The Little Yellow Farmhouse: A Salve for Gardening Bug Bites – Temporary Raised Beds


When we moved into our new house at the end of February, the gardening bug bit us so hard my mother-in-law saw us wince.

Then, she directed us to the nearest garden center.

She’s an enabler.

As I looked out onto our almost-an-acre of land, with its red clay and large lawn, all I could see was the garden to come. My sweetie plundering the herb garden with a simple step out the kitchen door. The wildflower field in the back corner supplying my dreamed-up bees with pollen (and us with honey!). Me plucking a bowl of green beans from our generous veggie garden to go with dinner.

In my vision, fruit trees and flowering shrubs form the backbone of our landscape. Beds of flowers provide ongoing color and beautiful floral arrangements for our tables.

The large lawn I surveyed disappears, leaving garden paths of grass just wide enough to fit a pushmower. At most, I want to spend an hour mowing each week.

I know I’m exchanging mowing for weeding, but the beauty of the potential seduces me. I’m helpless against it.

However, the red clay concerned me. When I dug in and pulled out a clump of the heavy sticky dirt, I felt the sweat coating my head underneath my wide-brimmed gardening hat. Hours, days, maybe even weeks worth of digging and amending the soil lay ahead of me.

I want veggies out of my garden this year. The gardening bug declared it possible!

From a text I hauled across country (No-Dig, No-Weed Gardening by Raymond P. Poincelot, Rodale Press, 1986), I discovered an easy method of creating a raised bed using wire border fencing and cardboard. Even Mr. Poincelot admits this bed won’t last more than one growing season, but that works for me!

With little time to develop the soil for the upcoming growing season, I ordered dirt and compost.

Yes, I ordered compost. Our compost bin traveled with us from Steamboat, but no compost. Even the gardening bug himself couldn’t justify hauling dirt across the country. So, the construction of a new compost pile is a whole ‘nother kettle of veggie scraps.

Gomer, The Compost Pile

Our compost pile grows new and fresh, filling with the piles of leftover leaves from the edge of the forest behind our house and the debris from making dinner. We (mostly my sweetie) turn it regularly, but still are several months out from turning our own compost into the garden. A landscape guy (who helped us with our french drain) recommended adding beer to make the remaining fall leaves break down more quickly, so….

Day-drinking for Gomer!

Yes, we named our compost pile “Gomer.”

Yes, we named it after “Gomer Pyle” from the Andy Griffith show.

Yes, we love puns.

Judge all you want.

I want my new raised beds to remain on the smaller side, so I can easily manage the harvest. Coming from Steamboat Springs, where the growing season is only 59 days and the last and first frost dates are only separated by thirty days, I don’t want the 198 day abundance of Asheville to overwhelm me.

I write this even as I plan succession plantings and keep adding to my list of seeds. That gardening bug is a menace!

I planned two beds, each four feet by eight feet. After my sweetie shoved a packet of watermelon seeds into my palm, I added one more small pile about three feet in diameter to serve as the impromptu watermelon mound.

She can’t resist a good watermelon. Having never grown one before, I hope the Georgia Rattlesnake variety produces well.

And that I don’t kill it.

Back to the bed construction. At the hardware store, I found some short wire garden border fence (13” high when inserted into the ground) on clearance.

Wire Garden Border Fence

The cardboard I recycled from boxes as we unpacked.

The most expensive thing was the dirt. I wanted something that I could use this year for my veggie garden and then again in the fall to amend my new “in the ground” beds. Or to just wall up and use again next year.

My plans remain a little fluid.

Two cubic yards of a mixture of topsoil and compost, plus one yard of just compost, with delivery cost me a little over $200. I happily set up the delivery appointment for the week after Easter.

In one of those “maybe lucky, maybe not” moments in our move, our soon-to-be master bedroom flooded due to a leaky toilet. We (and by “we” I mean my sweetie and her mother) ripped out the sodden carpet and replaced it earlier than we expected. Now, I recycled a piece of ruined carpet to form the foundation of the bed.

Differing viewpoints abound in the discussion of carpet in the garden. Some people say to only use biodegradable carpet, others only use synthetic carpet, some only use it to kill weeds in areas to be planted, others use it for mulch. Frankly, everyone has a point.

However, my plan is to use this synthetic carpet as a base for a temporary raised bed for one growing season. While I’m not quite sure what I’ll be doing next year, I’m pretty sure that any weeds underneath these beds will be smothered in a good preparation for next year’s garden. Plus, if I happen to decide to move things around, having a piece of carpet to move the dirt around next year won’t hurt. My understanding from many sources (including my mother) is that, if I leave it in place, the carpet will eventually wear through and moldy old scraps will begin to emerge from the garden. Yuck! So, while this is a good short term solution, my long-term plan excludes old carpet from my new garden beds.

Meanwhile, my sweetie cut two rectangles of carpet, each four feet by eight feet, and one smaller three-foot square. Each one was placed face down directly on the lawn. We spaced them exactly one mower’s width apart so she could easily mow between the beds.

When the dirt arrived, we sprang into action. I shoveled the top soil/compost mix onto the carpet while my sweetie placed the fencing and cut the cardboard.

Beginning the Bed

The garden border fencing slipped into the ground along the lines of the carpet. This short wire border sturdily provides the backbone to keep everything in place.

To keep the soil from drifting out into the lawn, my sweetie cut cardboard strips using sturdy packing boxes we’ve collected. Since our fencing measured 13” tall, she used that width as the guide and slid the pieces into place as I filled the beds with dirt. Where the cardboard came together, she added a smaller strip of cardboard doubled over the junction to reinforce it.

Garden Bed with Cardboard in Place

The smaller three-foot square didn’t get any fencing or cardboard. Several shovelfuls of topsoil created my sweetie’s watermelon patch. Nothing will get planted in there until mid-May, but in August – BOOM! Watermelons for days!

Watermelon Bed

I hope.

I loaded each bed with the topsoil/compost mix and then topped each one off with about an inch of compost. To keep myself going, I added a mantra of veggie names to each shovel full of topsoil and compost.

“Beets.” Thunk.

“Carrots.” Whump.

“Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes.” Thud, whack, wallop.

Perhaps weary of the recitation, my sweetie took over shoveling. I grabbed the rake to smooth the bed. As the topsoil pile diminished, we worked together, me raking the bottom layer of dirt into the shovel and my sweetie shoveling it into the bed without scraping the grass off of the lawn. Next time – tarp!

Garden Beds

We added a few stakes later on the sides to give them a little more support.

The beds sat patiently in the yard while rain fell over the weekend. I want the rain to stop for at least a day before I plant our seeds (and even some seedlings).

Meanwhile, we get to rest our aching bones.

Maybe we are too old for this shit.

How do you avoid that gardening bug, anyway?

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