Tagged: city garden

Maple-Proofing your Raised Bed Garden

When we first built our raised beds over top of the roots of our neighbors’ maple tree where the previous owner grew a crop of weeds for years, I did my due diligence and learned the best way to keep the tree’s feeder roots from getting into the fluffy moist veggie garden soil we planned to put on top of them and wanted very much to keep them out of was to put down a layer of landscaping fabric under the beds before placing the soil on top.  Optimistic, that is what we did.

Fast forward two years and our beds were so full of feeder roots, last summer the beets were crowded out and growing on top of the dirt!   After more research where I learned  a) it was best to give up and,  b) if you didn’t want to give up then bullet proof it so we decided to tackle the remediation head on.

First we removed all of the soil from the raised bed, placing it on top of a tarp.  It’s good organic stuff and we didn’t want it to mix with the potentially contaminated soil from our Gowanus Canal neighborhood.

Roxy the dog surveys the work

The next step was to lay down a layer of landscaping fabric, cutting it slightly larger than the bed frame.  We lifted the frames gently and slipped it under the edges.

the landscaping fabric goes out underneath the edge of the frame

After the fabric we put down a layer of 1/4″ hardware cloth under the edges, also cut slightly larger than the frame.  Hardware cloth is a fine mesh of metal you can buy by the yard or the roll at most hardware stores. When calculating the amount you’ll need be sure to allow for overlap.  It will most likely take two lengths x the width of your box.  Each section of our bed is 4′x5′ so two, 16 foot rolls was enough to do one.  All together we put down three layers of landscaping cloth (A) and two of hardware cloth (B), so the sequence is A-B-A-B-A.  The maple roots may grow back, but hopefully they’ll get lost for a few years inside the layers and not venture past.

next comes a layer of hardware cloth

Finally, after a long afternoon of digging and sifting we planted the rhubarb back.  We’re so excited the raspberry canes are leafing out everywhere and little strawberry shoots are popping up in the bed next to it.  It’s their third season and we’re optimistic it will be a great berry crop!  We also learned last year when NOT to plan our vacation (during the first week of July) or we’ll miss peak berry season in Brooklyn, NY.

Yay! The soil is back in the raised bed


In the last photo you can see the next bed we have to do – half of it is a double height bed where the tomatoes grow and it’s completely filled with feeder roots.  If you are planting over a maple tree, all I can say is good luck and bring on the hardware cloth!

our next project...the bed next to it

Supplies You’ll Need

- Lanscaping Fabric, enough for three layers

- Hardware cloth, enough for two layers

- Scissors to cut the landscaping fabric

- Tin Snips to cut the hardware cloth

Spring Thoughts

Path made of Ohio foundation stones

Nothing like winter’s chills to get us thinking about spring. After so much work on the inside of the house, we spent the spring and summer months of last year planting in the garden and enjoying our first harvest of vegetables and flowers. Mom and dad K helped us install a bluestone cap to the unfinished retaining wall in the back and brought hand-hewn flagstones from Ohio that used to be in the basement of the farm house dad grew up in for a path in the front garden.  (For their age, my parents totally rock!) The kids love meandering via the garden to the front door while we unlock it and it’s a lovely sentimental connection to our country roots.

Away went the old scruffy holly and gangly rose bushes (mom replanted them at her house in Ohio – she loves orphan plants) and we repurposed gravel-bound hosta and day lilies to new locations in the updated layout, added an assortment of flower and foliage plants topped it all off with a Japanese Stewartia tree.  The garden now looks like the start of a shady woodland path with clusters of like plants grouped together and interesting discoveries to make as you wander along the path.  The top photo was taken shortly after the garden was planted in July and the one below is how it looked when we first moved in.  In October we planted hundreds of bulbs for waves of spring color along the path and clusters of crocus and daffodils here and there among the bushes.  A bed of bearded iris will make a big show in front of the stewartia tree through June and July. The kids have no idea and I can’t wait to see their faces when the things wake up and the delight begins.

Front Garden, before: hosta & holly and gravel covered dirt
Mom & Dad buttering the wall
Bluestone sets the retaining wall off nicely

In the back we planted raspberries, tomatoes, beans, strawberries, onions, eggplant and herbs in raised beds along the fence and in March started our family composting operation that includes worm bins in the basement and a year-round compost system in the back garden.  Because the soil is contaminated from the nearby Gowanus Canal with industrial waste from the last two centuries, we are careful to practice safe gardening and installed a barrier at the bottoms of the new beds to keep the roots contained and put clean fill in the beds.  We’ll use the composted organic kitchen waste in the garden.  We mulched tree leaves to provide winter cover for the flower beds. Both the front and back will likely undergo major changes with future renovations – thank goodness they look half way decent now in the mean time! It was a lot of back breaking work – especially digging all the trash out of the back flower beds.  That was a project that took the whole family weeks!

We sifted buckets of debris from the back flower beds

We used a pick axe and our hands to break up the cement-like soil packed with bricks, rocks, broken glass, household trash and riddled with roots. Next was sifting 10 gallon bucket after bucket of gravel and glass shards from the remaining soil and adding back at least a dozen bags of soil and amendments to take the place of all the rubble removed before finally planting roses, shrubs and flowers. The difference was amazing.  Mom and dad took the buckets of gravel for their driveway in Ohio so I suppose you could say we traded some small rocks in for some bigger ones. Every time they visit now they bring us a truck load of good Ohio topsoil – we’re so lucky!!

Construction of the raised garden beds
Before: rear garden weed patch

Over the winter we have a couple more projects: building a fence with a gate to protect this year’s vegetable garden from the digging adventures of our new pup, Roxy, and installing a raspberry trellis before spring comes and thorny canes take over the yard.  We’ll be sure to post pictures of the bulbs when they come up in spring and keep you updated on plans for the vegetable garden.  Last week we worked close to forty pounds of worm castings into the soil and have plans to raise one of the containers another 12″ for nice deep tomato roots.  This year I’m buying plants instead of growing from seed – we only need six tomato plants so it’s a lot more practical.  We’ll definitely plant Japanese eggplant again, some pole beans and look forward to our first season of mature raspberries and strawberries – that is if we can outsmart the critters who like to eat them. The down side of having one of the only gardens around is you’re the go-to snack joint for the local birds, squirrels and raccoon population.

Summer eggplant growing in the vegetable garden