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Photography by Paul Josephs. Photo props courtesy of Dan's Feed Bin, Superior Wis.

HOME&GARDEN: Intensify Your Gardening Experience - Detensify Your Gardening Workload

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Two Harbors, 55616
Lake County News Chronicle
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Two Harbors Minnesota 109 Waterfront Dr. 55616

The Pros:

Raised, intensive beds, also known as container gardens, put you back in the driver's seat when it comes to gardening, by providing three major advantages including:

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Drainage: By putting your garden above ground, it provides great drainage. "That's by far the key benefit to container gardening," says Debbie Braeu, vice-president of Edelweiss Nursery. "This area tends to have a lot of heavy, clay and by doing raised beds, you can make the soil mixture lighter and improve the drainage."

Extended Season: Above ground gardens provide warmer soil temps because the sides of your garden along with the soil receive direct sunlight.

Start From Scratch: Finally, raised, intensive beds, allow you to start completely from scratch versus modifying what you've currently got for a landscape. So often, gardeners take the soil they have and attempt to modify it for gardening. For some, this works. For many, it results in a lot of frustration. Container gardening allows you to create the perfect soil and fertilizer mix for whatever vegetable you are trying to grow.

How do I get started?

By definition, container gardening is just a fancy way of saying grouping plants together without walkways. The elimination of walkways means less wasted space. And, from a work standpoint, less space to till and prep, some of which will only become a walkway anyway.

To get started, plot where in your yard you'd like the containers to go. For starters, four, four by four containers are a good jumping off point. This allows for grouping, good sunlight, and basic crop rotation.

Next, you'll want to decide on how to frame the gardens. Treated, 2x12 lumber is an easy option, but you'll want to check it first. "With anything, including treated lumber, you'll want to check prior to building for any chemicals that could damage your vegetables," Braeu explains. "If you just want to try the garden short term, untreated lumber is a safe and inexpensive way to go, but keep in mind you'll need to replace it pretty quickly."

The third step is creating square boxes that can be set-up on top of your landscape. When you place the boxes, you'll want to make them as level as possible, even if your landscape isn't even. Finally, you'll want to fill the boxes with about 12 inches of a good gardening soil mixture. This will vary based on what you want to plant. And, at this point, you are ready to plant!

In a perfect world, planning for your new container gardens would have started in the winter to provide for plenty of time to start indoor seeds. With that said, local nurseries provide an abundance of transplants that will thrive in your new setting. In addition, you still have plenty of time to start a variety of plants by seed. For spacing, follow directions on your seed packets. And, be sure to factor in shade and how the plants height will impact other plants growing in the box. Finally, look at how long the seeds take to harvest. A carefully planned garden means a variety of vegetables ready to harvest at different times, allowing you a longer season of fresh food.

As for when to plant, in this area it can mean waiting until the first week of June. "That's really the prime time to plant. If you plant too early, the seeds might rot or it'll be too cold and they won't grow anyway," Braeu says. Of course there are some ways to work around that - covering tomato plants, mulching, and in some cases, just pure luck, may allow you to plant in May ... as long as you are willing to take the risks that go with it. Come harvest time, you can expect similar results as a traditional garden, only with a lot less work!

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