Wendy and I took the day off of work yesterday to rest up from hosting our guest over the weekend and to get moving on the small organic vegetable garden we've been planning in our backyard. The north wall of our backyard gets a decent amount of sunlight every day, and Wendy has been itching to plant a small garden for years.

Although neither one of us have a green thumb, we decided to give it a go. We chose to do a relatively small 10' x 2' area that we'll frame with 2x10s to give it the slightly raised border. We know this is a temporary garden until we completely redo the back in several years, so I'm not too concerned with using regular 2x material.

So yesterday I started pulling up bricks and getting the area ready for the garden wall and dirt. And, as usual, I made a mess that looks far worse in the "during" phase of the project. I could sense Wendy's blood pressure rising the messier it looked.

By the end of the day I had the area cleared of bricks, a few major roots out of the way, the borders of the raised bed established, and an audience to witness my efforts. 

Hopefully we can get the border completed and painted in the next day or two so we can move ahead with planting by next weekend. We're also working to make the garden organic, so we're researching how and what to use for soil, fertilizer, and pest control. After talking to a co-worker I ordered a book from Amazon about "Square Foot Gardening." And, on the advice of my parents, I ordered some worm castings (poop) that we will use as fertilizer. I'm hopeful that the root structure of the tree doesn't make it impossible to grow things here.

We've picked up a small variety of plants, including broccoli, eggplant, kale, lettuce, spinach, beets and onions. Plus we'll include chives and lavender for a pop of color, and a whole slew of herbs.

Does anyone else have any experience in this department? It seems like our whole backyard is filled with a blanket of roots from this tree. Should we dig them up or just plant on top of them? Does anyone have any backyard projects of their own to share? More details on our progress to come, and in the meantime, happy gardening!

Comments 9


5/10/2011 at 4:54 PM
Last year I built a raised bed like this in my root-filled back yard. I strongly recommend putting weed-proof landscape fabric in the bottom, since my bed was CHOKED with roots from other garden plants after just one summer. Then you can plant things with shallow roots like lettuces/greens, beans etc but not deep stuff like carrots.

Also be careful what you treat or paint that wood with, it can seep into your dirt then your vegetables. That is the extent of my gardening knowledge.
Thanks for the advice. The tree is large and the backyard is small, so the roots have pretty much taken up the whole thing. The bricks are all very uneven now due to all of the large roots everywhere, so we are worried that it will choke the garden in a relatively short amount of time.
I'm not sure what we're going to paint with yet. Something that will keep some moisture away, but won't poison us is my goal :-)
5/10/2011 at 5:09 PM
Be careful about putting down weed-proof fabric. You want your plants to develop a deep root system, particularly if you are going to be growing tomatoes. You can add a Leafgro (available at garden stores) and perlite (those little white things in soil) to your top soil for fertilization. Both are 100% organic. We like to mix our own.

For liquid fertilizers - try Monty's. All purpose should work fine for what you're trying to do.

Mulching will help control weeds and retain water in the soil. Make sure you don't get the dyed mulch. Yuck!

We're happy gardeners at the Poffs - so let me know if you have questions about the above.
5/12/2011 at 1:20 PM
To echo the comments about paint, you're right to use normal wood there for the border. Pressure treated wood can also leach chemicals into the soil....
This was exactly our thought on this topic. We read that a farm can't be called organic if they use any pressure treated wood, so we figured it may leach.
5/12/2011 at 2:23 PM
I've always heard that cedar is the best. No weed block. you'll be pulling weeds, yes... but i can't stand working with it. It's obnoxious. Plus, some of your plants can self seed (like tomatoes) but they won't if you put down weed block. Additionally, weeds just grow on top of the weed block.

Leave the tree roots there unless you are willing to potentially sacrifice that tree. If it is a hot, dry summer you may stress that tree out and then lose it. Or consult an arborist.

If you really are serious, you may want to look into some of the great community resources in the area for gardening like green springs gardens (www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/gsgp/) for ideas... i think there is a similar facility in alexandria.
Cedar would probably be the best for this, but it isn't all that easy to go out and pick up around here. We just ordered a bunch of cedar so that I can build storm windows, and we ended up getting that from Seattle off of a cedar mill that had a websites.

I think if we do weed block, we'll do it under all of the soil in the garden, just to keep the annoying little tree roots out of the veggies. I do think you are right though, I'm not planning on hacking out any of our tree's roots, I think they are too close to the canopy to risk it.

We'll check out the community resources, thanks for the link.
5/14/2011 at 6:51 PM
I'm more interested to see what you find if you start digging in your back yard. Have you ever taken a metal detector back there?
Hi Spencer - Thanks for your comment. No, we've never taken a metal detector back there but we did uncover some cool bits of broken china when we put in our pond, as well as some old scraps of newspaper and wallpaper when we gutted our master bathroom. Thanks for the post idea. More on that to come!
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