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August 23, 2016

HOW I BECAME A GARDENER'S SUPPLY COMPANY, RAISED CEDAR BED FANBOY



Call it lurking, or call it stalking (OK, maybe this verged closer to stalking), but hey, I'm man enough to admit it. Plus, this is a true story.

It all began two years ago when I purchased a couple of these Elevated Raised Cedar Planter Boxes from Gardener' Supply Company.  You probably know that we have multiple gardens here, some are raised beds - those which sit on the ground, and then we keep loads of containers which contain tomatoes, peppers and ornamentals, but given my schedule, and lack of time to weed, I've been looking into more and more raised beds - the sort which are truly elevated (bending over is highly over-rated!).

I should also mention, that with me, aesthetics count - they have to look nice. 

I had no intentions ever of writing a blog review on this product, or to represent a product like this, but something happened. I ordered a new style of raised bed from the Vermont based garden retailer Gardener's Supply a couple of years ago, and fell in love with the product so much, that I then bought another one the following year.

I should also preface this post with my interpretation of this 'not-so-sponsored-post' - the lines are blurred in my book when it comes to writing about a product which I  already used, and one which I believed in so much, that I made the effort (stalked) the distributor myself, seeing if I could review it.  So yes, it was I who contacted Gardener's Supply - gushing about this product, and it was I who offered to write about it. And know this - it took some work for me to convince them that I should review one for them. It was mid to late season already, and they were already focusing on holiday concerns. 

Even so, as one of my designers at work said to me "Why are you putting so much effort into this? Isn't this that catalog that sells ladies gardening gloves with pretty flowers and the matchy matchy rubber boots?"). "Yeah -  that one", I replied.

I don't even really know why I was trying so hard to reach them, but it just became 'a thing' with me. Call it bruised ego, or uber effort on my part, either way, I really like this thing, and felt the need to not only recommend it, I wanted to experiment with a few new ways to use it (like - for wintering over alpines and primroses, which I expect will appeal to very few of you, but, to those of you who care about raising such things as auricula primroses, this product may be the greatest discovery of the decade.


The dogs rest in the corrugated boxes that our latest raised bed arrived in from Gardener's Supply.

I've been casually consuming from Gardener's Supply Co. for about 20 years now and for those of us who garden, they fill a niche selling training devices, trellis' and things like tomato boxes. At least, that's what I order from them - they do carry many more products ranging from seasonal garden supplies, to seasonal gifts (like flowered gardening gloves and matchy waterproof colorful boots which, my sister really wants).  Not to mention that the company seems pretty great to work for. Socially responsible, every employee is an owner - a good-corporate citizen, which I can appreciate. It's a company with good values.

I ordered my first Elevated Cedar Planter Box in the spring of 2012, intending to use it for tomatoes. I had been using their plastic tomato growing boxes for years, to reduce soil borne disease and virus' especially for tomatoes and peppers, but they never really looked that nice on the deck, but when I saw these raised beds with straight sides and straight legs, everything changed. Actually, every changed once I ordered one and saw how well it looked in the garden, and the quality of the product.

Mini tomatoes ('Geranium') and Shishito peppers still producing lots of fruit in one of my elevated cedar beds. Not all raised beds are created equal - these have deep beds for solid root run, and straight sides which are deep enough for one to raise root crops if one wants to.

I vowed to convert most of my kitchen garden raised beds into these elevated beds, keeping longer rows of more useful high-crop vegetables such as beans, potatoes and corn  for a tilled garden out back. For things like kitchen tomatoes, herbs, fast salad crops which need to be steps from the kitchen door, these are perfect, they are convenient, keep the weeds and virus' at bay, and they look great - but beyond that, I am finding that these elevated beds are more useful off-season - for quick crops of greens, winter veggies and even for winter culture and care - primroses, alpine plants in pots, and even for propagation. With the addition of the cold frame top, these prove to be very useful in providing the perfect conditions for starting seeds of species which require winter stratification - which includes many tree, shrub, woodland, alpine and perennial species such as those made available in winter seed exchanges from NARGS (North American Rock Garden Society) and other alpine clubs.

Assembly is quick an easy with these beds, but that doesn't mean that they are not constructed with well tooled materials.

