Last updated by at .

Book Review: 37th Edition of the Ball Blue Book

The Ball Blue Book is a staple in the kitchen for anyone who cans; newbies and experienced home canners alike.

Wow, it is hard to believe that the last new blog post I published on Daily Pea was last Halloween. Time sure does fly by when you have two little ones, a household, work, a garden and a yard to take care of! Life has been busy but I have missed blogging. I have had many things resting in the back of my brain that I can’t wait to write about. Here is my first post to get things rolling again.

I was happy when I was asked to review the 37th edition Ball Blue Book, since we are harvesting lots of organic goodies from the garden as we speak! The first edition of this book was called The Correct Method of Preserving Fruit and was published in 1909. The first edition called the Ball Blue Book was published in 1915. Over the years it has evolved into a beautiful, full-color, must-have canning guide and recipe book. The 2015 edition is 200 pages long and includes more than 500 recipes (75 brand new ones!)

The Ball Blue Book is a staple in the kitchen for anyone who cans; newbies and experienced home canners alike.

The Ball Blue Book is a staple in the kitchen for anyone who cans; newbies and experienced home canners alike. It’s a reference book in which you can quickly find scientific facts, tips, easy-to-follow instructions and recipe inspiration. From freezing to the boiling-water method to the pressure canner method, this valuable resource has you covered.

The Ball Blue Book is a staple in the kitchen for anyone who cans; newbies and experienced home canners alike.

The recipes in the Ball Blue Book are organized by style (whole fruit, jams, jellies, pickles, etc.) If you are ever wondering about new ways to use your preserved garden harvest, open these pages for inspiration! There are delicious meal recipes as well. I recently harvested lots of basil from my garden and used the pesto recipe from page 152.

The recipes in the Ball Blue Book are organized by style (whole fruit, jams, jellies, pickles, etc.) If you are ever wondering about new ways to use your preserved garden harvest, open these pages for inspiration!

Between my mother and I, we own a few editions of the Ball Blue Book. It’s especially meaningful for me because my grandmother canned for years and used the Ball Blue Book in her kitchen. Last summer I posted her recipe for Old Fashioned Bread & Butter Pickles.

If you don’t yet have the 37th edition of the Ball Blue Book, I would highly recommend picking it up ASAP! In my opinion, it is a canning essential.

If you don’t yet have the 37th edition Ball Blue Book, I would highly recommend picking it up ASAP! In my opinion, it is a canning essential.

Disclosure: Jarden Home Brands (parent company of Ball Canning) sent me a copy of the Ball Blue Book to review. All opinions expressed are entirely my own. 

Moving Your Seedlings Outdoors

Moving Your Seedlings Outdoors - DailyPea.com

After your seeds have germinated, and after they have their first two sets of true leaves and you’ve transplanted them into larger containers, you’ll start thinking about when to introduce them to the outdoors. The time to start acclimating them is two weeks before the date you’re planning to plant in your garden; in other words, two weeks before the time you anticipate the frost threat to be over. You’ll want to give your seedlings ample time to prepare for the harsher conditions of the outdoors before they’re planted in the ground, which is called hardening off. By the time the seedlings are planted in the garden, they should be able to endure fluctuations in sunlight, wind and temperature. Hardening off actually thickens the leaves of the plants which helps prevent shock.

We chose to allow two weeks to harden off our seedlings so that we can be flexible in the case of extreme outdoor temperatures. If we have a sudden cold day or two here and there, it won’t be a big deal if we’re delayed a few days when we have to leave the seedlings indoors. We’re hardening off seedlings as we speak. Here’s how:

  • During the week before beginning to harden off outdoors, water the seedlings less often and stop fertilizing if applicable. If possible, you can also drop the temperature of the room a few degrees. These indoor hardening off steps aren’t necessary, but it doesn’t hurt to give the plants a little extra “toughening up” before they’re outdoors.
  • On the first day, bring the plants outdoors to a shady, warm spot where they’re sheltered from wind. Leave them out for a few hours and bring them in. For the next few days, gradually increase their time in this same spot.
  • After 4 days, move the plants from their shady spot into morning sun, then move them back into shade in the afternoon. Gradually increase their sun time an hour or two each day. Light wind is also good, but keep a close eye on the plants to make sure they don’t dry out. They should be watered every day or every other day. Remember to bring plants inside overnight.
  • After 10 to 14 days of gradual sunlight increases, the plants should be able to endure a full day of sun and also be left out overnight as long as temps don’t drop below 40 degrees F.

