The Summer just past took a toll on my body's mobility. With the weather being so wet and me being so handicapped -- the kitchen garden got away from me.
Consequently, I have been ruled by frustration these past few weeks -- and a sense that my green thumb activities may need to be curtailed. Not a good feeling in the context of contemporary steep rises in food prices.
So happenstance whelmed me today. I have been a past proponent of milk crate gardening. Indeed, I still grow all my herbs in milk crates. Much as I love them -- I have around 40 crates in production -- they don't offer enough space for many annual crops to flourish.
While I can be creative in my milk crate layout configurations, I thought what I needed was raised beds with more surface area than a milk crate.
I could buy raised beds made from corrugated iron, but I'm more the recycling type -- a second hand guy. My wife calls it UP-cycling.
It happens that we had used bread trays for our Vetiver nursery. Plastic trays like these can be got from dump shops or purchased from suppliers for around $12 each. So, I thought to myself, let's make a milk crate but only taller.
I didn't have weed mat on hand as I'd used to line the milk crates. So I used some old tarp off cuts I had around the place. I simply cable-tied the bread trays together and filled them with soil and sundries.
Later I'll wire the parts together.
The principles are very simple, as you can see from the photographs. Open at the bottom and the top. Clad with tarp on the sides. Filled with soil.
Inasmuch as I can comprehend the protocols of raised bed gardening, this rig should work.
The bread trays are of a similar durability build and engineered design as your everyday milk crate. Will stand up to the sunshine without getting brittle and hold their shape despite lateral pressures.
In my milk crate gardening experience, once consolidated, the soil enclosed in the shape forms into a consolidated mound and the soil chooses its own drainage route and rate.
The only drawback is that by using the tarp --or if I had used weed mat -- I have plastic in contract with soil. To work around that, I'd line the garden bed shapes with potato sacks made from burlap (jute) . These will rot, but will take some time to do so.
But for now, I'm using what I've got lying a round the place: bread trays and bits of tarp.
These make for a generously raised bed: 60 cm high by 60 cm wide and presenting a gardening square bed 60x60cm
As you see, I inserted a narrower linking bed between two standalone builds .
The build took me a couple of hours. Filling with soil is the hard part.
Rotting logs on the bottom. Soil dug from the chook pen. Thrown in brush clippings. Layered with cow manure. Mulch on top. When I get around to it, I'll insert a terracotta watering cylinder into the middle of each bed.
Click on image above for enlarged view.
UPDATE: JUNE 3rd
I added another 'bed' so now I have 4. Running east/west. Easy build except the filling with soil. Once the dirt settles, I'll secure the joins further and start looking for more bread crates.
I'm thinking of doing another row three beds long and use this project to rejig my kitchen garden.
FYI:Bread trays new cost $12-15 locally. So to make one bed with them is a budget of $48-60. With cladding as you prefer. But don't go thinking that you can move or redo them as they hold so much soil. Mark at Self Sufficient Me often explores different ways to fill raised beds.
Bread crates when available are cheaper at Dump Shops.
The only challenge hereon in is to find a joining system that holds the crates to each other. I've used cable ties but over time they'll perish. But the method of tightening is what is required. I also think that at this height, despite use of my sandy loam, the soil in the beds will need to depend on earth worms for aeration. Below the surface should be a very active environment because at their base, each bed is covered with a layer of already rotting branches/logs. Then there's the layering of manure...
Go for it fellas!
Master of invention.
Here is the bread crate convergence:
Two dovetailed rows of milk crates in the foreground. We're looking south.
I renovated the milk crates and planted out some cuttings of Okinawan spinach in them. We eat a lot of that. In the milk crates is my herb supply so they are always busy.
The two posts hold up my aerials, which at the moment are mainly carrying choko and some derelict climbing beans that haven't like the weather.
No. Filled with soil, they are rooted to the ground. Your everyday bread crate is a solid piece of engineering, and there is a lot of dirt inside these builds.
FYI: we got new bread crates from here.
But I also got some cheap at dump shops.
Do the maths and compare other raised bed building options or purchases. > 500-700 mm high will cost you at least $200 ready built. I made mine from what I had around the house.
My only experience with raised beds was using bathtubs -- and really they are a pain unless you seriously rig for wicking. Otherwise, drainage is a big challenge.
These beds are really a variation of sack gardening --except there's a frame around the bag. You can make your own sack from whatever off cuts you have. The edge seams get sealed by the lateral pressure of soil. against the frame
Vertical sack farming is popular in parts of Africa. Example here.
Raised beds of course require watering attentively. The primary drawback is what to fill them with. Since I've created my own soil anyway, I just dig that up, add manure and such.
Remember, I'm raising the beds UP so that I can garden more easily when I'm not so mobile.
I've found that with the lined milk crates, I don't have to fret about special mixes. That's because the mat cladding gives and breathes. Root balls taker longer to fill the crate container. Using a tarp is not quite like that, although these off cuts are a bit threadbare given their age (like 4 years in the sun). I wouldn't use black plastic as it would sweat the soil. The tarp has the advantage of the reflective side facing out against some of the heat from the sun.
You could line with recycled feed bags, but they flake quickly in the sunshine and soon deteriorate -- so I wouldn't recommend them. Burlap from jute is good but not hessian (says I as I have done experiments with sand bag materials re Vetiver plantings). Hessian is useless. You can get heavy weave jute potato or coffee sacks from places for around $4 each. They'd take some time to rot. Or you could get biodegradable landscaping mat, like coir. But then up goes your costs and down goes the usage you get from them.
nice - no issues with the recent wind? holding up together ok?