Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Raised Bed Dilemma

Our farm came with 12 raised beds.

 I even grew things in them once. This one time. Years ago.

I think this was our first lettuce crop. We grew peas, lettuce, radishes, all sorts of stuff in the beds. I planted all twelve of them.

They were built with rods of steel rebar driven into the ground in three places on two sides. And they came with these PVC hoops that you can put right into the rebar. We draped burlap over them to create shade for the cold-loving lettuce.

Here is a slightly closer view seeing the hoops on the outside of the raised bed. But really, I put this photo in so you could all see the back of Hobbes' head. He was behaving himself around our very first batch of turkey poults, who did a great job of eating bugs, and not the lettuce.  Anyhow, I digress (I miss Hobbes, he was awesome...)

So, my dilemma is that back when this photo was taken, we had less birds. The fencing around these raised beds was less than stellar, but most of the birds lived elsewhere, and didn't bother the garden too much. We took the turkey toddlers in under supervised conditions, mostly because they were little, and hawks could get them, and they couldn't get back to their coop from there on their own. So all was good in the garden.

I will admit, that after we built our greenhouse, the raised beds became neglected. I had a bigger toy to play with. One that reaps other benefits... birds can only get in there if I want them to, or if the plastic is torn. Plants are safe from marauding turkeys (who get much much bigger than those little tykes in the photos above) and once, even bedded down in my tomatoes, which could have crushed them. I digress again.

Since these photos were taken, we have fixed the fencing around the entire raised bed area, most of it is now 5 feet tall, which still doesn't keep ALL the birds out, but it helps. Last year, I planted rhubarb, mint, radishes, lettuce, peas, and beans.  Only one mint plant survived the attack from the chickens.

The problem is that when small plants are sprouting, chickens and turkeys can easily spot the tiny spot of green, and eat it, and the plant is gone. When a garden is big and lush and full of crawly little bugs, the chickens eat those first. I watched my little rhubarbs sprout and get eaten, radishes sprout and get eaten, etc.  I need to protect my raised beds.

So I have been considering this problem. I have the hoops. I have some shade cloth and some extra plastic from the greenhouse. I have the materials to make covers over these beds. But they can't be like before, they have to be totally enclosed, so the chickens don't get inside. Like my greenhouse. 

I figured I could sew the shade cloth to the hoops, with thick upholstery thread, which is what I use to make chicken huts. OK, that would be easy, but I'd have to sew the ends tight so they couldn't sneak in, or use velcro, fine, I could make it work.  But I might want to use greenhouse plastic on some houses, for the warmer weather plants. I know my sewing machine can handle the job - it has sewed upholstery thread through billboard tarps for the chicken huts. But I didn't know how well the plastic would hold up to having small holes poked in it. Would this project fail the first time the wind blew, or a dog leaned on it?

Then I got smart. I can't believe it took me all winter to think of this. It probably helped that we had been working in the greenhouse during the warm January to prepare for planting.

We also have lots of extra wiggle wire for our greenhouse, we just need wiggle wire track.
 Voila. Wiggle wire track. Available online from the greenhouse company that built me the kit for our fabulous greenhouse (which is Rimol, I highly recommend them for anyone considering a high tunnel or greenhouse, and we desperately want to build the Rolling Thunder, but again, I digress). One box of 20 8' sticks will be able to let me cover 9 of my raised beds.

 When you install the wiggle wire over the plastic, into the track, it holds it in place like this.  I can easily cut and drill through these aluminum pieces, and screw them into the sides of the raised beds, between the rebar, and along the ends. I can drape the plastic or shade cloth over the hoops, and tack it down snuggly with the wiggle wire. Chickens are kept out, it's secure on all 4 sides. We can run irrigation under the plastic, so we can still water the beds (and it will help keep the water from evaporating away, like inside our big greenhouse)  9 mini greenhouses to help me get some plants started in the beds.

I have dreams of planting at least 2 things in these beds. Things people tell me I will regret, things that apparently grow like weeds and never die and everyone hates them. Raised beds are a perfect place for these things, because it will control their spread. And if they come back on their own every year, all the better and less work for me!  These things? Rhubarb and Mint. YUM.