The next and last post in my Starting Seeds Indoors series will be about planting the seedlings outdoors. Your seedlings have come so far, from seeds to baby seedlings to transplants to strong plants ready for the garden! It’s so satisfying to watch them grow with the hope that they’ll provide nourishment for you in the near future, in the form of delicious vegetables, herbs and fruits. Each plant is economically valuable, as you would spend at least $5 for a similar organically grown plant from a nursery. It’s possible to save even more money if you save seeds from this year’s plants to use for next year. If you have young kids, this process is priceless as it’s teaching them healthy living habits that can stay with them forever. Teaching my girls how to grow plants and healthy food, and seeing them get excited about it is probably the most rewarding part of gardening for me right now!

Are you transplanting seedlings into your garden soon? What are you growing?

Other posts in this series:

 

How to Compost with Worms

How to Compost with Worms - DailyPea.com

In my How to Start Composting post that I wrote in January, I talked about the basics of saving food scraps in your kitchen and different ways of getting started with composting, including vermicomposting. Now that it’s April and we’re knee-deep in worm poop, I’m excited to show you how to vermicompost. We’re not literally knee-deep in worm poop. Well, I guess we could be if we stand in our worm box. Anyhow, just imagine having a big box of rich “black gold” to use as a fool-proof way to organically feed your veggie garden. Vermicomposting, or worm composting, is a really easy way to make the most of your kitchen scraps for any type of garden that you have! It’s a great method whether you live in a house with lots of yard space, or in an urban apartment. You can set up a worm bin outside or inside. Here are the specifics!

Why Are Worm Castings so Good for Your Garden?

Besides being good for garden soil and plants, one of my favorite things about worm castings is that they’re a fool-proof way of fertilizing. You don’t have to be quite as precise about feeding your garden with them because even though they contain a high saturation of nutrients, they won’t burn plants like some other types of fertilizer and you also can’t overfeed your plants with them. Here are some of their other bragging points:

  • Increase root and plant growth.
  • Improve the soil texture in your garden.
  • Provide protection against disease causing organisms in the soil (source.)
  • Help soil retain moisture more efficiently.
  • Attract beneficial earthworms to the garden.

All of the benefits of worm castings together will provide you with a stronger, healthier, faster growing, and higher-yield garden. Did you know that they also reduce waste in landfills? By recycling waste at home by vermicomposting, you’re reducing your carbon footprint (source.)

  • Eliminating curbside pickup of waste reduces fuel consumption by vehicles.
  • Composting at home reduces use of machinery at commercial composting sites.
  • Making your own compost at home reduces the need to buy bags of soil amendments which reduces the use of packaging materials, vehicle use and fuel consumption.

10 families of 3 who produce 1,560 pounds of food waste per year can divert 7.8 tons of waste from landfills per year by vermicomposting. (source)

How to Start a Worm Bin

You’ll add kitchen scraps and bedding to a bin where the worms will convert the scraps to castings, or compost. Here are some options for worm bins:

Our worm bin is made of natural, non-toxic cedar wood and is 4′ x 2′ and 21″ deep. It’s sunken into the ground except for the top 6″. This helps recreate a worm’s natural habitat and also helps moderate temperatures year-round. You can see more pictures of it in my How to Start Composting post. We chose a cedar bin because the wood is sustainable, naturally rot-resistant without the need to be treated with chemicals, it will last for years, and it’s 100% natural so nothing will leach into the compost.

How to Fill the Worm Bin

How to Compost with Worms - DailyPea.com

Our worm bin has two compartments, so we started to fill up one side with layers of food waste and bedding. Here’s what the worms like/don’t like to eat:

  • They like to eat all table scraps including fruit/veggie trimmings, eggshells and just about anything.
  • They like meat, fish, and dairy but use caution as these types of scraps produce odors that can attract animals to your bin. We personally do not put these things in our bin since we live in a rural area where bear are common.
  • Coffee grounds and unbleached filters, unbleached tea bags and muffin liners are all good.
  • Don’t put anything in your bin that contains large amounts of cooking oil.
  • Don’t use grass clippings or pine needles.
  • Non-biodegradable materials should not be used.

