Air Date: Week of April 14, 2000
Steve Curwood visits with Brenda Sanders, host of the public television series Oklahoma Gardening, to learn about growing vegetables and flowers in raised beds.
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And with me now is Brenda Sanders. She's host of Oklahoma Gardening. And we're in the middle of your garden here, on the campus of Oklahoma State University. Hi, Brenda.
SANDERS: Hi, Steve.
CURWOOD: Well, we're here because we do our gardening segments very often out of the Boston area, where Living on Earth is based. And seasons are different in different parts of the country. And soils are different. In fact, there's a lot different. And we thought that by coming by and talking to you, we'd get some insights for folks who live a little further south and with different kinds of soils. So let's first talk about soil. Now of course, in New England, we mostly have rocks. But in between the rocks we have (laughs) actually some pretty nice humus. But here, I see what you have is, well, a lot of clay is what you've got here.
SANDERS: Yes. In Oklahoma, even in Oklahoma the soil will differ, but large parts of Oklahoma have a nice, thick, red clay, or sometimes it's more of a brown clay. But it is a very thick soil. And we have a lot of problems with drainage, and also in the summer it can get very dry and then our soil just dries out. It's hard to grow things in that type of a soil.
CURWOOD: And it blows away. Those of us from out East will think that when things get dry in Oklahoma, things are really tough.
SANDERS: Well, if there's not vegetation on top of that soil, then it starts to blow. But as long as you've got some vegetation there, which is why we like to keep something on top of the soil, then it won't blow.
CURWOOD: So, Brenda, what's the secret? How do you cope with all this clay in the soil?
SANDERS: Well, there are several things that you can do. One of the things that we like to recommend is to use raised beds. And this is good for two reasons. It allows you to add more soil amendments to the soil. You have it perched up there. And the other thing is, it helps in seasons when we get a lot of rain, because we can have times when we have a lot of rain, and then we have no rain. And so, if the water table is perched because you've got a raised bed, then you don't have to worry about your drainage so much.
CURWOOD: So we're here in your garden, and I see there are four pretty good-sized raised beds here. Say, how tall are these? It looks like, oh, maybe seven, eight, nine inches tall. And they're probably, oh, maybe 20 feet, 30 feet long, almost, and about two feet across. What do you like to put in these?
SANDERS: We like to grow a lot of vegetables in these. Also, some of our vining crops, vining vegetables, are very good in here. Pretty much anything, whatever we need space for, we've grown it in here. We like to rotate our crops around, so that we're not always growing the same thing in these beds. We might have our tomatoes here one year, and then we'll have our cantaloupe or something like that here.
CURWOOD: Let's take a step over here, where you've already started a few things. What do we have coming up?
SANDERS: Oh, this is our garlic bed. I love growing garlic. And the garlic works very well in a raised bed, because it's real important to have some good drainage here. And so, we planted this last fall, and have it mulched here, and it's doing very well.
CURWOOD: And I'll taste one if you taste it. (Both laugh)
SANDERS: Well, it's not quite time to harvest it yet.
CURWOOD: Not quite ready, huh? (Laughs) We'll have to wait a little bit longer. I just know that one of us can't do anything.
SANDERS: That's right.
CURWOOD: So what else will you put in these beds, in the other parts, this year?
SANDERS: We're getting ready to plant a lot of our warm season vegetables. And we'll be putting in some tomatoes and some peppers, and we're also going to be growing a lot of heirloom vegetables this year. We have. . . one of our theme gardens this year is an heirloom vegetable garden that we're going to be working with and seeing how the vegetables do in Oklahoma.
CURWOOD: So, which heirlooms do you have in mind? Some tomatoes, I bet.
SANDERS: We're going to have quite a few tomatoes. We're also going to be growing some heirloom peppers, and I've got some sweet corn picked out, and a lot of bush beans and things like that.
CURWOOD: So, what do you put in the bed? Topsoil? And then how about some energy, some nutrients for it? What do you put in for that?
SANDERS: We use a lot of compost in our beds here, and one thing that we recommend with the extension service is taking a soil test before you add anything, so that you're not adding nutrients that you don't need. We find a lot of times, with the compost that we put in, that we don't have to add any extra nutrients. It just depends on what plant we're growing.
CURWOOD: Now, people think raised beds, they think a lot of work. Is this true?
SANDERS: No. The work comes when you're actually putting the bed in. But once you've got the raised bed built, it actually makes gardening easier. It's easier to reach, it's easier to weed, and, you know, you've got a defined space that you're working with.
CURWOOD: If the bed is eight or nine inches high, do you have to dig down into the soil underneath that? Or is that enough soil to grow what you need to grow?
SANDERS: Well, usually, what we'll do is we'll loosen that soil underneath, but we don't necessarily have to, like, take it out and put other soil in. We'll just loosen that up good, and then we'll come in with topsoil or compost and fill the rest of the bed.
CURWOOD: Some places I've seen, particularly at some nursing homes, I've seen the beds just right up at three, four feet. This is so people in wheelchairs can get at them.
SANDERS: Yes. We actually built some beds that were accessible that way. And it really is nice -- people in wheelchairs and older people, you don't have to bend so much. And even for us, you know, it's nice to be able to just sit on the edge of the bed and garden, and then get up, instead of having to be bent over on your hands and knees.
CURWOOD: So the advantages of raised beds are, it may be more work to get started, but it helps you if you have to make a lot of soil amendments, because you have a lot of clay here. It hangs onto the water if you're going to go through really long, dry spells. And it's easier to get at the plants.
SANDERS: Yes, it's very good. We highly recommend them.
CURWOOD: (Laughs) Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us today. Brenda Sanders hosts Oklahoma Gardening on Oklahoma Educational Television. For how many years now?
SANDERS: Well, this is the 25th year on the air for Oklahoma Gardening, and my fourth year as host.
CURWOOD: Well, congratulations.
SANDERS: Thank you.
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