Backyard Garden Boxes

Spring is here!

By the end of February most seasoned gardeners have their spring routines well rooted and have probably already tilled and refreshed their spring garden plots. Depending on location, some have already sown their first lettuce and radish seeds.

For the rest of us, it’s usually mid-March when thoughts begin sprouting about our small scale backyard box gardens.  We feel the itch to dig and plant when the sunlight lingers longer in the afternoons and the daytime temperatures pull us outside and out of our winter dormancy. On weekends we notice the early starter plants and the first bright colors of bedding flowers on display at garden centers when we are out running errands.

The first day of spring has come and now there isn’t anything that can stop us from making the best backyard garden ever!  

Whether you are starting from scratch, and still need to build a garden box that’s right for your backyard, or if you are already set up, you still have time to get everything ready for a good growing season. In this post I'll talk about small scale backyard garden boxes, because that's what I have in my small yard.  And, as a mostly weekend gardener (like many people, I have a regular 8-5 day job) my time spent tending to the crops is limited to afternoons and weekends, and some morning watering in summer.

Garden box making  

  • Materials  I recommend untreated cedar or redwood.  These woods are rot resistant and can last 10-20 years.  I learned the hard way not to use pressure (chemical) treated lumber because it will not last as long and it also contains chemicals that I prefer not having near garden veggies.  
  • Size  You can grow a small salsa garden in a 4' x 4' box.  If you have the space, an 8' x 4' box is ideal.  I have two 8' x 4' boxes 
  • Design  The designs are as many as your imagination can create.  Let yourself become inspired by browsing the internet or find a stack of books at the library to research all the various models.
  • Soil  I am a fan of rich organic compost.  Most garden centers have many varieties to choose from.  I get the best value, opting for organic whenever feasible.  If you can find good quality topsoil, this will work too - but add some manure or compost to make it extra wonderful for veggie plants. 

Plant Selection  

The first rule of small backyard garden box plant selection is to "keep it simple."

It's so easy to want to plant every single beautiful herb and vegetable, and a dozen varieties of tomatoes. Alas, when your space is limited, you have to be choosy.  Garden crops that produce vegetable and fruit will need space as they grow.  Too much competition for soil nutrients and sunlight will not help it thrive.

I think in terms of season and size and go from there.  I love the early sprouters like spinach and radishes.  Planted from seed, these pop up in just a few days and can be harvested within a few weeks.  If you live in an area where frost is still possible in March or early April, rest assured that both spinach and radishes are tough enough to take it.  Lettuces are usually also good to go in late March. I wait until late April or early May to put in my tomato and pepper starters plants.

Sometime in late May, I harvest any remaining lettuce and spinach, and put in a strong starter  zucchini or two.  Zucchinis will spread and take up lots of space, but I've had good results fitting two to four in a box.

Besides the vegetable beds, I love having a whole box, or small plot directly in the ground, reserved for just herbs.  Many herbs can be great insect repellents, too, and so I keep my herb garden nearer my back patio area where access is quick and easy for cooking snips.  I rely on Peace Farm Organics starter herbs for a full bed mixed with basil, lavender, rosemary, and lemon balm for a head start on the most fragrant herbs,  I also keep parsley, cilantro, and dill handy for my summer recipes.

Below are some garden box layout guides that help frame my planning ideas.  You can sketch your own based on your own preferences. 

In an upcoming post I'll share progress on my small backyard garden boxes this year!


Design:  Weylin Mallicote, 2018