I love love LOVE looking back and seeing how much my husband and I have been able to do since setting foot on our property just under 2 years ago. A 5.6 acre property with a horse-friendly layout including multiple fenced pastures and a sand ‘arena’ of sorts, it was sadly not being used for gardening anywhere on the property, nothing whatsoever! (And while the 10 year old girl inside of me still desperately wants to have horses, the 46 year old woman I am knows that we neither have the time nor resources to currently devote to those wonderful creatures.)
So with that, I thought I’d show you how we created a dreamy-sized garden out of what was once the “medium pasture” (we have a larger one that takes up about half the property). This not only holds our nine 12’x4′ raised beds, but also 5 fruit trees and a completely enclosed 10’x20′ duck/chicken run, with lots of room to spare! And the best part of it all? Nearly everything we used was repurposed – including every single piece of wood!
When we bought the house, we already were keeping our 4 ducks in the city, so before we ourselves were taken care of, we had to make sure they had safe accommodations to move into – especially out in the country where there were more than rodents and raccoons to fear! As you can see from the photo above of my husband on the first day, we had a pretty awesome blank slate to work with.
We were fortunate enough to have a TON of wood that was left in the barn – old 2×6 cedar fence lengths in particular. So while these weren’t typical 4×4 posts you’d usually use in building a structure, they’re hella strong and that, a borrowed post-hole digger and a few bags of cement, my husband got started. We both got together to build the rest of the frame, then I worked on attaching the 1/4″ hardware cloth to the bottom half (much of it we brought with us from our old house) and then less-expensive chicken wire to the top half. I also built the ducks coop with 100% repurposed plywood, and because we live in a rainy area, set it on concrete blocks to elevate it so they had a warm, dry space to cuddle up on those colder evenings. And while yes, they are ducks, we made the decision to have this covered. This was the only major expenditure of the whole project – buying the galvanized sheeting for the top. And I am SO glad we did this – not only does it keep the entire run from becoming a poopy mudpit, but it also keeps US dry when we come in to feed/water and collect their eggs! That and a $5 kiddie pool? Happy, happy girls for sure. Almost two years later, with many many crazy windstorms, everything is still standing!
Then of course came the 6-7 month project of building raised beds and enclosing an entire garden area. Living in the country means you have deer, and they quickly lose their “awww cute!” factor when they start eating your plants, so the first summer we decided to go without and focus on the infrastructure.
First thing I did was drag out old bits of carpeting which my husband had graciously cut into manageable pieces when removing the nasty old stuff from the attic room that eventually became our master bedroom. I used that to create my game plan of where the beds would most likely be, and figure out how big I wanted the area to be. We then rented the post hole auger again (very badass, terrifying to use for the first time, but worth its weight in gold I tell ya!) to dig the post holes along the whole outline, taking advantage of the pasture’s two sides so we only had to do it on the other two. That only took about an hour because of the machine.
Because I didn’t have any more long pieces of wood, I made the decision to use shorter pieces of leftover 2×6 cedar to do the rest of the posts, making them all around 4′ tall. Some experienced country folk will laugh because obviously deer can skip over that no problem, but we also know that deer have an issue with depth perception when there are multiple fences/structures, plus an aversion to repellants like PlantSkydd, so I decided to take my chances. I say “I” because I buried these posts myself in one afternoon (whew!) while Dan was at work…hence why nothing’s in a perfectly straight line, but who cares 🙂
Before anything else was attached to make it into fencing, though, I needed to get raised beds built…something that’s much easier done without a fence to get in your way when hauling 6-12′ pieces of wood.
The reason this part of the project took 6-7 months? It was not because of us being bad at our job, but rather because we decided to use the wood from an old rickety second-story deck that was attached to our house (see the real estate listing photo, top left). I had no use for it, and so knew the wood would be perfect for building big ol’ raised beds. But we couldn’t simply deconstruct it and be done, because we had other DIY projects that had to be attended to where we could take advantage of having a second floor deck: namely, replacing the windows ourselves and getting rid of the crazy upstairs exterior door. So my husband slowly but surely deconstructed that, and I’d then take each piece to the barn, remove the nails, and then build the beds.
Then came the most pain in the arse part of the project as my husband will agree – getting the true fencing up. Pasture fencing is meaningless if you’re not a 2,000 pound four legged beast. Every other animal goes under, over, or through. So we bought a few rolls of inexpensive-yet-tough field fencing and then used the huge box of fencing staples left behind by the former owner (she hoarded a lot of crap but some things thankfully WERE useful) for Dan to hammer them in by hand while I held the fencing as tight as I could (we’re not tractor folks so we did not have anything but our own two hands!). This field fencing was smaller at the bottom, so perfect for keeping ducks in without breaking the bank!
But once that happened it was DONE and we are so happy we did it! I then built a couple of gates out of 1x4s (something I would not do again as it is not very sturdy, so next year I’ll probably rebuild with better wood if I can salvage from someone) and the scrap field fencing, and the ducks (and future chickens) now had a secure place to play beyond their run! (Now, “secure” excludes the existence of bald eagles, one who I had a very intense run-in with last fall as they are really really scary up close when they’re assessing your ducks as possible dinner entrees and you’re hilariously practicing the ‘Make Yourself Seem Bigger Than You Are’ lesson you read about in summer camp when encountering wildlife you need to scare off…)
Once the beds were built (which I deliberately made extra deep for two reasons – one for my back, and two for keeping ducks out as we learned in our last house that 18″ beds are definitely not tall enough!), filling them started out with all the debris we’d been clearing out – old ugly bushes, compost, all that fun stuff. I also got some fill dirt brought in for the base, then we started building up the soil with poopy duck bedding/straw, more compost, and then just a few bags of organic potting soil as a topper, instead of breaking the bank with a zillion bags. Then I snagged a bunch of PVC pipe and installed them as hoops over the beds I could find and…voila! Mini hothouses when needed!
The last steps have been planting bushes that are quite scented (another anti-deer tactic) and that will grow fairly tall, so I selected a bunch of California lilacs which hopefully will have a massive growth spurt this year! We also planted 5 fruit trees in there last year, 4 more last month, and a variety of shrubs on the inside of the fence, particularly rosemary which I know the deer don’t care for. So far, deer-free!
Since last year, the beds have survived pretty darn well, the birds are happy (although chickens – even ones with clipped wings – can still jump into the beds requiring new security measures), food is growing and we are optimistic for the 2020 growing season.
Now if it would just stop raining…