We use organic peat from our local garden center for the bedding layers. We dump our gallon stainless steel kitchen pail of scraps in every other day or so, and sometimes every day. There’s no need to cut up the food scraps; just fill the kitchen pail and dump into the worm bin. It ends up being a couple of inches of scraps at a time in the worm bin and we cover each layer with an inch or so of peat. We did this until one side was 3/4 full, then added our worms.

Adding Worms to the Worm Bin

European red worms or red wigglers are good composting worms. Did you know that they can eat half of their body weight to their whole body weight every day?!? If you add 1 pound of worms, add no more than 1 pound of food scraps per day.

We brought 4 pounds of euro worms home to our worm bin. You can order worms online or the less expensive option is to look for a nearby worm farm or bait shop. We’re grateful to have a reputable worm farmer near us, so we picked up our worms locally and didn’t have to pay shipping costs associated with ordering online. We chose euro worms because they are explained by the local worm farm to be hardy worms and they also burrow deeper than red wigglers. We have a hot and dry summers as well as a deep worm bin so these characteristics made sense to us. The euro worms also love a high fiber/low protein diet and most of our food scraps are from fruits/veggies. Here is a helpful article about the differences between the red wiggler and the euro to help you choose the right type of worm for your bin.

How to Troubleshoot Your Worm Bin

Here are some minor issues that we have had with our worm bin, and how we easily remedied them:

  • We had an abundance of fruit flies and flies in our bin, so we started to cover the scraps with more bedding. This also helped reduce odors from the scraps.
  • Worms were sitting on the top of the bedding, so we left the lid open so light could shine on them. Light causes them to burrow back down into the bin to get back to work!
  • We noticed the bedding/scraps drying out. The instructions that came with our bin mentioned that the material should be as moist as a wrung out sponge, so we sprinkled a little water in with a hose. Alternatively, if the material in your bin is too wet, you can leave the lid open to air it out.

When to Harvest Worm Castings

I’ll show how to harvest worm castings in my next post in this series. For our type of worm bin, we started to fill the second half of it when the first half was filled within 6 inches from the top of the bin. When the second half is full with scraps and bedding and the worms have moved to that side to eat, we’ll know it’s time to harvest the first half. It will be full of rich, dark matter (castings) that will have a mud-like consistency. We can’t wait to work this “black gold” into our gardens soon!

Other posts in this series:

Would you like to start a worm bin? Would you use an indoor bin or an outdoor bin?

Starting Seeds Indoors: How to Transplant Your Seedlings

Starting Seeds Indoors: How to Transplant Your Seedlings - DailyPea.com

There will come a time when your seedling plants will need to be transplanted into larger containers to promote healthy growth. This is the final major step before their exciting big move outdoors. We just started transplanting some of our seedlings today, which is at least a month before we’re planning to plant them in the garden beds. This is the point where you feel a big sense of accomplishment because your tiny seedlings finally start to look like real vegetable plants. Just imagine the taste of all of those fresh veggies straight from your garden this summer!

Why Seedlings Need to Be Transplanted

  • They need a richer growing medium to help them grow before they’re planted outdoors. If you’re growing an organic garden, a rich organic potting soil is a good choice. (Here is an example.)
  • You know the feeling you get when you’ve been riding in a car for a long time and you need to stretch? That’s exactly what happens to the seedlings. They need more space for their roots to spread out and grow, and the plants themselves start to get cramped and compete for light in their original flats.
  • Extra seedlings need to be thinned out to avoid crowding. If you planted more than one seed in each furrow, as we did, the plants need to be thinned down to one per container.

When to Transplant Seedlings

Starting Seeds Indoors: How to Transplant Your Seedlings - DailyPea.com

As we speak, we’re watching our seedlings for their second set of “true” leaves, and also for crowding in the flats as signs to transplant them. The seed leaves are the first leaves to form right out of the soil. The true leaves are the ones that form after that, and in most cases they look more similar to the adult plant’s leaves than the seed leaves do. Once the true leaves open up, there’s a good chance your plants will become crowded really quickly.

