Story last updated at 2:57 p.m. Thursday, October 10, 2002

Raised garden beds more work than first expected
Good grief. My "vision" of raised beds in the vegetable garden is becoming reality: but what a price. John, my non-gardening spouse, has, out of necessity, donned his engineering hat to realize my vision.

What I thought was a good idea to keep the garden neat and workable has burgeoned into a major construction project. Never did I dream it would become such a production.

First, the land is not level. It has a slight rise, which I thought of as charming until two days ago. Now the beds, five on each side of a wide central path, are terraced to meet the grade. Plus the lot has five corners so it is a very odd shape, to say the least.

This shape dictates the lay of the beds. They can't just be lined up, they need to conform to the fence enclosing the lot. In this case, they have taken on a very pleasing chevron pattern that echoes both the fence and the iron railing around the deck.

Another point that John drove home was the width of the beds. I have been insisting on 4-foot-wide raised beds for as long as I have been gardening, but they have never been achieved. This time, I was determined to have my way in this matter.

No. He set up boards at the prescribed height and width and, lo, I cannot comfortably reach into and make anything happen in a 4-foot-wide bed. I'm too short. So there it is, once again thwarted by my size. I have settled on a 3- foot width and know already that I am very pleased with this decision.

At first I thought John was overreacting, but with his careful explanation, I really do see his point. If all of this does not line up, and is not level, it will look like a mess and eventually drive me crazier than I already am. And he would, indirectly, suffer. Can't have that.

In hindsight, I should have used graph paper and pencil and drawn out all of this so I could see what was required before we started in on this. At least I wouldn't have been surprised by the magnitude of the project. Plus, to make matters worse, John has decided that my need for raised beds is cyclical. Years ago, while living out East, I insisted on raised beds. He did all of this hammering and they appeared. But then I decided that the slugs were thriving between the soil and the wood and they had to come out. Good grief. We had an excellent bonfire.

I was planning on attaching copper flashing to the outside of the beds to thwart the slugs. Do you realize that there is no copper flashing to be had in the state of Alaska? It has to be ordered from Outside.

While John is tackling the construction project, I have continued gardening. I have harvested all of the broccoli, leeks and artichokes and tossed their remains into the compost bin. The lone pumpkin is still hanging in there, but only because it seems to be keeping John company while he labors away, reminiscent of Wilson in the movie "Castaway."

I gathered enough Pixwell gooseberries (pink) to make a lovely tart. There certainly were more, and I could have had a nice batch in the freezer, but two things need to change to make that happen: 1) Paris (the dog) needs to stop eating them as fast as she can; and 2) I need to pick them when they are ready.

Sounds easy, but somehow I let them fall off last year, too. And they are so very good. If you do not have gooseberries, what are you waiting for? They are delicious.

I remember them from my grandmother. She made pies and jam with them and their flavor memory has stayed with me. I am very pleased that I have these and thank Brigitte Suter for sharing her plants with me.

When you get yours, be sure to give them plenty of room. They make a great hedge, are thorny, dense and a beautiful shrub, with berries to boot.

The asparagus are sending out nice fat shoots, just like the first ones they send out in the spring. If you have an asparagus bed and have been ignoring it, take another look, you may be pleasantly surprised.

I am now cleaning out the greenhouse. What a shame. It feels like yesterday that I fired it up. It is an 8-foot-by-12-foot SunGlo, and I love it on the same level that I love my car. We, and our friends, ate a huge amount of tomatoes, cucumbers and cantaloupe out of there this season. The beauty of this SunGlo is that it works. It leaves nothing up to guess work. It is all there, the thermostatically controlled heat and cooling, the 3-by-3 planting bins and the double wall construction.

I clean out the dirt from the bins every year, pile it up with manure and cover it with plastic. I leave the pile to compost at its leisure and will recycle it when it is ready, in about three years.

I use Pledge to clean the walls (I also use Pledge on the greenhouse umbrellas). Once that is done, I refill the bins with lovely aged compost that has been waiting for this moment all of its life. The greenhouse is now ready for action come spring. May I suggest that you get fresh soil into your greenhouse now, so you, too, can be ready when the time comes. There are those who do not change the soil every year, but I cannot figure out how that works for them. I grow huge plants that produce a tremendous amount of fruit in a bin that is 3 feet square and 8 inches deep. It just seems to me that when this plant is done, so is the soil. So out it goes.

Get your journal caught up, it will come in ever so handy when you least expect it. For instance: Our son is getting married in June, and his fiancee wants an outdoor wedding. I checked through my journal and noted that the first of June has been quite lovely back to 1995 when it was bitter cold and windy. The odds look good.

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