In the weeks as I dreamed and planned my potager, I debated how much of the actual construction I would do myself. I’m a farm gal, whose father taught her to use tools, so I can build fence and raised beds and even small sheds. Part of me really wanted to do the whole thing myself, so I could savor each moment and feel that sense of achievement that comes with completing a special task. The other part of me was impatient to see the project done in time to actually have some crops this summer.
Finally, I decided that with all of the extra work of closing the farm, and moving all of my property out so the new owners could move in, I’d be lucky to even be able to begin construction until August. So, I called the contractor who built our deck, gazebo, and the master suite addition on our house to explain the project. He agreed to put it on his list, but cautioned that there were several jobs ahead of me, and I’d have to wait my turn. Did I mention that I’m not known for patience? I smiled and nodded, but over the next weeks, I fussed and fumed and told myself I should have just built it myself. Of course, in reality I was so swamped with the farm I didn’t have time to sleep, let alone the energy to build fence.
I did spend time studying the site, adjusting the flags that marked the corners, and watching how the rain flowed through the area. And there was lots of opportunity for that, because it rained and rained. Even if my contractor had the time, the ground was too wet to work.
I spent a lot of time visualizing just how it would look, and dreaming of the bounty of vegetables, herbs, and flowers that I would grow. And I built two big compost bins at the edge of the woods near the pole barn.
I’ve used this same style at the farm for years. It’s simply short walls made of stacked cement blocks with landscape timbers stuck through the holes in the blocks to make a “fence” that forms a rectangle. I am a lazy composter. I don’t turn it, or make special layers of green and brown, so it does take a long time to break down, but it works for me.
While we waited for the rain to stop and the soil to dry out, we set up a work area in the driveway and the contractor began building the raised beds. It was exciting to come home from the farm at night and see the pile of lumber shrinking and the stack of beds growing. Whenever I could, I stained the boards before assembly, because it was a lot easier, but the contractor couldn’t wait on me, so most of the beds were built and I stained them afterwards.
I chose to stain the boards rather than paint, because over time paint chips off and really looks ugly. Stained boards just age and eventually turn silvery, which is fine with me. If I’m still able, I’ll re-stain them when they need it. I chose the lowest VOC stain I could find locally. Some of you will shake your heads and chide me for not obtaining a “food safe” stain. Probably I should have, but over the decades I’ve had raised beds made of creosote, arsenic-treated lumber, painted lumber, “improved” treated lumber and eaten the food grown in all of them, and I’m still alive. Each time, I used what popular magazines and experts suggested, and rebuilt when those same experts sounded the alarm. Chances are, down the road, the stain now touted as “food safe” will end up having something in it that causes something bad. I feel comfortable with my choice.
Finally, the area was leveled and the construction of the fence began. I had debated long and hard over the design of the fence. Traditionally, potagers have stone walls. Too expensive for my budget. Many people use picket fences, but that’s not really my style. Eventually, I decided to have the same fence we used around the deck so it would have a unified look. But, we made it slightly taller so it might help deter deer.
You can see the taller posts center front, where the arbor over the main entrance will be. At that point, with the perimeter defined, the potager felt very small. I worried that it was TOO small.