Although it makes our square footage of growing space considerably smaller, it does make for easier management of such a big space. There will be WAY less weeding, and we will not have to bend over to tend to our plants (which we are already doing in the main garden…and its A LOT of work!). Making a crop rotation plan (and keeping it!) is a bit easier as well. And, not to mention, it looks good!
There are a few downfalls of building boxes too though. They take time and money to build, and filling them is a huge job. Also, trellising & harvesting tomatoes might get a little hard towards the end of the season, as their vines grow tall.
Our other option was to dig out 5x 3’ rows, with 1’ paths in between, but imagine the weeds? And I also took into consideration that most greenhouse plants need to be spaced at least 2 feet apart. So even if our rows were 3 feet wide, I would only comfortably get 1 row of plants going down each bed.
So, with pencil in hand, I grabbed the graph paper, and got to work planning out the map of boxes. I decided to make all the boxes 4 feet wide. This way I can comfortably get to the plants in the middle of the boxes. The lengths were a different story. In order to maximize growing space, we figured out that 3x 14’ boxes and 6x 12’ boxes would work best. We also had to consider and accommodate a wheelbarrow. So, we made the paths between the boxes 3’ wide (standard width of a wheelbarrow is 30 inches), and we also staggered the boxes a bit in front of the greenhouse doors, so it is comfortable walking in.
Next, the farmer got to work building the boxes. (For a tutorial on how to build boxes, click here.) In order for the boxes to last a few years, we threw a couple coats of wood stain on them, and lined them with poly on the inside.
After moving the boxes into place, came the big job of filling them. Luckily, we had lots of soil kicking around from another small project we’ve been working on at the farm. The only thing is, that this soil is quite clayey. Clay is a great soil, as it naturally holds the most nutrients and minerals, which the plant can take up through its roots. But, it also has the most water retaining capacity. Most greenhouse plants prefer a good watering, but also like to be quite dry before their next drink. So we had to be smart about this, and set these boxes up with some drainage.
And lets not forget about the nitrogen rich soil those chickens left behind in there!
- Shovel & rake the “chicken soil” out of the way (we want this near the top of the boxes… the plants will love it!).
- Lay down a thick base layer of straw (provides drainage, saves our backs from shoveling too much, and meanwhile, breaks down to provide more organic matter in the soil).
- Shovel in the “clayey” soil (nutrients & water retention).
- Shovel the “chicken soil” back in.
- Mix the 2 top layers up together, but not too much!
Next will come our irrigation plan… stay tuned!