The next challenge was making straight, sturdy corners that wouldn't get all out of whack once the wooden enclosures were filled with soil. Alas, the gardeners in my household aren't carpenters, and the thought of a garden project involving hammers, right angles and those sharp, pointy things called nails made me fear for my green thumb, as well as my marriage.
In the end, ready-made corners saved the day. I purchased four kits of Grow-Box Corners from Lee Valley Tools (www.leevalley.com). Each kit includes four heavy-gauge, galvanized steel corner brackets, screws to fasten the corners to 1" x 8" board and, perhaps best of all, easy-to-follow instructions. The genius behind the corners is that they're hinged and fold flat, making the frames easy to move as well as store if you want temporary beds. Each kit makes a frame approximately 20 centimetres deep; there are little projections at the bottom of each steel corner so you can stack as many as four boxes, creating deeper beds.
I decided each bed should be 1.5 metres wide, based on how far I could comfortably reach across to the centre, important when planting and weeding. The length (three metres) of each bed provided generous space for flowers, but was not so long that the soil would cause the boards to bow. Instructions recommend boxes be no more than 3.6 metres long.
Once my four boxes were in place, I laid landscape fabric on the paths to create a weed barrier, tucking the edges under the boards. I spread eight centi-metres of shredded cedar mulch on top of the fabric. Next, I forked over the soil in the bottom of each box, then added generous layers of shredded leaves, finished and half-finished compost, and old soil from planter and window boxes. The following spring, I added two large bales of peat moss and eight bags of cattle manure until the mixture, when raked smooth, was two to five centimetres below the top edges of the boards.
Seeding and planting in the fluffy, rich soil of those four raised beds was pure pleasure after decades of digging in dense clay. And that started me thinking… are greenhouse kits just as easy?
1. Before heading to the lumberyard for boards, determine the dimensions for your raised bed. Have 1" x 8" boards cut to the desired lengths. (A 1" x 8" board is actually 3/4" x 7 1/2", which is in fact what the corner brackets require.)
2. Fasten one side of a hinge to the end of one board using the screws provided. Make sure the top edge of the board is flush with the top edge of the hinge. Attach the other side of the hinge to the end of another board using the rest of the screws. Repeat for each corner.
3. Lift the box into position. Make sure the corners are square by measuring the diagonals-both distances from corner to corner should be the same. Adjust accordingly.