As much as I love a traditional garden with its neat rows of lush vegetables growing directly in the soil, that just doesn’t work here in the part of Florida where I am. What we have here is basically glorified beach sand. Nematodes love sand. The first few years of my garden here, I had what looked like a Miracle-Gro commercial. It was lush and green and bountiful. I was picking so many beans that I bought a large scale to weigh them – the harvest was that big. About 4 or 5 years later, the garden would produce almost nothing. Where the first year I had okra that was taller than me at the end of the summer (I am 6’6″ tall), the last time I grew okra directly in the soil, it reached about 10″ and did not produce a single okra pod from the entire garden. Rotating crops, applying fertilizer, adding organic matter – nothing made a difference.
There are many different kinds of nematodes and some of them are beneficial. The major plant-parasitic nematode types are Root-knot, Cyst, Sting, and Root-lesion (or meadow). Since nematodes thrive in sand, one of the best ways to control their damage is to have a highly organic soil rather than the typical Florida sandy soil.
It is virtually impossible to eliminate nematodes, so the emphasis is on controlling them. That is the major reason why we built this raised bed garden. Another is to have it physically raised so that we don’t have to stoop down to work in the garden. It’s not a big issue now, but we plan to live here for the rest of our lives, so we try to design for the time when our bodies aren’t what they used to be.
How much did this whole project cost? I really don’t know, but it was a lot. When I first began this project, the concept was that it would be a permanent food production system for our home. Just as a home should have a plumbing system, a garage, an electrical system, and a kitchen to prepare food, it should also have the capability to produce some significant amount of food for the family living there. That is part of the self-sufficiency package that I believe a house should have if possible. This simply is not practical for some people and some places, but where it is practical, I believe that it should certainly be done. That is part of what takes it from being simply a home to a homestead.
Parts of it were done as part of a larger construction project and those costs were not broken out. I know that the labor to lay the block (not including the footers) was $900. The 3 tons of crushed concrete drainage rock was $111. The Fafard 3B potting soil is $493 per pallet, and I have bought 2 pallets so far. Peat moss is $17.30 for a compressed bale that decompresses to about 7 cubic feet. Vermiculite is $17.30 for a 4 cubic foot bag.
Yes, it is expensive, but I have a difficult time assigning a dollar value to the comfort of knowing that we can product a significant portion of our food right here without having to depend on the stores or the government or the transportation system or the financial system or any external human controls for our food. That close tie to the land is what the Southern Agrarian movement was all about and what this web site is all about.
I am really interested in your gardening project, as I too have mostly raised beds in my vegetable & flower garden (because we live in a low, poorly drained area) and of course just because I really love reading about other folks’ gardening efforts. I can’t get enough on this topic.
What are the dimensions of your 2 raised beds? Will you be adding more? Is all of Florida made up of excessively sandy soil? Our soil here is sandy loam, ie, the stuff I haul to my garden from the edge of the forest (we call it “bush” here, tho). It is nice but low in phosphorus. No nematode problems in my garden.
If you do not object to my saying this, I would like you to rethink your use of peat moss. It is destructive to mother nature to use this stuff. I recently found a great substitute – processed coconut fiber. It is a byproduct and not taken for its own sake. The two brands I use are Beats Peat and GroTek CocoEarth, which come in the form of a compressed brick. You can also get little plantable coco pots for starting your plants indoors. It is true that the coconut growing industry is destructive, also, but if the byproduct is there why not use it. Also, that is too bad that it comes from Asia.
I acknowledge that there is a big ongoing debate as to which product is “better”, however that’s defined. For me, the coco product is a thousand times better than peat for starting indoor plants, which I guess you don’t have to do much of. The little pressed peat pots dry out too quickly and the peatbased soil start mixes are a real pain to hydrate into a usable state. For people with acid soils, lime would have to be added to soils to which much peat moss is added.
I am curious as to how the people of Florida might have grown food prior to the easy availability of all kinds of soil-in-a-bag products from far away. Anyway, it is so pleasing to me to know that someone out there is so mightily devoted to the values of the Southern Agrarian movement, even tho we live so far from you. It floors me that so much of our food comes from “away”. I am only middle aged and except for buying boxes of British Columbia fruit in the late summer, all our produce was from our garden when I was a child, or gathered (wild fruit). How did we slide down this path anyway.
The inside dimensions of the raised bed garden is 30′ long by 4′ wide. The height is 3 courses of block, which is more than needed but is really nice when it comes time to work in it. My back doesn’t like it when I stoop over, so the height makes it much easier to work in the garden. I have two of these sections, which gives me a total of 240 square feet of garden. Keep in mind that adding that third row of block kicks the price up a good bit, so going with two rows would work just fine. If I were to do it over again, I’d seriously look at just two rows of block.
Most of Florida has sandy soil of one sort or another, but there are pockets of nice soil. When we first moved to this part of Florida, the house we were in had some excellent soil for gardening, and that was just a few miles from where I am now. When my father’s family moved here from Alabama in the early 1920’s, they settled about 100 miles from here and successfully farmed – and are still doing so today (our family name is among the largest private land-owners in that county). Part of the solution is just knowing which crops will grow in that area. Also keep in mind that as gardeners, we’re looking for a wide variety of vegetables to feed our families – farmers are focused on a few cash crops that do well in their specific area. I know that Dad told me that they would plant beans along with the corn.
Nematodes are a major problem, and if your ground has them (you are VERY fortunate that you don’t), the only real way to work with it is to simply grow crops and varieties that are resistant to “root knot”.
Regarding the use of peat moss – I have read of the debates about that, but it really comes down to what is available locally. Peat moss is the main product used in this area, so that is what is readily available. Coco is becoming more common though. I have several bales of peat moss stored for future use, so I don’t expect to be buying any more anyway.
Thank you for the kind remarks about Southern Agrarianism. I am working on several posts about this. The one I’m working on now is titled, “Who Are the New Southern Agrarians?”. It will start out with who the original Southern Agrarians were.