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Southeast Gardening: Planning Your First Vegetable Garden

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Lessons early in life taught Lowe’s Southeast gardening expert the value of site and soil when it comes to growing vegetables.

boys assembling raised bed

By Glenn DiNella

When I was about 13, I decided to plant my first vegetable garden. The only place my parents would allow me to dig up was in the hardpan clay in the shady back of the property. Two things I learned that summer: Carrots do not grow well in shade, nor in clay soil tilled just 3 inches deep.

boys looking at seed catalogs

Fast forward to winter 2015, when my sons expressed an interest in planting their first vegetable garden. My wife suggested we build raised beds in an area of the backyard that was mostly weeds. The area is flat (easy to build raised beds) and gets tons of sun (a major requirement for good veggie production). It’s also close to the house, so the boys pass by it daily and, hopefully, monitor their project regularly.

My boys began by looking through a few seed catalogs to get some ideas on what to grow. Eventually, we’ll head over to Lowe’s to get some seeds and plants.

raised-bed configurations

But for now we’re in the “planning a preparation” phase. That means laying out and building our raised beds. Fortunately, Lowe’s has some simple raised bed kits that you can assemble in various configurations. This gives a lot of options for odd-shape spaces, or to create something with more visual appeal.

boys assembling raised bed kit

Lowe’s kit raised beds are convenient because even kids can assemble one in minutes. You can buy extra kits and stack them to create deeper beds for plants that need the extra room (root vegetables, for instance). The boards are plastic, so they last quite awhile.

Another option is to use lumber to build raised beds. This may be more cost-effective when dealing with large, unusual-shape beds because you can cut the lumber to the size you need. As you can see here, we worked with a unique triangle-shape parcel.

outline of beds

We headed over to Lowe’s lumber department to check on dimensions and costs. Although inexpensive pine no longer is treated with CCA (chromium copper arsenate), I prefer to pay a bit more and use natural, untreated cedar. Cedar resists decay and should last longer than pine.

Noting the widest cedar planks (12 inches wide) came in lengths of 8 and 10 feet, I suggested we lay out our beds so no sides were longer than 10 feet. With string and stakes, we laid out one triangular bed and a couple of four-sided odd polygons. All sides measure 10, 8, 5, or 4 feet long so there’s less waste with our 8- and 10-foot boards.

boys staking garden

Creating three smaller beds instead of one huge bed allows the boys to access the center of the beds without going into the bed and compacting the soil, stomping plants, or getting their shoes dirty before entering the house.

I also suggested we maintain 2-ft-wide paths around the sides and between beds to avoid a haphazard appearance that would never fly with Mom. After all, Mom is going to walk by this garden every day too.

For more on growing edibles in the Southeast, check out: Get the Most from Your Veggie Garden and Growing Vegetable Greens.

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