Natural Perspectives: Building a vegetable garden at home

A few weeks ago, I finally got around to building a new raised bed for the vegetable garden in our front yard. I knew the job would be hard work, but I was excited by the opportunity to use of one of the new power tools that I bought a few months back.

Normally, when one thinks of power tools, one thinks of guys. And beer. But, no, in this case you should be thinking of Lou, not Vic. And wine, not beer. And unlike some guys, I don't drink until the project is completed and the power tools are shut off.

It all started when I had to remove my raised beds from the Huntington Beach Community Garden. Not familiar with modern gardening methods, the people at Edison outlawed raised beds at the community garden. Edison is the landowner, and no matter how silly their rules seem, we have to obey them.

To disassemble the redwood beds, I bought a nice set of cordless power tools with a drill, circulating saw, reciprocal saw, and shop light. The kit also came with two battery packs, a charger and a nifty carrying bag. Utterly inspired, I also bought a book of garden projects that one could build.

Unfortunately, I mentioned my lack of construction skills to the checkout clerk. She eyed the box of sharp power tools and asked if she was going to be reading about me in the newspaper.

I thought to myself that I certainly hoped so, but not in the way she intended. The specter of missing fingers loomed large in my mind, and my bag of beautiful new tools sat unused in the garage.

The nice folks on the garden committee dismantled my beds for me, and even delivered the lumber to our house. Good thing, because the boards were too long to fit into my Highlander.

My plan is to use the boards at a new community garden that I hope will someday be built at Irby Park. But the garden committee doesn't seem interested in building a second garden quite yet.

So I looked once again at my yard to see if there is any additional space that could grow food. My eye landed on a patch of ground in my front yard that I call the Garden of Infinite Neglect.

The first year that I grew vegetables in that area, it was quite productive, but it has languished from neglect ever since. I took another look at it and decided that it needed a raised bed. Having disassembled the raised bed from the community garden, I had all the lumber I needed.

I had watched Vic build the raised beds at my community garden plot (using a borrowed cordless drill), and it didn't look all that hard. I can use a regular drill, but for some reason I was intimidated by my new cordless one. Maybe it was that clerk's comment about reading about me in the paper.

One afternoon when Vic was busy with final exams, I screwed up my courage, carried the boards to the front, and got out my new drill. I still had the metal brackets and screws from the former raised beds.

I wondered how to hold the boards together while putting the screws through the brackets. I have watched my corps members at the Orange County Conservation Corps build things. They just brace the boards with their boots. I did the same thing, and it worked.

My new raised bed isn't to NASA specifications, but the edges are pretty close to plumb and the bed is level. I'm pretty darn pleased with it.

I was on a roll with this power tool thing, so I installed some screws along the edges of the boards at one-foot intervals and tied string around the screws to make a foot-square grid across the surface of the dirt in the bed.

The purpose of this is two-fold. First, the string grid serves as a guide for square-foot gardening. Second, I hoped that it would serve as a deterrent to neighborhood cats that might want to use the bed as a litter box. So far, it has worked. The cats prefer an area just outside the beds for their business.

You might ask why I call this area the Garden of Infinite Neglect. Well, in all honesty, it's because I neglect it compared with other parts of my garden. As I was doing all this work to rejuvenate that area, I had an insight as to why I pay it so little attention.

I neglect it because it is a nuisance to water. The hose was too short to reach. Well, duh, that's easily solved. I bought a longer hose. Problem solved.

I planted the bed with beets, bok choy, butternut squash, carrots, chard, cucumbers, kale, lettuce, radishes, and yellow summer squash. I installed two cucumber trellises that I had bought for the community garden, but couldn't use there because they were metal.

We can't have anything metal at the community garden. Unfortunately, I didn't find that out until I had bought $400 worth of metal trellises of various kinds. Fortunately, I was able to put them all to use in my home garden. The cucumber trellises are slanted so that the cucumbers will hang beneath for easy harvest.

The nice thing about having a vegetable garden right by the front sidewalk is that people see it. And they see me. I talk more to my neighbors, and they get to see vegetables growing. It has inspired my next-door neighbor's children so much that they asked their father for a vegetable garden too.

He assigned them some space in their backyard, and they will be planting their first vegetables this summer. Who knew that growing vegetables was contagious?

VIC LEIPZIG and LOU MURRAY are Huntington Beach residents and environmentalists. You can reach them at

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