The Art of gardening in a Box Bed
Let’s think “inside” the box!
During my recent autumn clean up, I was tacking my seasonal job of wrestling engorged herbs from their summer communal living in a half oak barrel; tossing bedraggled annuals onto the compost pile, potting perennial survivors into gallon pots to be sold as mature specimens next Spring. This exercise seemed unfulfilling this year, keeping my demonstration herb pot perpetually juvenile in nature and certainly making work instead of flowing with the seasons and maturing…Not forgetting summer pot culture fussing in extreme temperatures and needing daily attention.
Out came the hammer and nails, well actually the power drill and wood screws…a rustling in my wood pile for leftovers from a tool shed construction and a project was born! (It’s those cool temperatures prompting the brain cells after into action after a heat spell.) And so I pass on this project to you~ an all season Box Bed for your Herbs!
…I hope you will like this no-dig approach as well.
Firstly, do keep to the old guideline of placing your herbs just outside a back or kitchen door…the one you use as cook and gardener. Choose as much sun as possible, “shade” is easy to reproduce and most common cooking herbs, like beloved Basil, are from the very sunny Mediterranean area. I placed a “liner” of a heavy duty woven landscape cloth as a bottom over the existing lawn for two reasons. One; all the weed seeds, bugs and grass roots themselves are underneath to give me a fresh start and secondly, it will prevent the near by pine trees from moving in for the nutrients! Actually there is a third reason too: you can easily disassemble this project if it is only a temporary site or you are renting~ take the box bed with you!
I made a perimeter of wood in a box rectangle shape with corner metal brackets and screws. I only used the tape measure to cut the mismatched wood into equal lengths to each other. It truly was recycling bits roughly three feet wide by as long as I could find: about five feet in this case, to also fit the gap just outside my greenhouse back door and still be by the customer nursery area.
Next your soil mix. I recycled all the yummy rich once-used soil from my greenhouse tomato pots, my used rooting tray lighter perlite/potting soil-less mix plus some fresh compost. Mix well with a generous measure of suitable general fertilizer like you used on your veggie patch. I used some Gaia 4-4-4 plus a couple of extra handfuls of rock phosphate for establishing new roots. Water well to help settle the fluffiness in case you need to top up the box with more soil before you plant….just like in big pot culture.
I placed all my rescued hardy herbs; Rosemary, Oregano, Sage, 2 types of Thyme, French Tarragon…even a mature Parsley and its gangly roots forgave me for the move! This will be the foundation planting. Ummmm…I have space to add a few extras! So I popped in a fresh start of French Sorrel, 3 clumps of Chives plus a Sweet Fennel: the Fennel I will keep small by removing before truly maturing. The “frills” for this Winter box bed were a border of edible flowers, cheerful faced Violas.
I positioned the herbs mainly around the box edges, leaving the center purposely blank to pop in my heat loving annuals, like Mr Basil come next late May. A final topping with Seasoil finished it off and now it is up to Mother Nature over the winter with NO daily fuss from me!
Granted my harvesting will be limited this winter from this box bed, especially with the smaller new babies or hibernating older ones like sleepy Oregano…plus I did a tidy trim of the evergreen Rosemary, Sage and Thyme as I planted: though those bits did get tossed in a lovely pot of soup! (PS: In your regular open Herb plantings, keep in mind to harvest lightly over the Winter as new growth will not happen until temperatures warm up in February or later. Over harvesting young Rosemary in particular can kill it; Thyme hates wet and can drop all its tiny leaves in protest, plus the older lower leaves of Sage become tasteless as they age…keep your harvesting for all of these to only the tasty vibrant tips.)
With our lovely mild Autumn seducing us to not rush for Winter, I am hoping you have a few Summer pots of soil to empty into a box bed of your own and stir up this project before we all truly hibernate. You will be ahead of the game for your spring pots AND already harvesting spring Chives plus Violas by the next planting window in 2009.
But I am leaping ahead of myself…I don’t want to miss the season of “gardening” from my armchair this winter where there are no pests or problems, full colour photos of always successful plantings and Basil past my knees…daydreaming for next year!
Meanwhile I passed a toyshop yesterday with a fresh sign…“42 more sleeps before Christmas!” Yikes…my garden head still feels wandering somewhere in late September rather than on the brink of December with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head! That brings me to a very special recipe to share with you from a Mr Ron Dean, who celebrates 40 Christmases in the same home in James Bay this year, where sugar plums are real and not just in a poem.
Sweet Dreams! LYNDA
Real Christmas Sugar Plums - Ron Dean “Ifanwen Cottage”
- 1 cup dried Apricots
- 1 cup dried Figs, remove stems
- 1 cup golden Raisins
- 1 cup slivered Almonds
- 1 cup flaked Coconut
- ½ cup Amaretto liqueur***
- ¼ cup berry sugar for rolling
Mix all fruit & nuts in a big bowl.
Process finely in batches in a food processor
Place in second bowl as you go
Mix well with hands to form “dough”
With damped hands, take approx 1 level Tablespoon
And form into small quarter sized balls.
Roll into berry sugar & layer between wax paper in an air tight container
And store in a cool place.
Re-roll in berry sugar if your liqueur weeps.
***For munchkins substitute 1/4-1/2c apple juice with 1 Tbsp almond extract for the almond liqueur…although my children never complained!
Originally published in the December 2008 edition of the Metchosin Muse