Have you ever thought of starting a vegetable garden? If your answer was no, I don’t blame you. The thought entered your mind but escaped. I can understand that. You considered gardening but felt unmotivated. I can see why. No one introduced you to the simplicity of gardening before. Garden enthusiasts have approached landscaping on a different plateau called Raised Bed Gardening.

This concept has re-emerged amid gardeners here in Hawaii. Gardening made simple, yet - with a myriad of possibilities. A “green thumb” is not one of the requirements. You might need some garden items...and a dose of enthusiasm. Let’s get started!

Solutions

Items you need:

  • Hand trowel and rake
  • Topsoil and compost
  • Packets of seeds
  • Garden gloves
  • Watering can
  • Garden tool set
  • Spray bottle
  • Garden hose
  • Pesticide (optional)

What Veggies to Grow

Make a list of some vegetables you would like to grow. I suggest starting with veggies that thrive in our tropical climate. Some edibles that do well here, include cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach, and Manoa lettuce. These vegetables can adequately adapt to varying temperatures throughout the island. If you have a taste for cilantro or green onions, they are among the easiest greens to raise. Experiment with different vegetables to know what works best in your garden.

Selecting a Garden Site

Find an area around your property that receives the most sun. Pick the sunniest spot if possible. Crops need at least six to eight hours of sunlight each day. Make sure you’ll have easy access to your garden from all sides. Avoid selecting a spot where the soil would have trouble draining. Water accumulating in your garden can attract mosquitoes and other insects. Keep this location in mind when choosing a garden bed. Also, ensure that your garden hose is within ample distance of the garden.

Choosing the Garden Bed

Now it’s time to decide on a raised garden box or bed. There are so many options for a garden bed. Adjustable garden kits are available that come with panels and stakes. Others consist of wood that you assemble by merely sliding together. A fabric planting bed is another way to go. They’re commonly called grow bags and are made of porous fabric with a texture similar to felt. You just open these up like a bag. Fabric planting beds appeal to a lot of gardeners, since the bag features an air-pruning technology. In addition, there are elevated beds that make gardening easier on your back and knees. Those are also ideal where space is limited. If you feel comfortable using a hammer and drill, consider building your own garden box. A do-it-yourself approach can turn into fun for the entire family. Kids will love painting and designing their own garden boxes...and maybe eat more vegetables.

TIP: Fabric planting beds feature a powerful drainage system. Water exits evenly through the bottom and from all sides. The air-pruning technology enables plants to naturally prune when roots reach the edges of the bag.

Creating a Garden Ecosystem

In raised box gardens you control the soil quality. Crops will be grown in their own bed, instead of rooted in the ground. You save lots of time by not having to “amend” the native soil. Start your garden with a basic mix of 50% topsoil and 50% compost. Compost helps soil retain moisture and nutrients. Choose a nice, clear day to create the foundation for your garden. Keep in mind that soil in raised box gardens warms and drains faster. Fill the garden box with your topsoil and compost mix. Remove the large rocks and debris. Blend both materials well with a hand rake and smooth the surface evenly. When the first “true leaf” (unfurls more) appears, it’s time to begin a fertilizer regime. A liquid or water-soluble fertilizer would be best for seedlings. You could either use a synthetic or organic mix. Ask the sales rep at a home improvement store for suggestions.

Sowing the Seeds

Planting the seeds or starters is the next step. Fortunately, the year-round weather here allows us to start gardens anytime of the year. Follow the instructions behind each packet of your seeds. You’ll get an idea of how deep and far apart to plant them. In raised bed gardening, interplanting is often done to increase crop production. You can space some crops close together provided none interfere with surrounding plants. The Manoa lettuce, for example, tolerates shading caused by other crops. On the other hand, cucumbers and aromatic herbs do not get along when planted together. Plants have temperaments, too...be attentive to their needs.

Use your fingers or trowel to dig a small trench about a half-inch deep. Incidentally, a trowel is an ideal tool for various garden tasks. Next, lightly sprinkle some seeds along the trench. Make several more rows a few inches apart for your other seeds. When sowing is completed, fill the furrow by lightly compacting the soil to cover the seeds. Use the trowel or rake to smooth out the surface. You’ve just created your first raised bed garden. You can now water your garden using a watering can or garden hose with a fine mist. Be sure to water and tend to your garden daily.

TIP: Place each packet on the spot of the corresponding seed. You will be matching the packet with the appropriate seed. Have your smartphone handy to take several pictures of the layout. This helps you identify your edibles as they grow.

Recognizing Garden Pests

You’ll encounter fewer pests in a raised bed garden. The structure provides a barrier that discourages crawlers. When you do encounter garden pests, learning to identify them  gives you better control of your garden. Common pests that leave holes in leafy greens, include Chinese rose beetles, aphids, and white (cabbage) moths. Take advantage of vegetables that are pest deterrents. Plant some vegetables that act as scarecrows. Mustard greens, asparagus, and green beans are some crops known to ward off pests. Use insecticides as a last resort or one that is low in toxins. You can always try some home remedies.

Remedies

Chinese Rose Beetle

  • Make a solution of 1 quart water, 1 tsp. neem oil, and ⅓ tsp. of antibacterial liquid soap.
  • Mix 1 tsp. of liquid dishwashing detergent with 1 cup of vegetable oil. Add 1 quart of water and 1 cup of rubbing alcohol. Shake well then pour mixture into a spray bottle.
  • Pour some cedar oil in a spray bottle then add water. Spray generously on leaves.

Aphids

  • Fill a spray bottle with water then set aside. Use a water hose at high pressure on the plants. Now spray water underneath the leaves.
  • Add 2 tbsp. of soap flakes to 4 cups of warm water to a spray bottle.
  • Combine 1 cup of vegetable oil, 1 cup of water, and 1 tbsp. of dishwashing soap in a spray bottle. Shake well then spray on the top and underside of the leaves.

White moths

  • Spray the undersides of leaves with a mixture of liquid insecticidal soap and water. Use only when temperature is cool. Apply daily.
  • Crush some egg shells then scatter under plants.
  • Bring 4 cups of water to a boil then add several cloves of garlic. Strain after liquid cools. Add 1 tsp. of liquid soap to the mixture. Spray on leaves and repeat after several days.

Want to know more about Raised Bed Gardens?

You won’t have to worry (only a little) about weeds. Weeds won’t have enough room to grow wild in garden boxes. As you grow (you will grow too) more accustomed to gardening, reading the contents in the back of different products will become a habit. You’ll be amazed by the diverse ingredients some products contain. Some fertilizers are made of actual earthworm castings, oyster shells, and fish bones.

This blog is the first in a series of gardening, specially written for those who haven’t gotten their thumbs green yet. Raised bed gardening is a simple approach, that I hope planted a seed in your mind that will sprout into your own garden soon. Here’s to happy and healthy veggies!

Check back for more garden ideas. When you prepare your next bowl of hot, delicious saimin, you can pluck fresh green onions right from your garden. Those days of saimin without green onions are over!