Pots or raised beds? The conundrums facing a novice greenhouse gardener

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    This time Alexandra Marks found that building her own raised beds could be done 'with relative ease' just as a website said it could.
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Now that my greenhouse is up, operating and water-tight (except for a corner or two…), I noticed that it didn’t take long for pots to start proliferating within it. They first filled the top of the table I’d put inside and then the shelf below. Soon, they crowded the floor, leaving nothing but a narrow walkway to navigate.

Now, I’ve always been a big fan of pots, but I’ve also noticed that they generally require a fair amount of watering, especially when it’s hot. I was also aware that all these pots, now crowded into the greenhouse, still held what could be considered seedlings. I wasn’t quite sure where I was going to put them all when they required larger containers – a moment that was fast approaching, especially for my lettuce.

When I wrote my first post about the decision to buy a greenhouse, I got a lovely comment from Diane Newcomer, who’d had a similar greenhouse building experience. (It took her two weeks to build the greenhouse that, it was advertised, would take only two days.)

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She ended the comment talking about how much she now enjoys it, and she added: “We did put beds along the side and back so plants are in the dirt in the greenhouse. This works very well for us.”

That stuck in my mind. And so as I looked over the ever-growing collection of pots, I decided to research raised beds. Turns out, there are myriad types that can be bought or built.

The first website I landed on turned out to have a good primer on the various options. Called EarthEasy, it showed beds that could be bought premade of natural cedar or recycled plastic, kits that could be snapped together, and cool corner components like these stacking joints. And, of course, I had to check out the Build Your Own section.

Now, if you’ve followed this blog, you can understand that I was a bit skeptical when I read: “… they can be made with relative ease.” That said, I also realized that if I chose to order a prefabricated raised bed, it would cost upward of several hundred dollars and take a few weeks to arrive. I wanted to put those raised beds in the next day. (I was once accused of having the patience of a gnat…)

Still, I thought I should be sure raised beds were a good idea. So back I went to the Web and found this site: Raised Bed Gardening Tips. Any doubts vanished. This site is chock-full of good information from how raised beds help beat weeds and rodents (my nemeses) to the way they make soil control easy. It also has good tips for building your own.

I was sold.

But the best plans I found were back at EarthEasy. They are, indeed, fairly simple. All one needs is several two-by-six planks, a couple of four-by-fours, some lag bolts and washers, and a saw, a drill, and a socket wrench.

The Earth Easy website was quick to warn against using any kind of treated wood because of chemicals, such as pentachlorophenol, which can seep into the earth. The ideal choice is cedar or any other wood native to your area that is naturally resistant to rot and insects.

I carefully studied the plans, sketched out an “L” design for a raised bed that would fit perfectly against the front and side wall of my greenhouse, and off I went to the Home Depot.

I left at around 1 on a Sunday afternoon. I was home by 3 with a Jeep full of with lumber, lag bolts, washers, and 40 square feet of chicken wire. Yes, chicken wire. I live in a neighborhood where moles (or voles, I’m never sure which is which) thrive on the roots of rosebushes and simple grasses alike.

The best advice on the Earth Easy site was to put a layer of chicken wire at the bottom of one’s raised bed to prevent those pesky moles (or voles) from emerging from the earth, whichever way they do it, and chowing down on your vegetables’ roots.

My partner, Martin, greeted me at the door and rolled his eyes, especially at the chicken wire. He noted that we’d put down 8 inches of gravel for a floor in the greenhouse. “It’s stone, they won’t get through it,” he insisted.

But I’d seen the holes bored by the moles (or voles) in the garden, and just the other day, "our" groundhog, who lives by the pond, had emerged from a hole in the middle of the barn, despite the fact that the ground there had been thoroughly packed down for generations. I wanted to ensure that the roots carefully nurtured in our greenhouse were safe, whether Martin liked it or not.

Next: Raised beds it is… But a lesson in trusting one’s partner, and not necessarily Home Depot!

Check out previous Diggin' It posts -- on greenhouse growing, roses, gardening in different climates, and other topics -- by clicking here.

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