Many of you have noticed that the public gardens the Goodhue County Master Gardeners manage in Red Wing are not looking their best. I want you all to know that we aren’t happy with how they look either.

Minnesota Master Gardeners are all part of University of Minnesota Extension, which means we have been following the same COVID-19 protocols as everyone who works for the University of Minnesota even though we are volunteers. We have not been able to do any in-person volunteer work since the beginning of the growing season so we could not get out with our other community volunteers and weed, mulch or do any of our regular spring maintenance activities.

The good news is that we should be able to begin working in the gardens soon so hopefully we can catch up and get the gardens in better shape in the next month.

I plant my salad vegetables in two cedar planters on legs that the rabbits can’t get into. Photo by Terry Yockey
I plant my salad vegetables in two cedar planters on legs that the rabbits can’t get into. Photo by Terry Yockey

That said, spring is usually a fight for time between working in my own and also the public gardens. Well, that certainly isn’t the case this year and I have to admit that I have really enjoyed gardening this spring and having the luxury of “stopping to smell the roses.”

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Planting veggies

I always plant vegetables and herbs, but this year I actually sowed seeds directly into the kitchen garden instead of either buying four-packs or winter sowing in milk jugs. I’d forgotten how fun it was to watch the soil every day until you finally see a tiny seedling emerge from the ground. Very satisfying.

I’ve heard that I’m not the only one who has discovered how rewarding vegetable gardening can be. I’m told that between “shelter at home” and the challenge of grocery shopping during the quarantine, there has been a huge interest in Victory Gardens.

Victory Gardens began during World War I when there was a shortage of fresh produce. The government asked Americans to grow their own food to support the war effort and people responded eagerly by establishing gardens in their backyards, on empty lots — even on rooftops. Anywhere they could find a spot to garden.

Make a raised bed

The easiest way to install a Victory Garden is to make a raised bed. Instead of starting with soil in an area that likely is aging turf compacted from constant foot traffic, you begin your garden with rich friable soil that immediately supports good plant growth.

I plant my salad vegetables in two cedar planters on legs that the rabbits can’t get into. Photo by Terry Yockey
I plant my salad vegetables in two cedar planters on legs that the rabbits can’t get into. Photo by Terry Yockey

Making a raised bed can be as easy as just using four cedar boards 6 to 8 inches high that are nailed or screwed together at the corners. You can also buy metal corners from online garden suppliers to hold the boards together. Other materials you might use to hold your soil are logs, untreated timbers, woven sticks (wattle), straw bales and even sandbags.

You can take your raised beds even higher and raise them up at least 2 1/2 feet into the air. Not only does this make it much easier to tend your garden, but it also keeps your tasty vegetables away from foraging critters.

A few ways to lift your garden would be putting it on sawhorses, growing in raised bed planters that have tall legs or just using more timbers to build your beds higher. When using timbers, always use deadheads inside the beds to hold the walls together.

In my kitchen garden, I added two cedar planters that are 30 inches tall and 40 by 22 inches wide. I planted basil, red and green lettuce, kohlrabi, baby kale and radishes this spring and it has been amazing how many salads I have harvested from those planters. Because they are taller, it’s easy to see when a crop is ready to pick and even more importantly, all those nice vegetables are safe from hungry rabbits that were a real problem before.

Filling with soil

The best place to site your garden is close to the house where water is easy to access plus you will pass by often during the day. That way you will notice when it needs to be watered or if a weed should be picked.

Layer the area inside the raised bed with landscape fabric or wet newspapers before you add the soil.

You will need to either buy several bags of organic growing mix or you can also make your own with a mixture of soil and organic matter such as peat moss or your own compost. Fill the raised bed up to a few inches from the top, but don’t pack the soil down as you go. You want the soil to be light and fluffy so that the plant roots can easily grow through the growing medium.

That’s it. You are ready to plant your new Victory Garden. You can either plant seeds or go for immediate gratification and buy some vegetable seedlings at the local garden center.

It’s also a great project to do with your children. Fresh air, fresh vegetables, digging in the soil … try it — you’ll like it!

Reference: U of MN Extension Raised Beds -- extension.umn.edu/planting-and-growing-guides/raised-bed-gardens#containerized-raised-beds-881262.