newbie looking for a little bulb growing info
Sat, 19 Jul 2008 11:12:08 PDT
On 18 Jul 08, at 20:30, Justin Smith wrote:

> Hello,  I am fairly new to this list and with winter growing bulbs from south
> africa. I would like to ask if anyone could spare a little wisdom with me. I am
> disabled and taking care of the many small bulbs in lots of small pots is
> getting me down. I was thinking of making a raised bed and letting nature take
> its course. I live in Woodville, Tx. That small speck on your map of Texas that
> looks more like a printing error. Zone 8b, but just a few miles from 9a. 
> I was thinking that a raised bed would be easier to maintain. I hope that most
> of the winter growing bulbs that I have (mainly glads and moraea) would do well
> enough. We do get some summer rains but a raised bed would be easy to cover. 
> Any thoughts on the subject? 

Raised beds are ideal for small bulbs. I had a large one at my old house, and 
another, smaller one where I am now, but the railway ties I used for walls 
ultimately turned out to be harboring carpenter ants, so they were disposed of 
and now the bed is nicknamed "the burial mound."

When I planned my original raised bed in the mid 1980s, I investigated whether 
to dig out the soil underneath and put in drainage or not. The Scottish Rock 
Garden Club's bulletin turned out to have some excellent advice on the subject. 
The author of the article that guided me pointed out that if your native soil 
is free draining, you don't need any drainage under a raised bed. If, on the 
other hand, it's poorly drained, if you dig it out and put in drainage, all 
you'll have done is create a sump that will fill with water and keep the raised 
bed wetter than it otherwise would be.

I built both my raised beds without installing drainage. (Both sites were, as 
it happens, badly drained.)

If you go to a raised bed, spend some time thinking about the height and width. 
You want it to be comfortable to work out, perhaps, in view of your disability, 
sitting, and you want to be able to easily reach all parts of it.

This may entail sitting in a chair, reaching out with your arm in a comfortable 
position, and having a friend take measurements. If you can access your planned 
raised bed from both sides, it can be twice as wide as your reach.

If mobility is an issue (e.g. you use a wheelchair) it may be wise to pave the 
area around your raised bed.

Be very careful that the walls will not bulge outwards from the weight of the 
soil behind them. This is a particular problem if the bed is situated on across 
a slope.

If the native soil is badly drained, be sure that there is provision at the 
bottom of the walls for excess water to escape.

A good, solid, well-built raised bed won't be cheap, but in my experience if 
you try to cut corners, you will eventually end up having to reconstruct the 
whole thing and the long term cost will be greater than if you build it right 
the first time.

Diane Whitehead described a raised bed divided into square plots with bricks on 
edge. In my own, I divided the area into nominal 10" squares and put markers 
along the walls so I could tell where they were. I even numbered them 
lengthwise and lettered them crosswise, so I could say, for exmaple, that cell 
18C contained Crocus sativus. Some system along these lines is very useful.

If you construct covers for your raised bed (a very wise idea), make sure they 
will not get blown away in a high wind. I used to use huge old windows I'd 
acquired, but to keep off excessive winter wet rather than summer wet. These 
merely rested on cinderblocks perched along the walls, but were additionally 
weighted down with bricks.

Before you go any further, you want to find a source of suitable soil for your 
raised bed. They take more soil to fill than you are liable to have on hand in 
your garden. I can't say if you want a light soil or a heavy one; that depends 
on the type of bulbs you want to grow, and my knowledge of winter-growing South 
Africa bulbs is close to nil.

Opinions differ about whether a raised bed (or any bulb planting for that 
matter) should be overplanted with ground covers or not. Don Elick told me that 
he was opposed to ground covers for two reasons: they depleted the soil of 
nutrients, and by shading the soil in summer prevented the dormant bulbs from 
getting as much soil warmth as they require for good growth.

Don't forget that when you grow a lot of plants in a confined area, you will 
have to fertilize from time to time. Otherwise, plant growth and leaching by 
rain will gradually make the soil less and less fertile. Of course, if you grow 
plants which prefer a lean, infertile soil, no fertilzation would be required.

You may want to divvy up your raised bed into sections that are lean and 
infertile, of modest fertility, and very fertile if you grow a wide range of 

This has been a rather long screed, but if anyone else has remarks to make on 
any of the points in it, don't hesitate to speak up.

Rodger Whitlock
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Maritime Zone 8, a cool Mediterranean climate

on beautiful Vancouver Island

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