Among the many reasons we moved out to the country — space, quiet, nature, workshop — perhaps the top consideration was plenty of space for a garden. Or, better yet, multiple gardens.
We got that, for sure, including lots of existing garden beds that were already well established. So over the summer we’ve been working to expand what was in place and create new space for veggies, flowers and more.
I’ve already written about our wildflower projects. Those meadows are well underway and beginning to pop with color. And I’ve also written about the greenhouse we put up last fall. But those are just the beginnings of our efforts.
Aside from weeding and cleaning up existing beds, our first order of business was building garden beds around the greenhouse. I envisioned the greenhouse sitting at the center of a 3×3 grid of garden boxes in a grassy field. You could say the greenhouse was my Paul Lynde.
At first, I was going to use old fence posts to form the bed boxes, but most of them were round and I didn’t want to create boxes with round logs — the ends would need to be notched like Lincoln Logs and that just wasn’t the look I was going for. But, luckily for me, I discovered a cache of 6×6 posts on the property, including four 14-footers that formed the basis of a slide I planned on disassembling.
I cut the 6×6 posts down to 4 feet and 8 feet and then used my chainsaw to cut notches in the ends in order to create lap joints. I set the beams on the ground and drove a spike through each corner. With the boxes firmly in place, I laid old newspaper over the grass and covered that with mulch, garden soil and compost.
My initial plan called for eight boxes to surround the greenhouse, but I ended up putting in only seven and using the remaining spot to house a two-compartment compost bin — my Phyllis Diller, I suppose.
While I was working on the garden boxes, we enjoyed the fruits of the greenhouse — fresh lettuce, radishes, spinach and arugula — and got seeds started for tomatoes, peppers, broccoli and more.
Once the boxes were built and the weather was warm enough, I moved the tomatoes and their brethren outside and sowed beets, peas, cucumbers, peppers and other delights.
With the greenhouse now empty, I started a new round of seedlings, including some flowers, more tomatoes, carrots, beets and basil. However, their young, delicious lives were prematurely snuffed out when a raccoon pulled a Mission: Impossible-like B&E, dropped in through the greenhouse roof vent, destroyed every plant she could get her grubby little paws on, and tore through a bottle of fish-based fertilizer before pried open the door and escaped.
The raccoon’s crime spree was short-lived, however, as we set out a humane trap baited with canned cat food that night. Just after sunrise, I awoke to find her in the small wire cell bemoaning her fate. After putting on a pair of heavy leather gloves, I loaded the raccoon-filled trap into the bed of the truck and Cyn and I drove her a few miles outside of town to a nearby park. As old ladies strolled around the well-groomed paths, Cyn and I found a quiet corner of a parking lot near a pond and let the raccoon loose. As she scampered away, my dad called to see what we were up to. When we told him, he said what we were doing was illegal (he later text me a link to the relevant section of the Virginia code that forbids trapping and relocating wild animals).
Realizing we were facing the possibility of our own imprisonment (but without the possibility of release in a park), we quickly stashed the trap back in the truck and fled the park. On our way out, I barely resisted the urge to holler out to the power-walking women, “Hey, watch out for wild raccoons — we just spotted one by the lake!”
The thing is, the raccoon was just the first of our critter challenges. The bigger challenge was indeed bigger: deer.
Or perhaps more accurately, motherfucking deer, as I believe is their scientific/Latin name. I’m not a hunter and I don’t really want to kill animals, but I can see making an exception for deer. First, they really are delicious. And yeah, they are cute. But also, they are evil motherfuckers. Unlike goats, which have the wonderful habit of eating poison ivy, motherfucking deer are mostly interested in eating whatever it is I don’t want them to eat: tulips, hostas, raspberries, blackberries, lettuce, flowers, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, squash, etc.
Our first efforts to ward off the motherfucking deer was to spray deer repellant around the property. I’m not sure how effective it was at deterring deer, but I am certain that it is effective at repelling other people. What exactly is in deer repellant I’m not sure, but my nose tells me it’s at least seven different types of urine, including that from some creatures with major kidney problems.
With mixed results from the deer repellant, I decided to step up my game with physical barriers. Focusing on the garden beds, I designed and built PVC frames for each side of each bed. The frames would be covered in plastic fencing and each frame would be attached to the bed with a pair of brackets and then to each other with velcro straps. The idea is that these lightweight frames would form a protective barrier against motherfucking deer, while also being really easy to maneuver so we could plant new crops, weed and harvest our bounties.
With that plan in place, I bought some ½-inch PVC pipe and fittings at Home Depot and set about building the frames. They stand about 6 feet tall and stretch the length of the boxes — so two four-footers and two eight-footers per box.
Once assembled, I stretched plastic fencing across them and attached it to the frame with zip ties. Each frame has a pair of short legs that are held against the outside of each box with metal brackets. Once assembled, the frames encircle the boxes, but are still easy to reach over, swing open or remove entirely.
Eventually I’ll give the white PVC pipes a nice forest-green paint job so they look less like soccer goals and better blend into the landscape.
Over time, the garden boxes quickly filled up. Watermelons, tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, corn, basil, spinach, lettuce, arugula, peppers, carrots, radishes — it didn’t take long to run out of space.
For some irrational reason, this strikes me as a problem. I mean, how could seven 4×8 garden beds ever be enough for the two of us? I still need room for potatoes, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, pumpkins, more watermelons, more beans, and more corn, not to mention the additional cucumber and tomato plants I needed to supply my future canning operation.
Speaking of canning, the entirely too-small plots I already have are yielding an impressive amount of pickles. Just a small handful of plants has generated 8 quarts of half-sour pickles, five pints of sweet pickle slices and 9 pints of hamburger dill slices.
Fear not, I had a solution. I found a spot in our lower field that gets a solid 8-10 hours of sunlight a day. Currently covered with grass, I used the two leftover sheets of plastic from the wildflower meadow, folded them over and laid them out in a roughly 40-foot by 50-foot patch. By spring, that should be fertile ground for a new garden.
Of course I’ll need to fence it in, thanks to the motherfucking deer. And I’m already envisioning a pergola-style gate, maybe with wisteria growing up it. In time.