As I moved my garden plots from one side of the yard to the other for better sun coverage, I had the opportunity to expand. In previous years, I used the standard 4×8 foot raised bed plot made with 2×12” lumber screwed together and filled with garden soil. This is a nice sized garden plot and gives a 32 square foot gardening area. Being 4 feet wide, you don’t have to step in the soil and compact it, you can access every portion of the garden for weeding and planting from either side. I had three of these, or 96 square feet, at the height of my previous gardening efforts. This size kept us in fresh food through the summer (with an additional 40 square feet or so of containers) , but not nearly enough to actually supplement our food budget in a meaningful way. I was interested in variety rather than production. I still enjoy variety, but would like to get some more actual food out of the garden.

The layout awaits soil

In the planning stage, I laid our my new gardens to be more than double the old ones so I can produce some crops in volume yet have a little room to experiment with some variety. I retained the 4 foot width for easy accessibility, and arranged the plots on paper oriented north to south so the sun would evenly cross over all three beds in its daily transit. The path I planned in between each bed needed to accommodate my lawn mower for ease of weed control if I choose later not to mulch it. I used stakes and twine to lay out the garden and get an idea of how much space it would occupy. I ended up figuring that 3 garden plots made up of standard cinder blocks would be sufficient to start with. While I would have liked to edge my raised beds with two layers of cinder block to raise the garden, that would double my cost. Besides, I am interested in using the soil in my yard in the future, so as the raised beds decompose and naturally work their way into the topsoil beneath, I will have access to more depth. Second, my back yard is uneven and it would require me to spend more time than I am willing to invest to level everything to the point that I can lay two tiers of brick. One is sufficient, giving me 8 inches of soil depth for my first season, and that’s plenty.

I chose cinder blocks for a number of reasons. I don’t care for the wood rot that happens to the 2×12 garden edges I used to use. I was always having to replace them. Second, I want to be able to use a weed trimmer or a weed torch right up next to the garden border. Cinder blocks allow me to do that. Third, the holes will make nice herb planting containers. Four, when I get real motivated to cover my crops with a cold frame or start some plants early, I can make a plastic sheet greenhouse cover over each plot with PVC pipe by using the holes in the block to contain my frame ends. I have some thoughts on a pretty neat system that I will examine next year.

What I ended up with was a plan for each bed to be made of 32 blocks. That’s 12 on each long side, capped by 4 on each end. A standard cinder block is 18 inches long, so I come out with a bed that is 4.5 feet wide and 18 feet long, or 81 square feet in area. With three beds, that’s 243 square feet of garden. More than double what I had before. With a smile on my face, I ordered 100 cinder blocks to be delivered, expecting to have 4 left over in case of breakage.

The short end of the plot is on the top right of the image. 4 blocks cap each end.
The short end of the plot is on the top right of the image. 4 blocks cap each end.

It takes a bit of work to haul these blocks but we managed to get them all in place. Since the yard is uneven, I laid them out first and was able to eyeball the low spots. Using some topsoil, I leveled out some of the extreme low areas as best I could, and I am not too concerned about the remaining dips and rolls along each border. The next step is to cut down or burn off the majority of the grass inside the beds, line with brown cardboard or newspaper (I have a bit of each so we’ll use both) and top with our soil. Since earthworms love cardboard, I figure we’ll have some natural worms take up residence pretty soon. My little boy and I will go do some fishing too so we can toss the leftover nightcrawlers in the garden as well. A good bed of worms makes us and the plants happy.

Raising some of the more extreme low areas

That’s our progress so far, we’ll get the soil in as soon as weather allows!