Here are some facts --  these beds are very deep, nearly 20 inches,  which makes for more consistent soil temperature both in the spring, as well as in the autumn and winter. They are available in a few sizes, but the larger size is nice a big at 8 feet long. I can hardly find anything wrong with them (aside from the price for the soil-less mix or potting soil needed to fill them with). One will need two bales of Pro Mix BX to fill one of these, so factor that into your expected cost. The actual cost of the beds themselves is around $275.00  if you order one ''in-season', (they are on sale right now for a limited time for $237. Not unreasonable in my book, since the cedar wood and aluminum alone would cost nearly that much, but the straight lines make the entire purchase totally justifiable). I've spent money on crazier things.

You will only need a screwdriver, a mallet and an extra hand when assembling these beds.



We've been able to cut the assembly time down to about 20 minutes!


One of Daphne's puppies wanted to help.


Every detail makes a difference.


Not filled with soil, it is a little coffin-like!

To sum it up, this bed, in my opinion, is better than any other bed I have tried, (mostly those set into or on  the ground). It is not only attractive, but well designed, and of the highest quality, and it has the potential for multiple garden uses - not just for the home vegetable gardener who wants to grow tomatoes and peppers, but for one who may wish to raise a winter crop of veggies. More importantly, this bed offers a new way to garden for those of you interested in raising things like scented violets, auricula primroses and alpine plants - all old fashioned cold frame or alpine house plants which historically have been difficult to impossible to raise in America.






I shared with Gardener's Supply the many ideas I have for this bed.  I wrote about the types of posts I wanted write, and I shared how my past crops (which included napa cabbage, chinese cabbage, turnips, lettuce, pansies, english daisies and sweet peas) were so successful. I did this not because I wanted a free bed to write about but because I was seeing other posts on other blogs which were really fine, but which were tended to be more conventional - showing freshly planted tomato seedlings, or kale plants from a cell pack planted with marigolds. All perfectly acceptable treatments, but not really demonstrating the depth of projects which could be practiced by a more engaged plant person. My point was - that I could see this bed used in many ways, some more useful than just a bed in which one could raise tomatoes or kale.

I was most interested in the available item which enhanced this bed - the cold frame top, an effective tool that could allow one to raise more than early spring starts, but also winter crops, and I felt that it could replicate an alpine house for those of us who needed that sort of tool. I also shared how I had recently used the bed to winter over my own collection of alpine plants, and how, if they offered me their new accessory of the cold frame top. that I could probably test this product as a device where serious gardeners could winter over their own alpines, or use it to start alpine seeds from the winter seed exchanges.  Again, my approach here was to expand the use of this product beyond the use of it as simply a summer raised bed for basil, tomatoes and beans. It could really be a useful too for the more serious gardener who may not have the luxury of owning a greenhouse.

Young heirloom Spotted Trout Back lettuce this past spring. These were sown in February,

In the end, they responded, I now have another bed, (and buying my 5th this week along with another cold from top). 

WHAT YOU WILL NEED TO PURCHASE FOR WINTER CROPS

If you want to follow along with me this fall and winter as I order seeds plants and more boxes, here is exactly what I will be using:

Consider purchasing any of the various sizes and models of these square-sided Elevated Raised Beds found at this link. The version I have are the 2' x 8' Elevated Cedar Raised Bed on sale now for $237.89. but there are other sizes available. If you don't have a greenhouse, these will allow you to raise greens throughout the winter, and if you have ever wanted to raised alpine primroses like those seen in England, I know these will be perfect for that too - just set the pots into sand or a fast draining mix, with the cold frame top, and they will survive even the coldest winter - for remember - it's not the cold that kills these plants, it's the winter wet. I'll outline all of that in a future post when I set mine in for the winter.

Seedlings waiting to be planted in raised beds this past May.

If you are interested in raising some of the winter vegetable crops I am growing, I suggest getting, a Row Shelter Accelerator, which sells for around $16.95 each (less, since I ordered 2), which will help keep cabbage butterfly and other crop pests off of my Napa cabbage and arugula which I will be raising. After our first frost, I can remove this, or keep it on to extend the season in the raised bed. You can also use a floating row cover from Johnny's Seeds, or from another source. The goal here is to create a micro environment, that can keep insects off your Cole crops, and then eventually protect crops from severe cold, which may require the cold frame top.

