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The Dirt

May 10, 2010

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Soaker hoses go into place as soon as garden contours are settled, to aid in planting placement.


My neighbor across the street teases me about the appearance of my garden–the design is one of a kind. I didn’t build a standard rectangle, I didn’t put in boards to support raised beds, but I did bring in a lot of topsoil and humus to mix with the existing soil and shoveled the rest of a pile of dirt from my back yard into these irregularly-shaped raised beds in my front yard. The planks on one side are to stabilize things, but the rest is shaped and tamped down. Once dirt was in the right place, I used homemade compost to top dress it before planting.

Organic gardening always begins with healthy soil. Lots of good biological activity is essential, and I add trichogramma wasps and beneficial nematodes to the mix. These beds are intended to avoid the wet feet that crippled eggplant and tomato production last year when I gardened on the existing land level. Too many low spots formed and put a period to healthy produce. Once the plant roots were soggy and weak, the predatory bugs piled on. As usual in my blog, click on any of these images to see a larger version open in a new window.

The raised beds have beveled sides. Next year I may want to reshape these beds and I don't want to dismantle wooden frames to do it.

The raised beds have beveled sides. Next year I may want to reshape these beds and I don't want to dismantle wooden frames to do it.


This year I allowed the form to entirely follow the function. I have a pie-shaped piece of property beside the drive, wide at the bottom of the garden, so I visualized a interlocking series of terraces when I started moving around dirt. I sculpted the garden, standing back frequently to examine the shapes, anticipating drainage results as I worked. I had to factor in the drenching spring rainstorms we get occasionally, so I sloped the raised beds and dug sloped trench paths between each. I can reach to the center of each raised bed from the paths between them, and I put down a generous layer of free mulch from the city to help hold the moisture in and make it a little less gooshy to step on the paths after a rain. (I started to write “step in the garden,” but in fact, once the beds are in place I try to never step off of the paths, if possible. You’ll find a few well-placed bricks if you come back to my garden this summer. Those are the spots where a step is deemed necessary, but the brick is the placeholder so I know only to rest a foot on that spot). I’m sure I’m not alone among gardeners in trying to avoid compressing the garden soil by stepping in it.


Pretty soon the shape of the land in the garden won’t be visible under the hedge of tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers, and my neighbor across the street never teases me about the fine produce I take over regularly. When there is a glut in this little patch, I feed the neighborhood with what I won’t have room to eat,  time to can, or room to freeze. I should set up a little counter with a sign at the curb. “Tomatoes today. $1 a pound” or “Eggplants, $1 ea.” Last time I heard anything about it, it was legal in Texas to sell produce without a license. (This explained to annual occurrence of the itinerant grapefruit and orange sellers down our block years ago. Maybe I should load the kids’ old Radio Flyer and make the rounds?)

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