SANTA CRUZ (April 2009 ) - The Victory Garden is back. Given the sad state of the economy this year, interest in home-grown food is soaring. The National Gardening Association estimates that 7 million U.S. households plan to plant new vegetable gardens this year, boosting the number of backyard plots to 43 million. First Lady Michelle Obama has even installed a kitchen garden at the White House, imparting a patriotic feel to the sometimes grubby business of growing your family's food.
If you, too, are taking the gardening plunge this year, start your growing season by building a sturdy raised bed. Here are directions for a gopher-proof redwood planter that you can build in one afternoon, and is portable enough to take with you if you move.
Materials for a 42-inch-square raised bed, purchased at local stores, will cost about $80, and the finished planter should last at least ten years. Local lumberyards will cut your boards to length, so the only tools you will need are a power screwdriver, wire cutters, and a heavy-duty staple gun.
But before you strap on the toolbelt, take a look at your yard and figure out the best location for your new garden bed. At a minimum, choose a spot with the best possible sun exposure, and access to a hose. Proximity to a warm, south-facing wall is a plus, and you'll need access for a wheelbarrow.
These raised beds are going on top of an existing, gopher-infested, lawn.
Use 2 x 12 redwood boards so the planter is sturdy, and deep enough for healthy roots. Redwood is naturally rot-resistant, and will not release toxic chemicals into the soil as will pressure-treated lumber, creosote-soaked railroad ties, or discarded truck tires.
You will need eight metal corner braces for each planter, two for each inside corner, measuring at least 2.5” x 1.5”. To keep the gophers out, line the box with heavy-duty gopher wire or hardware cloth .
Gopher wire is expensive, but lasts longer than flimsy poultry wires. Some local hardware stores and nurseries sell gopher wire in prepackaged rolls of 25 feet to 100 feet in length. This type of gopher wire looks like aviary wire but is sturdier, and is easy to work with because of its flexibility. You can also use hardware cloth, which is a welded-wire mesh that can be bought by the foot at local lumberyards. Hardware cloth is much stiffer than the pre-packaged gopher wire, and harder to work with. But it is less expensive, can be bought by the foot, and lasts longer underground.
To assemble your planter box, stand the boards on edge, line them up as desired and sink two screws into each corner from the outside. Then screw the corner braces into the inside corners of the box. When the frame is assembled, cut a sheet of gopher wire big enough to fit in the bottom of the box, with a three- to six-inch overlap on all four sides. If you need to combine two narrower sheets of gopher wire, make sure to seal the overlapped seam securely with twisted wire, or gophers can easily slip through the opening.
First, sink screws from the outside of the box
Then install the corner braces
Press the wire into the bottom of the box and up along the sides using gloved hands or even your feet, paying special attention to getting the wire tight against the inside corners of the box. Gophers are persistent and can squeeze through very small openings – you need to thoroughly staple the wire to the wood to keep the little pests out.
Load up your staple gun with half-inch staples, and fix the wire to the wood, setting a double row of staples every few inches along the entire perimeter of the box. Spend extra time in the corners, making sure the staples are set deeply into the wood.
Roll out and cut a sheet of gopher wire to fit
And that’s it.
Scoot the box into place, level it with shims, rocks or dirt, and fill it up with the contents of the compost pile you built in December. Forgot to build that compost pile? Then you may have to spend some money on bagged compost from the garden store, or a truckload of compost from the landfill.
Now you’re ready to plant. And if at the end of summer you decide to move your garden box, all you need to do is shovel out the soil and jiggle the box free of roots that may be entwined in the gopher wire.