Preparing and Deer-Proofing the Raised Bed
Preparing the Soil
I spent several days working the soil thoroughly. I used a pitchfork to dig deeply into the soil and pop a chunk of dirt out, which I flipped over and broke apart, quickly tossing roots out of the bed. I worked my way over the entire bed, discovering ground squirrel and/or mole tunnels here and there. Jumping up and down on the tunnels to collapse and fill them was great fun! After digging deeply over the whole bed, I went over the entire bed again with the pitchfork, fluffing the soil and making sure I'd broken up any remaining chunks of dirt.
I chose not to ammend the soil because we had prepared this soil with red worm wigglers years ago, and it was full of nutrient and fertilizer. That may have been a mistake, but the dirt looked really good to me, and one of the most prominent weeds growing here was Hairy Vetch, which is used as a nitrogen soil amendment. Also, years of weeds had broken down into the soil, so I made a judgement call not to add anything more. I can always add specific fertilizer later. I would be putting in all kinds of flower seeds—and bulbs too—and one thing I know is that over-fertilized soil will kill plants and bulbs very quickly, but soil that needs ammendments will result in plants not growing as well as they should. Better to be safe than to be sorry.
Dividing the Bed into Three
Steve and I decided on a 20' x 20' bed years ago without doing much research. We didn't realize that it would be difficult to work in a bed with these dimensions, and walking in the bed to work on the plants and harvest vegetables was a great way to find out why people prefer long, narrow beds as opposed to one large one.
With that in mind, I measured the space to allow for three long, narrow beds and figured out how narrow I could make the walk ways to maximize the bed size. We had the perfect tool, a flat shovel, and I quickly began digging out furrows for the paths. At the time, I hadn't figured out how I'd make the retaining walls, but clearly I needed to come up with something, and it needed to be cheap, easy to build, and fast. Suddenly I remembered that we had a whole bunch of bamboo poles we used to stake our tomatoes with. I wondered if I could create a wall with them. We certainly had enough to do the job. With some experimenting, I was able to come up with walls that worked well and were easy and fast to make. It took me a few hours to get them all done, but when I showed Steve, he was impressed and proud at my solution and loved the walkways too. My three beds were ready for the next step!
Conditioning the Beds to Accept Water
If you've ever had potting soil, you know how it repels water if it's been dry for too long. The soil in these beds was bone-dry, but before I could start watering the beds, I needed to figure out my hose situation. I decided the best solution would be to have one hose and wand for each of the two aisles, for ease and lowered risk of plant damage when pulling a hose. We had a four-way hose splitter and happily, two hoses and two extra wands to use.
I began watering the beds. I watered each bed thoroughly in the morning and in the late afternoon I came back and raked the soil, revealing the bone-dry soil underneath. I watered thoroughly again. The next morning I would rake the soil and add more water. I repeated this for a week, and on the day I was satisfied, I worked the soil by hand. I mixed the last dry areas into the moist soil over and over, and then watered the soil and let it sit for many hours before repeating one last time, when I could see and feel that the soil was finally accepting water deep down. Novice gardeners don't know how deadly this soil can be if it's not properly conditioned, but thankfully I've already learned about this!
Dividing the Three Beds into 2 x 7 Sections
It was always my plan to have lots of small sections so I could plant many kinds of flowers, so I took bamboo poles and laid them on the soil so I would have a removable guide. Right down the center and split into seven sections per bed. That would give me lots of different flowers to try, hooray!
Protecting Each Garden with Deer Fencing
The original deer fencing used years ago to enclose the vegetable patch was still available, but it was piled in a heap, and over the years, weeds had grown through the mesh, effectively gluing it to the ground. I had begun yanking at the mesh many months before, trying to free the weeds. I went to see if I could finally pull it free. Carefully working at it, the last of the weeds grudgingly gave way and the 100 foot fencing could be used again. I was very happy to discover that it had only a few holes in it, which were easily repaired. Steve and I talked about it and decided that we should take this fencing and surround my front garden with it, something I'd been dreaming about for a couple of years. One afternoon, Steve pounded four T-posts into the ground around the front garden area and together we put up the fencing. We used zip ties to secure the fence to the T-posts and Steve came up with a very clever closure that keeps the fencing neat and is easy to open and close. I put some old wooden posts at the base of the fencing to keep bigger animals from trying to climb under. Finally, my front garden was truly protected from the deer and I was beside myself with happiness!
Steve made this fence closure using pvc pipe, bungee cord and zip ties. It works perfectly! You can see the smaller 1" diameter of the rectangles in this deer fencing, which is much lighter weight and not as durable. Still, it's very nice and keeps the deer out. It's 6.5' tall and was not jumped by deer when we had it surrounding our vegetable patch years ago.
We went to the local hardware and farm stores to look for more deer fencing, but since it was the time of year that everyone was doing the same thing, the only fencing available was either too heavy duty and overpriced or way too flimsy and totally unsuitable. So, I hopped online and did some research. We were hoping to find more of what we had but it didn't seem to be available or I just wasn't able to locate it. I ended up on a roll of 7.5' x 100' poly plastic fencing with rectangular holes about 2" square. I liked that it was a foot higher than our other fencing because I really didn't want the deer to try jumping into my precious garden. I know they can make that jump but they aren't likely to do it, and they didn't jump the 6.5' fence when we had it around the raised bed vegetable patch, so hopefully both of my gardens would be safe from marauding deer. When the fencing arrived, we were surprised at how durable and heavy-duty it was. The original fencing was quite nice and reasonably durable, but this new fencing made it seem extremely flimsy in comparison! We were very happy with our purchase and felt it was money very well-spent. (In case you're interested, we paid $133 for the 7.5' x 100' roll, which included free shipping.)
We put the fencing up a couple of days later and found it to be easier to handle and less floppy and looked great in place. A staple gun was perfect for attaching the fencing to the 4 x 4 posts we placed years ago. There were some old, very heavy-duty pieces of lumber laying around, so we brought them over in the tractor bucket and placed them at the base of the fence on two sides. Stapling the fence to the lumber was fast and easy, and for the other two sides, a pile of boulders supplied us with rocks which we placed on top of the fence edge to make a perfect barrier. Steve made a door closure for the fence and finally, my garden was ready for planting!!
This is the closure for the raised bed. The bungee is flat instead of round, but the method of the closure is the same. This deer fencing is extremely durable and quite heavy duty compared to the other fencing, and when it arrived, we thought the price of $133 for 7.5' tall x 100 feet was very reasonable.
Next: Seeds, Bulbs and Planting Time!