THE CEDAR COLD FRAME ACCESSORY

A key item which you will need especially if you want to winter over primroses or alpine plants in pots, is the Cedar Cold Frame, which fits on top of these 2 x 8' beds. I'll be sharing photos of it soon. I am so happy that they have added this, since last year I used a piece of ridged poly vinyl which worked well as a 'kit bash', but these new covers designed to fit tightly over the beds will be ideal. 

It will protect my potted alpines and seed trays which you may set into the soil to winter over without damage from snow, rain and winter wet, or it will help create a warmer, protected environment for cold-growing winter vegetable crops, or for protecting winter crops of biennials which have been started now in August, with the intent to set them out in the early spring for bloom - like pansies, English Daisies and foxgloves. You must be doing that!

Dwarf and mini lettuce like these Salanova oak and bibb type remain small and bolt slowly, perfect for raised beds.

I ordered my seed from Johnny Selected Seeds. More on those later, but I ordered kales, lettuces and arugula along with Napa cabbage (order dwarf varieties). These are all fall crops which should be sown in the next week or two including Napa or Chinese cabbage, arugula for the fall, turnips, rutabaga, spinach and lettuce. If you are wondering why I prefer miniature varieties, it's because they perform very nicely in containers, and although I realize that 'mini veggies'  may sound odd, they are what most European gardeners already know as 'premium size',  and I guarantee that you've already been buying some of these varieties at your local luxury market.

Earlier this summer, these two beds were full of veggies and now I am moving onto phase two. Can you believe that the zucchini is a dwarf mini one? See how large it is?

As for cabbage, I am planting  a dwarf variety of Chinese cabbage called 'Minuet', a mini Napa cabbage from Johnny's Selected Seeds, which I have raised in the past as a fall and winter crop which was great for kimchi and fresh eating. The heads were about 10 inches tall which isn't that tiny, and really - there is nothing as yummy as home grown Napa cabbage. Trust me. Kimchi will be on the menu this winter.

Even though the zucchini is dwarf, the fruit was full sized and we had plenty.

Plan on investing another $70 - $80 for good quality soil - I use ProMix BX, and these 2 - 8 containers will need two bales each. Of course, you can certainly use a peat free mix of your choice, but I highly recommend ProMix because most greenhouses and professional growers use it for that very reason - it simply is the best and I have never found a good substitute. However, a good peat-free mix which I would use if I could find it locally is Biocomp, which is made primarily with composted peanut shells.

I will be sowing seeds later this week, and as my current crops mature, I will be converting my other raised beds into these crops. Stay tuned!





































1 comment :

  1. I have used these Garden's Supply raised beds (the 2' X 8' ones, like yours') for two years now. I like them, as well. I also have the cold frame covers, for both. I don't use a soiless mix, I use a highly nutritious raised bed soil, amended with manure, compost and other organic additives. I've grown just about everything in them, and am on my third succession crops now. In April, I used them, outfitted with the cold frame tops to start many veg, ornamental perennial, and annual seedlings and to harden off hundreds of seeds started under Gardener's Supply three level grow light set up (also excellent). I just laid the trays of seedlings on top of the soil and potted them on and grew them up a bit before planting out into beds for the season. Started with bush sugar snaps, bush french harticort verts, tons of tumbling tom tomatoes, a quite large and very tasty planting of carrots, quite a few different types of lettuces, and more.

    I have two complaints with the product, or rather, the cold frames built for it: to use the cold frame, one has to put it together and leave it on because it is unstable when removed due to the metal 'legs' --the cold frame can't just sit on the ground without torquing the boards. So one has to dismantle it, and this will compromise the screw holes, etc. I live in the northeast and I don't plan to use the beds from October through about April, due to snow load. And I wish they sold a fitted cover, large enough to protect all of the cedar wood boards and fitted with some arched hoops built in to keep snow/water from accumulating on top.

    I'd be very interested in hearing your ideas for less conventional uses for these raised beds.

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