The Quest for the Perfect Planting Bed

Well, I wanted to start some seeds today, but upon consulting with my Old Farmer’s Almanac, it seems wise to wait another two weeks. Our frost-free date here in Chicago is around April 20th, but this spring is forecasted to be on the cool side. My tomatoes, onions and strawberries should all be started about eight weeks before the frost-free date, and I usually push it by starting them an additional two to three weeks early. But since tomatoes don’t like cold weather, I’m going to do it by the book this year. I want to make sure I can harden them off properly before getting them transplanted in beds.

Which leads me to my next dilemma. The planting beds. I mentioned in a previous post that I had my eye on the Gardener’s Supply Company Self Watering Planting Bed, which is nine square feet of planting space – at $170.00. With the next generation of Apartment Farmer on the way, it doesn’t seem prudent to drop that much cash on the garden. So I decided we could easily build our own with lumber – until I checked out the prices of cedar. $32.00 a board!? Not likely!

I was starting to feel discouraged. I don’t want a row of ugly five gallon buckets or mismatched random containers. I was sitting on the couch, staring aimlessly at the wooden trunks across the room…  the wooden trunks! We picked them up at Ikea years ago. We have two of them, one stacked on top of the other. They were unfinished pine when we picked them up and husband stained them a beautiful honey color. We store our board games in them. Now I’m not about to haul these lovely trunks out to the garden, but does Ikea still sell them?

As it turns out, they sell some trunks that are remarkably similar –

Ours don’t have the white panels, but it’s basically the same trunk. It’s a little over two feet long by a little over one foot wide, and a little over a foot deep. And they’re only $15.00 a piece. So for $60.00, I can purchase four. $60.00 wouldn’t even get me one bed building it myself. The dimensions will work as a planter, so I figure I can drill some drainage holes in the bottom and line them with landscaping fabric to aid in drainage (so the soil won’t clog the drainage holes) and extend the life of the container.

I plan to grow four tomatoes, two cucumbers, two zucchinis, and a pumpkin in these. Now I just have to get out to Ikea in the next month and stock up on them! The garden plan is coming together…

Garden Dreams Versus Garden Reality

Oddly enough, the first snowfall usually gets me to thinking about spring’s garden plans. I like to start my seeds early, and March always comes around more quickly than I think. Plus, I’m a born planner, and making lists is a specialty of mine. And what better list than one for the garden?

Unfortunately, having a deck has really gone to my head. I sat down recently to make my garden wish list, and ended up with a whopping thirty-one items on it –


Blueberry Bushes

Bok Choi


Brussels Sprouts



Cherry Bushes

Columnar Apple Trees


Drying Beans



Green Beans


Hot Peppers





Onions Peas






Sweet Corn

Sweet Peppers



I know, right? I’ve got some pretty wild stuff on there. Clearly I can’t expect to plant all of that! It also doesn’t take into account that I’d like to plant several varieties of a lot of it. But so far, I can only narrow the list down by half! These are the ones I can’t seem to eliminate (along with my justification on how I can include them) –

Basil – This is easy. I can put a pot of basil on the wrought iron etagere, no problem.

Blueberry Bushes – This sounds insane, considering I still don’t have a yard. But I came across a container-friendly variety called Top Hat a few years back, and if I can still get a couple they can live in a few five-gallon pots on the concrete below the deck.

Columnar Apple Trees – This also sounds insane, since I just fessed up to not having a yard and all. But columnar apple trees, as the name indicates, do not branch – the apples grow off spurs on the main stem. If I get two half whiskey barrels, they can live on the concrete, flanking our steps. I think they’d look quite lovely there.



Hot Peppers



The above “crops” I can grow in a Self Watering Planting Bed that I want to get from Gardener’s Supply Company. It’s a $170, but it’s a self-contained nine foot planting bed with a water reservoir and can easily live on the concrete below the deck. Actually, that might be a lot for nine square feet, so maybe the hot peppers will have to live in a few pots, and the leeks… maybe I’ll cut the leeks this year. If I have to choose between kale and leeks, I’d have to go with kale. I think.

Peas – I have a tiny variety of pea called Tom Thumb that can grow in small pots, which I can find a home for on the etagere with the herbs or just placed around the deck.

Potatoes – I intend to grow some fingerlings in a metal trash can (a nice looking one!). It can sit on the concrete with the blueberries. 

Scallions – I can squeeze these onto the perimeter of the planting beds, or in with the pots of tomatoes.

Strawberries – I have a terra cotta strawberry pot that has been vacant for two seasons now. What better home for strawberries than a whole strawberry pot?

Sweet Corn – This is the problem child of the garden this year. The earth box failed to produce anything real (and now houses a few creeping junipers and dwarf spruces anyway). It only accommodates about a dozen plants, which isn’t enough for good pollination. From my reading on the subject, sweet corn in small plantings does the best in a stand of at least four rows deep. I really want to see how my Blue Jade can perform outdoors, because I really think it would be tasty and look great in the garden. If I get a second self-watering planting bed, I can do a whole stand of corn, but since these beds aren’t cheap, if might have to wait until next season. And for those of you that are wondering why I don’t just build my own planting beds, I need something self-contained and really good looking since I plan to plunk it down on what is technically common space on a concrete pad in our apartment complex.

Sweet Peppers – I’m thinking about putting some in the window box that hangs from the deck railing. I could do small bushy ones in the back, and some put some vines and short flowers in the front – decorative, yet half edible (or all the way edible, if I choose the right flower). But if I decide to use that window box for more decorative purposes, I do have room to add another two hanging baskets to our real estate; more if I ask our neighbor to the east if I can use his deck railing, since he doesn’t put plants out – wait! See how quickly I get out of control!? I cannot take over Bill’s deck too. One deck at a time, here…

Thyme – Easy enough to find some small pots for a few different varieties to live on the etagere with the basil.

Tomatoes – I have four hanging baskets that will hang from the deck – I already have the brackets; we just need to install them.

So out of all that, leeks and sweet corn might not make the cut. And I already have a pot of chives, rosemary and a bay tree that will want to live outdoors when the weather gets warm. Fourteen to sixteen new things should be no problem, right? And I’ve certainly got time to agonize over which varieties to settle on, as well as see if I can find some more good deals on planting pots, and watch for a sale on the self watering planting bed.