I'm a wannabe avid gardener. What I mean by that is that I really enjoy the process but I haven't put in the work to make it successful. I'm the kind of person that likes to throw money at the problem — buy expensive growing media, buy nice grow pots, buy pretty seedlings, and buy complex water control setups. None of that equates to success. You what does lead to success? Research, attention to detail, informed buying of materials, and careful selection of plants. I've never done any of that...until now.
This year will be very different, and it all begins with the perfect planter. Previously, I've grown fruits and vegetables in (very nice) grow pots on the ground, thus killing my grass and making the plants easy dinner for pests. This year I've not only employed a raised bed, but I built it myself. Behold...Plantersaurus Rex! Weighing in at over 100 pounds sans soil, it is 5½ feet long, 2½ feet wide, and 2 feet deep — a 27½ cubic foot capacity. It also features holders for greenhouse hoops, an incredibly useful feature given the unstable weather we experience in North Carolina. This was my first woodworking project ever and required a lot of research, planning, and expense. I built it by basing it on this Raised Patio Planter guide from Lowe's, omitting the facing, doors, and such.
One major hurdle was the hefty three inch load-bearing screws that my drill refused to drive into the pressure-treated wood. I burnt through the battery three times in two days and managed to get one and a half screws in. I borrowed my friend's impact driver and the screws went in without a hitch. I definitely recommend splurging on one if you want to build the sturdiest of planters. Because this box would need to support several hundred pounds of soil, not to mention how much heavier it would get once soaked with water, I paid careful attention to joint stability.
Once built and put in place, it was time to look at filling it. I knew I would have one and only one chance to fill the planter properly, so I spared no expense. However, mama didn't raise no fool, and I comparison shopped in my area for the best prices. I decided on Campbell Road Nursery in Raleigh, NC for the most expensive component, the potting mix. Containing a blend of sphagnum peat moss, composted bark, perlite, coir, dolomitic lime, and vermiculite, Ball Professional Growing Mix came highly recommended and the price was right — $13 for a 2.8 cubic foot bag. Also from Campbell Road Nursery, I picked up Jolly Gardener Just Natural Soil Conditioner, which in hindsight I probably didn't need. The next most important component was the compost. I wanted to go almost one-to-one potting mix to compost, so I had to really look around for the best deal. I decided on Black Kow Compost (0.5-0.5-0.5) — $6 for a fifty pound bag, from Logan's Garden Shop; I later learned I could've gotten it a dollar cheaper from Lowe's, but I never miss an opportunity to go to Logan's and talk to their incredibly well-informed staff.
Based on the capacity of the planter, I purchased nine 2.8 cu. ft. bags of potting mix (that's 25.2 cu. ft. already...do you see where I'm headed?), four 1.5 cu. ft. bags of soil conditioner, and 200 pounds of compost. For a 27.5 cu. ft. planter. Okay. So I had a little extra. Of that I planned to use seven to eight bags of potting soil, all four bags of conditioner, and all four bags of compost. In actuality, I used 5 bags of potting mix, 4 bags of conditioner, and 4 bags of compost, with two mixed into the top six inches. So my numbers were way (way!) off, but at least I got the perfect mix I was looking for.
The last order of business was to test the soil for pH and nutrients, an area where I only have cursory expertise. Different plants prefer different soil pH levels and different combinations of the macronutrients nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium (aka potash). I tested my soil about four inches down and found the pH was perfectly neutral and it was totally lacking in all nutrients. As I did some investigation, I learned this is actually an ideal setup for a new vegetable garden. This gives you a blank slate to work with, adjusting as you go. However, I did decide that since the majority of all the edible I'd be growing like slightly acidic (nothing lower than pH 6) to neutral soil, I would amend with a small amount of acidifier to lower by at most one point. I mixed in 1.65 pounds (12 lbs. per 100 sqft.) of Espoma Organic Soil Acidifier and raked it into the top six inches. A retest about 5 days later showed a very slight increase in acidity — encouraging, but I'll test a third time in a month or so.
So with the planter constructed and the soil prepared, it's time to decide what to plant, how, and when.