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Friday PhotoEssay

Welcome to our 2nd Friday PhotoEssay of the season! I don’t have much more to show you beyond what we had earlier in the week, but there are a few things.

It would appear that our drainage system works. On one hand, that’s good. On the other hand, this is the water running out as we were busily trying to get the soil in our raised beds moist enough to plant in on Tuesday. Hmm…

On closer examination, it appears that we may be making compost tea as we try to get the beds thoroughly moist. Not very thrilled with that…both from the nutrient loss standpoint and the sending nutrients into the sewers standpoint. Any ideas? The seeping is too low and slow to really capture that water.

One part of the garden that isn’t fully finished yet is our Wheelchair/Accessible garden. It is still in the planning and design stage. Meanwhile, we have this wheeled container cart holding the spot. Our Horticulture Therapy committee has an eggplant and a pepper in two of the pots right now, and will be adding a tomato shortly.

In the Beautiful Vegetables garden we planted some black sesame. The seeds (not surprisingly!) look like black-colored sesame seeds.

We cut the top 3-4 inches off of the Cardinal Basil plants that we planted on Tuesday. Even though these are a little muddy, they are too good to waste! This is a quick way to get the first basil of the season. Our speaker at Herb Day, Jim Long, also talked about how important it is to constantly be cutting herbs back to keep them flavorful.

Have a great weekend!


Garden Renovation: Days 26-28 – Building Raised Beds & FINAL Drainage!

We are making progress! With any luck, we should have the last 2 raised beds built and everything ready for soil by next Tuesday. Last Friday we built a raised bed out of landscape timbers and placed two beds made of red cedar. One of the Master Gardeners had pre-built them in his garage.

This week, the Master Gardeners came back and built the treated lumber raised bed. That means all we have left is the grape bed and the recycled plastic lumber/decking lumber raised bed to complete.

Today, the drainage & irrigation contractor is back to finish their part of the job, which includes digging drainage holes at regular spaces in the beds and filling them with gravel, then covering them with filter fabric. They will also get the ball valves for our drip lines installed.

The landscape timber bed was a little bit of a challenge, because the timbers are cheap, and can sometimes be a little bit warped. So we had that to deal with, in addition to the usual project of keeping the beds level.

It got easier once more of the timbers were in place. We are using long screws to hold the entire thing together.

Here’s a look at the finished bed. We’ll have to go back and do a bit more leveling in the middle once we have the soil to fill the beds.

With that bed done we got the two smaller cedar beds in place. We still have to get the decorative corner braces in place, but they are still being painted.

Yesterday (Wednesday) the Master Gardeners got the treated lumber bed built. Same routine as before…level the dirt, get the initial boards in place, level some more, and finish!

Here you can see the finished treated lumber bed. It is a little hard to see, but we decided to make the end of the bed angled to follow the pavers rather than straight. I’m still not sure quite what I think of that, but I’m sure it will be fine. Each of those yellow flags is going to be one of the drainage holes in the bottom of the beds.

Here you can see the two drainage holes dug in one of the smaller, red cedar beds. Just to be clear…this is not something that the average person would have to do when building a raised bed. We are putting the additional drainage in the bottom of the beds because we are on a compacted clay construction pad. The drain holes are supposed to be dug through to the sandier, natural soil underneath the compacted clay, just to make sure we’ve got sufficient drainage. With all this drainage, I hope we’ll be able to keep the beds well watered!

I’ll show a few more pictures of the finished drains tomorrow or Monday.

Why Good Drainage is Important for Your Garden

This is just one of the reasons that we are renovating our demonstration garden:

The tracks are from several weeks ago, when we were working to remove the remaining concrete from the wheelchair garden area. There had been a little bit of rain a few days before, and the bobcat left these ruts. Ugh. Since then, they haven’t drained. Granted, a lot of this water is from yesterday and today. Still…it isn’t even pretending to drain. It’s just sitting there.

The first part of our garden renovation is going to be putting in drain tiles that will help move water away from the garden, especially through our lovely, sticky clay, compacted construction pad. When our building was originally built, this area was compacted like the foundation area. Then a little topsoil was added and proclaimed “ready to garden.” Yeah, not so much. These conditions are why we have always used raised beds and worked hard to develop a high organic matter loam soil in those beds. Even with the added drainage, these conditions are also why we will always use raised beds in our Demonstration Garden and also why we recommend that almost all home gardeners in this area also use raised beds.

Many parts of Sedgwick County naturally have a very heavy clay soil like is below our demonstration garden. If you can dig a hole in your garden or yard and fill it with water, and it takes more than 24 hours to drain, you absolutely need either a different location or a raised bed or berm to make your garden successful.

Why does it matter? Isn’t it just water that the plants can use? Actually, it matters a lot. Plant roots need oxygen as much as we do, and if the soil is full of water, there is no space for air! Water can smother the roots of the plants and increase the ability of some problematic diseases to move around in the soil and infect plants.

It might seem ironic to be talking about drainage as a problem after such a dry year. But if your soil is compacted and poorly drained, even a dry summer doesn’t protect you from problems. If anything, it makes it worse because your soil is either soggy or rock hard.

Improving soil drainage and structure. The reason we recommend raised beds so often is that they are a relatively quick solution to a problem that might otherwise take many years to fix. The way to actually improve your soil as it is will vary with the exact problems, but it would include a combination of deep tine aeration/ripping, incorporating organic matter by the ton, and probably planting some deep rooted cover crops like winter radishes that can break up the soil over several years (and incorporating them for more organic matter). Even then, you will still have a heavy, clay soil, albeit with better organic matter and drainage. Given all that work, raised beds seem like a good choice, don’t they?