Types of Containers

Starting Seeds Indoors: How to Transplant Your Seedlings - DailyPea.com

A 3″ to 4″ pot is a good size for transplanting seedlings. Yogurt containers with holes punched in the bottoms are an option, as are DIY newspaper cups. We used 3″ peat pots (here is an example) and newspaper cups. The convenience of these two options is that you can plant the pots straight into your garden without having to remove the plants. To make a newspaper pot, double up a piece of newspaper and cut it to about 8″ x 4″, then wrap it around a round glass and tape the sides together. Tuck in the bottom edges, then slip it off of the glass.

How to Transplant

It helps to water your seedlings to soften the soil a bit before transplanting them. We planted our seeds in individual soil blocks, so I just lifted each block out and very gently loosened the soil around the seedlings using my fingers. You’ll see very fragile roots and you’ll want to be as careful as possible to not break them apart too much. We filled the pots halfway with potting soil and set a seedling on top of each, without compressing the fragile roots. It’s easiest to fill the pots ahead of time to have them ready for the seedlings as soon as you lift them out of their flats. Finally, we tucked soil around the plants, adding another inch or so of potting soil. We watered each one so that the soil was moist but not soggy.

What’s Next?

  • Continue to give your plants at least 12 hours of light per day, making sure to raise your grow light as they grow taller. We keep our light a few inches from the tops of the plants.
  • Just like before, water them to keep the soil just moist but not too wet. Setting your pots close together in a tray or flat will help them retain moisture.
  • If your organic potting soil doesn’t contain fertilizer, you may want to consider fertilizing your seedlings after transplanting. Fish emulsion (like this one) works great; just make sure to check out the directions and use it at 1/4 strength.

Have fun watching your plants really take off now that they have more room to stretch out, and enjoy them indoors until 2 weeks before your outdoor planting date. My next post in this seed starting series will be about hardening off the seedling plants.

Other posts in this series:

Starting Seeds Indoors: What to Do When They Sprout

Starting Seeds Indoors: What to Do When They Sprout - DailyPea.com

Your seed flats are planted, you’ve been checking them at least once a day to make sure they have enough water, you’ve been making sure they’re not too hot or too cold, and you look at the soil wondering when you’ll see those little green shoots. Waiting for seeds to germinate reminds me a little bit of the anticipation and preparation while expecting a baby. Just like a baby, the seedling stage of a plant is a crucial time in its development so you have to make sure its needs are met as quickly as possible. In order to thrive it needs the right amount of light and moisture as well as the right temperature.

Starting Seeds Indoors: What to Do When Your Seeds Sprout - DailyPea.com

Light

As soon as you see green peeking through the soil, you’ll want to provide your tiny seedlings with light. They’ll need 12 to 16 hours of light per day and 8 hours of darkness. The sunlight from a windowsill is most likely not intense enough especially if there are lots of cloudy days or the sun is low in the sky. There also may not be enough space near the window for all the plants to receive adequate light.

Starting Seeds Indoors:  What to Do When Your Seeds Sprout - DailyPea.com

Grow lights are an efficient option that help take the guess work out of providing just the right amount of light. You can grow your seedlings entirely on artificial light alone. For example, you can put your flats on a bookshelf even in a dark space and hang grow lights from the shelf above. Light from fluorescent tubes is the type of artificial light that’s the most similar to sunlight. There are lots of easy options for hanging fluorescent fixtures, even if space is limited. Storage shelves, kitchen cabinets or closets are a few options. We went the tabletop route and set up our flats on a craft table with this grow light stand. Our three 16″-long flats fit perfectly side-by-side underneath this light, which is also adjustable so it’s easy to make sure it’s the right distance from the seedlings: just an inch or two above them.

Water

Flats of seedlings should be kept moist but not soggy. We check ours at least once a day to make sure they’re not too dry. The seedlings should never wilt between waterings. We find that using a spray bottle is the easiest way to dampen them because you can control the force of the water. Seedlings are delicate and I worry about them floating away or getting waterlogged easily. I’ve noticed that the humidity of the room makes a big difference in how the soil holds moisture. Obviously, if the humidity is really low the flats will dry out quickly and they’ll need to be checked more often. The humidity has varied a lot at our house during the past month, and I noticed that 40-50% seems to be a good level.

