In the following post I’m going to totally nerd-out on gardening. You’ve been warned.
After years of frustration with container gardening in Los Angeles (you can’t keep anything wet in the summer! Everything grows miniature and yellow!) I was thrilled when I moved into a house with a yard. Real dirt that I could dig my hands in and plant things with a shovel.
So I was extra disappointed, then, when an swarm of gophers arrived at my house and took out everything I planted in the dirt, including an entire lemon tree. Seriously they ate all the roots and created a cavern under the tree until one day the poor tree just fell over like a beaver had cut it down. The tree had 42 green baby lemons on it. I may have cried a little.
Since then it’s been full on war with the gophers, but the kind of war where I am not willing to kill any gophers because that’s mean and the gophers don’t know that they’re being jerks. And so, the gophers are winning.
But I still want a garden! So I finally got smart and decided to create one small area of my yard that was a gopher proof, dry/drought proof, idiot proof garden.
There are companies like Farmscape that will do all the work of designing, building and planting one of these you. They’ll even come take care of on a schedule year round, organically killing pests, fertilizing, and replanting each season. But a service like this costs upwards of $3,000 just for setup, and then there’s an ongoing monthly fee for maintenance.
I did this myself for less than $500 total and have been so happy with the results! Here’s how to do what I did:
1. Buy a raised bed kit
I got mine from Home Depot which has about a million different kits and configurations. For veggies, you’ll want a kit that’s at least 12″ deep, preferably more like 18″ -24″. If you get a kit with different tiers, use the more shallow sections for shallow-root crops like lettuce and other leafy greens, and save deeper sections for deep-root crops like tomatoes and carrots.
2. Prepare the area
Choose a place in your yard that gets at least 6 hours of sun daily and prepare the ground underneath where your raised bed will go. Remove all organic matter and roughly break up the surface of the dirt so that roots with be able to break into it easily.
3. Put down a gopher barrier
Cut hardware cloth to the size of your bed and lay it down on the prepared ground before you fill with soil. Warning, metal hardware cloth can be tough to cut without the right tools- I used large pruning shears but it definitely was hard on the blades. Most people recommend a power saw of some kind for this job. Careful – the edges are super sharp!
4. Fill it with soil.
Unless you’re sitting on a pile of rich organic farming soil that’s gone unused for years, you’ll want to buy organic gardening soil and mix-ins. There’s an easy calculator tool here to figure how much dirt you’ll need to fill your raised bed here. I was surprised to find that for me, buying the dirt from Amazon with their free shipping was actually more cost effective as getting it delivered from a local place that specializes in top soil. But you should shop around and see what’s the best deal for you. I purchased organic gardening soil and added organic worm castings to the top layer and a bit organic chicken manure at the bottom
5. Plant it
Do a bit of research to find out what does well and when in your area. In southern California, we can grow veggies year round: hot-weather crops like tomatoes and peppers in the summer, then cooler-weather crops like broccoli and kale in winter. I was in a hurry and purchased pre-started plants from a garden center for some of my plants, but the seeds I planted caught up with the plants within a few weeks. This really is an ideal environment for seeds so don’t be afraid to go straight from seed.
6. Add a Soaker Hose
After you’ve filled the bed with soil and planted it, set up a soaker hose. This step isn’t necessary. You can just water the garden with a hose or a watering can. But a soaker hose is so easy to set up (just snake it evenly through your plants and secure with landscaping pins) and a soaker hose will save you water and money in the long run, which with the current drought in Southern California is more important than ever. Plus it just makes watering so easy. There’ve been many days I almost forgot to water my garden and I just tiptoed out in the dark and turned the hose on for 20 minutes before I went to bed… done!
The project took several hours to set up, but was totally the kind of thing that could be done over a weekend by anyone. No big muscles or power tools required. I have been harvesting ridiculous amounts of vegetables from my garden all summer, starting only 2 months from the day I planted. Squash, cucumber, eggplant, tomatoes, kale, even popcorn! Weeding will be minimal the first year since the soil is all new, and if you mulch your plants there will be even less weeds (and less water used.)
Let me know if you try this project, I’d love to see what you create!