It started in December, 2013. Our brand new backyard deck will contain a small elevated garden; a little 12′ x 7′ patch of fun.
Gardening is not new to me. Every spring for decades I’ve turned soil, mixed in peat humus to raise the beds and planted assorted flowers, which bloom beautifully until I get tired of weeding and feeding. At some point during late summer or early fall they fall into a state of disrepair, and usually stay that way until spring. This garden is different; we plan to eat the bounty! Yes, enough vegetables to feed our family of four, plus guests, will be harvested year round from our 84 square foot farm; I’ve been researching new recipes since we finalized the deck plans. The farmer, me, can’t wait to get started.
I wander into the Wabash Feed Store on Washington Ave. as soon as they open on Saturday, eager to see their plant selection. A nice man watering the plants asks if I need help. “I’m just browsing,” I inform him. “I’m having a new garden built and I’m exploring my options.” He puts down the hose and informs me we need to talk, starting with a description of the new garden.
I live in a home built in 1916. Ninety-eight years ago, my back-yard deck was a driveway leading to the carriage house. When we pulled out the old deck we found the whole area was covered in concrete. On top of the concrete was 6 – 8 inches of colorless dirt. I had the deck contractors scrape up this dirt to fill my garden. The man at Wabash tells me this was a big mistake. Evidently a garden sitting directly on concrete will have trouble holding water. The water draining out will ruin the the woodwork. When the water drains out it takes the nutrients with it. Without nutrients…
“What do I need to do?” I ask the plant waterer, who has earned an incredible amount of respect in a two minute time span. His recommendations:
—Line the interior with thick black plastic to hold water and protect wood walls. Staple the plastic at the top of where the the soil line will be, cover interior sides and bottom of the garden. Allow excess water to escape by punching a small hole every three feet along the sides three inches from the ground.
—Use multiple layers for filler. You don’t want soil sitting in the pool of water atop the plastic, so the first foot of my three foot garden should be rock. The second layer should be sand to fill the gaps and even out the floor of my garden. The next layer can be the filler soil scraped from the concrete under my old deck. Reserve the top 12- 18 inches for a high quality top soil, mixed with large amounts chicken poop, which I can get free If I go to his house and shovel it.
I leave the Wabash feed store visibly shaken, nervously dialing the deck contractor from my cell. I share the bad news and he promises to bring extra help on Monday to dig out the old dirt and he’ll get the supplies needed to build it right. My gardening ego has taken a major blow and I haven’t even planted a seed. At this point I’m extremely thankful for two things. 1) My mistakes were pointed out very early 2) The knowledgeable plant waterer (who is a top rate teacher during the week) hands out free advice every Saturday at the Wabash Feed and Garden Store