Temperature

The temperature in our house usually averages between 65° and 75° F which seems to have kept our seed flats happy so far. I’m just happy that most of our seeds have germinated; most of them on the shorter end of their estimated germination times so the temperature must have worked for them. I don’t think temperature is as important as light and water, but you do want to avoid extreme fluctuations because that puts stress on fragile seedlings. Grow lights put out a small amount of heat which warms up the soil slightly.

Thinning Seedlings

We planted multiple seeds in some of our soil blocks in our flats to help increase our chances of having seedlings in all of them. Some seeds were so small that we sprinkled a bunch of them in. We ended up with one seedling in some blocks and 2, 3 or 4 in others. The ones with multiple seedlings can become crowded quickly, so they need to be thinned out. This is especially true with lettuce. The easiest way to do this is to cut them back at the base of the soil with small scissors. Pulling them out can damage the delicate roots of surrounding seedlings.

Transplanting

I’m writing my seed starting posts as we go along, and we haven’t reached the transplanting point quite yet. They’ll be ready when they form the second set of their first true plant leaves. Transplanting is done so they can spread their roots out and have more room to grow, and to provide them with more nutrient-dense soil as they grow. We haven’t given our seedlings fertilizer since our starting mixture was one part compost, but it’s something we’ll do after we transplant. Stay tuned for my next seed starting post about transplanting!

Other posts in this series:

How to Start Seeds Indoors

How to Start Seeds Indoors @ DailyPea.com

We’re in the process of starting most of our seeds indoors to give them a nice strong start before it’s time to transplant them in the garden. Giving your plants this important head start helps them really take off when they get planted outdoors, and gives you a better chance at a larger harvest. In our case, it’s just a little extra luck on our side since we’re pretty unfamiliar with the new growing zone we just moved into here in South Carolina. The fun part about starting seeds indoors? After planning and dreaming about your garden all winter, you finally get your hands dirty again and take yourself closer to summertime!

Which Seeds to Start Indoors, and When

Some seeds such as lettuce mixes, arugula, dill, rutabaga, carrots, parsnips, beets, cucumbers and peas like cooler weather conditions and are recommended to be planted directly into the ground as soon as the soil starts to warm up and is workable. Below are the seeds that we started indoors, with the recommended times to plant (before the last expected spring frost date.)

  • Peppers – bell peppers and jalapeños (8 weeks before last frost)
  • Broccoli (6-8 weeks)
  • Tomatoes (6-8 weeks)
  • Basil (4-6 weeks)
  • Chives (4-6 weeks)
  • Cilantro (4-6 weeks)
  • Spinach (4-6 weeks)
  • Winter squash (4-6 weeks)
  • Pumpkin (3-4 weeks)
  • Parsley (2-4 weeks)
  • Chard (1-2 weeks)

Assuming that you’ll plant your seedlings outdoors about 2 weeks after your last expected spring frost date (if you’re unsure of that date, you can do a search on NOAA’s site) you can calculate approximately when to start your seeds.

Types of Containers

There are lots of different options for seed starting containers, from milk cartons and yogurt containers to aluminum disposable pans, bricks and plastic greenhouse trays, to homemade wooden flats. You’ll just want to make sure that the container is at least 3 inches deep. We chose homemade wooden flats because they’re easy and inexpensive to make, and they’ll last forever. They’re a bit heavy, but the stability of them is nice if they need to be moved. I have 3 flats which each are 12″ x 16″ and 4″ deep. They sit side-by-side on a craft table in a warm room in our house.

To make the flats, we cut 1″ x 4″ cedar boards (naturally rot-resistant) to size and pieced them together with screws. We left 1/8″-1/4″ slats on the bottoms to allow for water drainage.

Types of Containers to Use for Starting Seeds Indoors @ DailyPea.com

Seed Starting Mix

A good medium for starting seeds is light and porous. You can buy seed starting mixes at your local garden center. We made ours out of these 3 ingredients that we already had at our house: 1 part loose organic garden soil, 1 part compost and 1 part vermiculite.

