to deliver what was touted as very high quality composted soil.  Unfortunately, we were shorted on amount and also discoverd areas that are very sandy, loamy and just not that great.  We began ammending with bagged compost and soil, and will likely need to continue amending for some time to come.

Watering is a consideration. I’ve always watered by hose, but especially in the summer, that is hard to keep up and can be wasteful and not-so-great for the plants.  We set up drip irrigation to the hose bib near the garden.  This included an inexpensive manual timer (I go outside, turn on the water and set the time, then return to shut off the water…the timer cuts it off but we have a couple leaks if we leave the faucet on) which I’d like to upgrade someday to a completely automatic one.   My starts are doing very well so far with the drip set-up and while we’ve had kinks to work out, I think it’s worth the money to set it up and maintain it.

I purchased a lot of starts, because we finished a bit late for seeds for most of the plants I wanted.  I’m glad I did plant starts because it helped me quickly discover some of the shortcomings of our soil blend.

The last major component has been a 42″ high picket fence, to keep our dogs out.  Our 75# standard poodle can more than destroy a garden in moments…in years past I’ve tried smaller garden borders and they don’t work well ~ he’s destroyed a LOT of plants each year.  Both dogs will dig in the richly-aromatic soils we use and they will poop near/on plants as well.  We purchased three 8′ long picket fence panels, a gate hardware kit and a few posts, plus a bag of concrete to create the barrier.  I still need to sand it a bit and paint it, but I’m not factoring paint into the cost.

Continue to Part 3, for a complete cost break down.


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