Lobak Lodeh with homegrown multi-colored carrots and their tops simmered in coconut milk. Tempeh provides…
Raised Bed Gardening in the High Plains of Cheyenne, Wyoming to withstand hail, windy conditions, and extreme temperatures.
When we first planned our move to this property sitting in a valley, we already visualized several raised bed boxes to be situated between the barn and the house. At that time, we only knew that the boxes had to be at least waist-high to eliminate the need to be bending down all the time. We also anticipated having to hang some sort of shade and hail protection material onto an overhead frame structure. As such, we got the landscaper to build the wooden frames over the boxes in the early spring even as we were moving into the house.
Irrigation and Fortification of The Raised Beds
Irrigation is very important in this dry climate. We needed to be able to program self-watering for the raised beds. As part of the setup, the landscaper embedded the main irrigation pipes leading to every box. We do share this high plains space with several species of burrowing creatures. Lining the base of each box with steel mesh to prevent them from getting inside the boxes was very necessary.
Filling The Raised Beds
To improve drainage for the deep raised beds, the lower half was filled with mulch. Then, they were topped off with good quality soil.
Perlite and Peat Moss
Drawing on our previous experience in Colorado on our Raised-Bed Vegetable Garden, we realized that having only soil will eventually result in a hardened, compacted layer that will be difficult for plants to thrive. To prevent this from happening here, we mixed pearlite and peat moss into the soil. The latter is slightly acidic, as a counter to our very hard and alkaline well water.
Raised Bed Gardening on Hold
Despite having completed and filled the boxes by end of March, we had to leave them unplanted for almost two months. Harsh wintry conditions made planting impossible until the end of May. The rule of thumb around here is to only start planting after Memorial Day. Yes, our growing season is very short.
A Trial Batch of Seed Potatoes
The two months of gardening inactivity was hard to endure. Perhaps it wasn’t the best thing to do but in mid April, I bought some seed potatoes and planted them into the barrels. They stayed dormant for weeks and one that sprouted was sadly killed by a late snow storm.
Raised Bed Gardening Setback
The first few attempts at sowing seeds into the boxes were dismal failures. The fierce winds blew the seeds away or overwhelmed whatever little sprouts trying to emerge from the soil. The open boxes could not provide any adequate protection from the constant west wind averaging 20 mph and gusting up to 60 mph on some days. We also suffered several late snowstorms in May that killed whatever plants that the winds did not take. We needed to do something radical if we were to succeed in planting anything outdoors.
Setting Up Protection For Raised Bed Gardening
Our first priority was to provide strong protection for the seedlings from the winds. Clear corrugated polycarbonate sheets are strong and allow light through while providing a barrier against the winds.
We cut some sheets to size by stacking them together and sawing with a rotary saw. The screw holes have to be drilled slightly larger than the screw diameter to allow for expansion and contraction. Otherwise, the polycarbonate will crack under stress. For attachment of the sheets to the wooden frame, we use roofing screws that come with self sealing washers. These help to prevent water from getting under the joint and also spread the force of the screw equally.
Corrugated Polycarbonate Walls
We installed these on three sides and the top, leaving only the east side of the boxes open. The frames are 36 inches high, but the corrugated sheets are only 26 inches wide. This leaves a gap of 10 inches at the top on the three sides. We left this open to allow for ventilation on hot days.
Steel Mesh for Hail Protection and Ventilation
However, leaving the gap open would cause any hail to get through and destroy the plants. To deflect the hail, we installed 1/2 inch steel mesh to cover the 10 inch gap. The open mesh also allows helpful pollinators like bees to still get into the boxes. The roof covering each box required two corrugated sheets to overlap slightly to span the 48 inches width.
Finally The Seedlings Had A Chance
Before we completed the front of the boxes (facing east), we were hit by several windstorms. Even so, we could immediately see the great improvements for the survival of our new vegetable seedlings. They continued to grow well because the interior of every box became a calm zone despite the terrific winds whipping outside.
To finish the enclosures, we added screen doors with hinges and latches that allow air and light to get through. We obtained these vinyl screen doors at our local DIY store and they fitted the opening perfectly (3 feet wide by 8 feet long). The only drawback with this design is that it can be a stretch to reach the back of the box since it is 4 feet deep.
Raised Bed Gardening In Progress
With the enclosures completed, they function like mini greenhouses. The solid corrugated polycarbonate walls and roof act as blocks against wind and hail. The steel mesh allow ventilation and light to get through but will still prevent hail from getting in. The screen doors allow us to do supplementary watering of the plants without having to open them. And when we do need to perform planting, harvesting work, the doors can be unlatched and propped open easily with a pole. The enclosures also provide protection from animals and birds.
Types Of Vegetables Growing In The Boxes
I have a bunch of vegetables growing in all six raised beds all grown from seeds except for 4 of the tomato plants in the bottom right box. 3 of the hanging basket tomatoes were gifted to me via a sweet lady from a gardening group while I purchased the sweet cocktail tomato and cucamelon from the store. I bought the cucamelon out of curiosity. At the moment, it is looking very dry.
Our Modern Day “Vegetable Closet”
Just the other day when I was going to collect some lettuce from one of the raised beds, the screen doors suddenly reminded me of a childhood memory of the old “chai tu” or vegetable closet that we used to have before there were refrigerators in Malaysia. It made me smile to think of these modern day “chai tu” providing lots of vegetables for us in a very different climate and place.
Similar Tools Used in This Raised Bed Gardening Post
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Dewalt Atomic 20V MAX* Circular Saw, 4-1/2-Inch
Black & Decker Corded Drill, 5.5-Amp, 3/8-Inch
Makita XFD12Z 18V LXT Lithium-Ion Brushless Cordless 1/2″ Driver-Drill
Metal Roofing Screws: (250) 10 x 1″ Galvanized Hex Head Sheet Metal Roof Screw.