I lined the bottoms of our flats with a layer of newspaper and covered that with 1/2″ of milled sphagnum moss to help hold the soil if water drains out.

How to Start Seeds Indoors @ DailyPea.com

The Soil Block Method

My mom was telling me how my grandpa started his seeds, and I remember his garden being absolutely amazing, so I use as many of his methods as I can! He used a soil block tool (like this one) to make individual seed starting cubes in his flats. It’s really cool because it spaces the 2″ cubes out just right and makes a little nest in each cube to drop the seeds into. Here’s how you make the blocks:

  1. Using a big tub, gradually add water to your soil mix until it’s the consistency of peanut butter.
  2. Pack the 4-cube block maker with soil mix and use your hands to make sure it’s filled up and leveled off on the bottom.
  3. Press down the handle on the top of the tool to eject the cubes into your flats.
  4. Let the cubes sit for a few hours to dry a bit before planting seeds in them.

Indoor Seeds Starting Tips @ DailyPea.com

Making the blocks is definitely a little time consuming and messy, but I love it. It saved me time in the long run, as it was easy to drop the seeds into the already formed cubes. I also have a touch of OCD when it comes to organization, so I think the nice and neat rows are awesome. It’s easy to lift them out of the flat to transplant them when the time comes.

Planting Your Seeds

Tips on Starting Seeds Indoors @ DailyPea.com

If you use the soil block method, drop 1-3 seeds into each nest in the cubes. In containers other than soil blocks, you’ll want to make a furrow that’s about 1/4″ deep to place your seeds into. For small-sized seeds, plant them 1/8″ apart, 1/2″ for medium and 1″ for large. Cover the seeds lightly with soil mix; it’s fine if it’s dry. Seeds should be covered to a depth of 3 times their size. We use popsicle sticks to label them. Cover the flats with aluminum foil to help them retain moisture and set them in a warm spot for germination. Check often to make sure the soil mix doesn’t dry out. It should be moist but not soggy. It’s easiest to lightly water by using a spray bottle so the seeds won’t float away.

Germination

Once our seeds germinate, I’m going to write my next post about how to take care of the seedlings. When you see the first little shoots of green pop out of the soil, they need to be given light. 12 to 16 hours of light per day is ideal. Stay tuned for my next seed starting post!

Have you started seeds indoors? What methods did you use?

Other posts in this series:

How to Plan an Organic Raised Bed Garden

How to Plan an Organic Raised Bed Garden @ DailyPea.com

Planning an organic raised bed garden takes a bit of research and time, so with winter coming, it’s the perfect time to sit back and draw up plans for next year. We just moved and one of the first things I wanted to accomplish after we got settled in South Carolina was to build the garden that I’ve been daydreaming about for a long time. It’s been 2 months since we moved in and my beds are built! In fact, my 3 year old daughter and I have already planted a few things. Our gardens will be a big part of our lives, and I believe that gardening is a great step for anyone striving to live a healthier lifestyle. Raised beds are new to me and I’m looking forward to sharing everything I learn here on my blog. Join me and learn with me, or if you’re an experienced raised bed gardener, please share your tips!

Raised Bed Garden Space Planning

When we were looking for our new house, the most important requirement was that it had to have plenty of space for us to begin our own little backyard homestead. By homestead, I mean that we would love to produce as much of our own food as possible for us to live on. We’re starting with produce in our garden and down the road hopefully raising chickens and maybe even keeping bees. We’re starting small as we’ve been extremely busy with our big move and getting settled with two babies. There are only enough hours in the day, right? (I work on my blog after everyone goes to bed.) I’m thankful that we found a small house with just enough space inside for us to comfortably live, so it’s easier to keep up and allow for more time outside. After all, we moved from a colder climate so we’re going to take full advantage of every extra warm day that we can!

Why Raised Beds?

Okay, focusing on the raised beds…why choose raised beds? The main reasons I chose them for our yard are the heavy rock-hard clay soil and the sloped land that we have to work with. You can pretty much put a raised bed anywhere. Another reason is that raised beds save money and time. Plants produce more because of the high quality soil in the raised beds, and you can really pack them in close together. Weeds are easier to pull out and there are fewer of them if they have less space in between crops to grow.

