When you don't yet have a child, you don't really realize how toddler unfriendly your home is. It takes a pint-size visitor or two to open your eyes enough to see that your backyard homestead could be an infant death trap. I used to be of the rather selfish mind that it was the parent's responsibility to keep their child safe and out of trouble when they visited my house. Now that I'm three months away from having a child of my own all the preconceived notions are melting away.
This all came to light about a month ago when two friends visited, each with a toddler in tow. At 16 months and 11 months each tike presented his/her own set of challenges and backyard dangers. The 11-month-old basically had to be held the entire time he was in our backyard. With a deck too rough and splintery to crawl on and way too much mud and chicken poo in the yard, he had nowhere to go. The 16-month old was thrilled to toddle around after chickens and dogs but I was suddenly hyper aware of the pokey tree branches I used to make pea teepees, the erratic landscaping thanks to chicken dirt bathing holes, tripping hazards in the form of tools and garden hoses everywhere and the uneven winter ground covered in straw and stray pea brambles that forgot to climb. The look on one mom's face when she found chicken poop on her babe's awesome Rainbow Bright-esque shoes said it all. Our lovely backyard homestead was a mother's nightmare. Something had to be done - and quickly before I'm either too large to help or too sleep-deprived to think.
The first problem I could see was that my brilliant lasagna-style no-dig garden beds were just asking to be trampled and tripped upon. When we moved to this house and decided we wanted veggie gardens way more than a lawn, I opted for the no-till method of placing layers of cardboard and compost directly on top of the sod. I knew it would take awhile to amend the soil well enough that it would grow well this way, but it was a start and sure beat buying a truck-load of nice garden soil. It was also a low-investment way to get to know the yard's micro-climates and the sun's path while we were new in the house.
[/caption] What I didn't think about was how disorderly it would make the yard look and how easily accessible it would be to both chickens and dogs. The chickens dig up the seeds, chomp on leaves and scratch the soil all over the place while the dogs tromp through and even occasionally leave me nasty little dog gifts among the edibles (yuck!). The best solution to the issues listed above seemed to be raised beds, particularly now that we've been here two years and I know the seasonal cycles of the space well enough to commit to a design. Here are some of the perks of adding raised beds:
Animal control - not only would a raised bed keep the pups out, it would also be much easier to protect from free-ranging hens, especially if we designed it with some hen protection in mind.
Beauty - Beds would give the garden some shape and make it a little more visually appealing - much more "Sunset Magazine" than "Secret Garden".
Increased sunlight hours - Sunlight hours are an issue in our yard thanks to being packed in so tightly with neighbors. Raising the planting area just two feet offers another hour or so of sunlight for the plants.
Soil friability - Perhaps most importantly, a raised bed would give me the opportunity to really build delicious deep topsoil that wouldn't be easily dug up and scattered by passing chickens.
Ease of use - I didn't even realize this major perk until after the beds were in, but when you're sporting a pregnant belly it's much easier to plant carrot seeds in a raised bed than it is directly into the ground!
Though it would cost a small fortune to build raised beds throughout the entire backyard, we plan on starting with one and adding them as we have the time and money. My husband has known since we moved here that raised beds are the ideal growing condition for small gardens like ours. Not only would they make the gardener (me) happy, but they appeal to his German sense of order. There are set borders and lines and that's the sort of thing that pleases him immensely. After a few weeks of suggesting we get a start on them, I finally told him I'd pay and dig if he'd help me design and build the beds. He was sold. Some measurements, a quick trip to home depot (okay, two), and two grueling days of hard labor later and we had ourselves the first of hopefully several significant raised beds. Hooray! I'll post photos of the finished and filled bed as well as the building process soon! There's no question we still have a lot to learn but I do feel like we're on the right track. What measures have you taken to toddler-proof and/or beautify your gardens?