Use raised beds to grow vegetables
The best way to grow vegetables in northwest Arkansas is to put in raised beds, master gardener Tony LiCausi said. Two years ago, he put in his own raised beds in a backyard filled with flowers, rose bushes and terraces.
The soil, he explained, isn’t deep enough without the beds. The cheapest way to build them is probably to use 2 by 12s. Some people use 2 by 10s, but the extra two inches gives the garden lip to help hold the soil in place. Beds can be made out of cinderblocks, manufactured stone, read stone or even hay bales. Don’t use wood that’s been chemically treated, like railroad ties.
Even before you build your beds, look at the ground to see what is already growing there, he advised. If you have Bermuda grass, you need to kill it before you build your beds. Unwanted Bermuda can be tough to kill, he warned. It might take a year to prepare your yard for a garden bed, he said.
The beds can be four feet wide if you can work from both sides. They can be lined with gardening fabric or, if you’re fighting to keep out Bermuda grass, line them with corrugated cardboard. Some people use heavy black plastic to line their beds, but LiCausi prefers a fabric that will let water escape.
Next comes the soil. “You want a good sandy loam,” he said. Mix the loam half and half with compost. Most people will probably purchase both loam and compost and will need at least a pickuptruck load of each. Once his soil is in place, LiCausi covers it with a quarter inch layer of cornmeal which is a natural fungicide. Finally, a quarter inch layer of volcanic sand is added.
Winter is the time to build up soil, he said. He has his own compost piles and adds compost in the winter. Others might buy composted manure. He also plants a cover crop, usually something like rye or oats, and works it into the soil in the spring. That adds nitrogen to the soil, he said. He only tills lightly because, if undisturbed, macro-organisms like worms or grubs will aerate the soil better than a tiller.
The best way to water your vegetable beds is drip irrigation, LiCausi said, explaining that it’s not as difficult to set up a system as people believe. Adding water at soil level means the leaves don’t get splashed and plants respond well.
LiCausi also has a fence around his garden. The fence keeps the deer out, but nothing will keep out a raccoon, he said. He battles the raccoons by sprinkling almost ripe fruit with Cayenne pepper.
LiCausi’s garden is organic and he only adds specific fertilizers where they are needed. For example, he knows growing onions requires extra nitrogen. He also uses an organic fertilizer on tomatoes.
His plants are always mulched, usually with straw. Mulch keeps weeds out and moisture in. Shredded leaves can be used, but they must be shredded. Whole leaves mat and hold water, forming a breeding ground for insects. Straw and shredded leaves will naturally decompose.
A small greenhouse lets Tony LiCausi get a headstart on the season for both his flowers and his vegetables.
Master gardener Tony LiCausi grows vegetables in his raised beds which overlook the Dogwood Golf Course in Bella Vista.