Plan Your Space

Organic Raised Garden Bed Planning

Depending on where you want to grow and how much you want to grow, the easiest way to plan the size of your raised beds is to draw them and then flag out the area in your yard. Make a list of the types of veggies you would like to grow and research how much space is required to grow them. Location is also a big factor as you’ll want your garden to be near a convenient water source and receive at least 6 hours of sunlight. There are many free garden planning tools online, like this fabulous one at Mother Earth News. The best size for a raised bed is from 3′ to 5′ wide, to any length. This is because you want to keep them at a manageable width to access and maintain. To figure out how deep to make your garden beds, a good tip is to research depth requirements for the plants you’re planning on growing. Some root deeply as opposed to others that require a more shallow space. I ended up with six 4′x8′ beds and three 4′x4′ beds, with 3′ paths between all of them (I’m planning to use the smaller beds for herb gardens.) The beds are 8″ deep with 2″ thick boards. We’re hoping to eventually have a large crop yield for our family of 4 and would love to share with our nearby family and friends, as well as can like crazy! We know we’re going to be experimenting and learning for a while though, so no pressure yet, right?

Choose the Right Building Materials

Organic Raised Bed Garden Building Materials

For a chemical-free organic garden, you’ll want to choose the purest materials possible. The wood must be untreated to avoid the leaching of chemicals into the garden soil. Cedar or white oak are good choices since they are naturally rot-resistant (our beds are made with white oak.) Big home improvement stores will carry these types of wood, but most will be high grade cabinet-quality lumber which is very expensive. Check your smaller local lumber businesses for rough low grade wood which is less expensive and perfectly adequate for building raised beds. Lumber stores are usually more than happy to cut the boards to the lengths you need. You may need concrete blocks and steel stakes to terrace your beds if you’re building them into a sloped area. More about that in a minute…

How to Build a Raised Bed Box

Terraced Raised Bed Gardens

There are lots of great tutorials online for building a raised bed box. It’s really pretty simple, especially if you’re putting your garden on top of a fairly level surface. Here’s an example of a good tutorial here. I did not build my beds on my own since I had the challenge of our sloped yard. We’re grateful to know a very talented tradesman (and new friend in our new town) who we were referred to by our local hardware store. He kindly searched the town for lumber and supplies for our garden, and worked from our drawings to build and terrace our beds. You can see in the picture how he raised them up with concrete blocks to fit into the slope, and anchored them into the ground on one side to keep them in place.

What Does it Mean to Have an Organic Raised Bed?

An organic raised bed is as chemical-free as possible, meaning any materials that you use to build the bed are as natural as possible. The same goes for the soil that fills the garden bed. If you have just one or a couple of smaller beds, there are many pre-bagged organic soil and compost options at local home and garden stores. We have quite a large space so having our soil delivered by truck was the most economical option. It’s really important to find a place that you can talk with and trust to find out where the soil comes from, because many landscapers have great looking topsoil which isn’t necessarily chemical-free. Our garden soil is a mix of half mushroom compost and half organic topsoil. The owner of the business that we purchased it from swears by this compost soil and recommends planting right into it. This is a great starter soil which we will add our own compost to eventually.

You can even take steps to make sure you’re watering your organic garden with the safest garden hose. Unfortunately, many garden hoses in stores contain toxic chemicals (read my post about toxic garden hoses here.) This is the non-toxic, drinking water safe hose that we chose for our garden.

Filling the Garden Beds with Soil

A tip to help with drainage and prevent erosion is to line the bottoms of the beds with a thin layer of natural washed gravel. When you add your compost/soil, be sure to not stand on it and compact it (another reason to make your garden bed a manageable width so you can access all of it without stepping into it.) The fluffy soil in a raised bed provides perfect planting conditions. If you have long winters where you live with lots of snow, I’ve heard that covering the beds may be beneficial to prevent water and weight from compacting the soil. Regardless, raking through the soil and loosening it while adding compost in the spring will prepare it well for planting.

Now that you have a few good tips about organic raised garden beds, you can spend the winter planning away and looking forward to what you’re going to plant next spring! Look for my next garden post about what we just planted this fall, and the awesome place that we found to purchase organic seeds online.