The Great Raised Bed Debate


I was clearly naive about the number of options for raised beds there were to consider. Long gone are the days when my mother tossed a couple of railroad ties against the hillside and called it a garden. And the cost has changed too!

These gorgeous beds from Naturalyards would have cost well over a

Natrualyards Cedar

Naturalyards Cedar

$1000 to hold the Dirt to Dinner growing plots for each of the kids.  Not quite what we had budgeted for! But if money were no object, these would be the beds for me. They are beautiful, easy to assemble, available in lots of size choices and look like they would last a generation.



I also like the idea of Link-a-Bord bins that would have snapped together.  They are made of all recycled materials.  They are light and easy to construct.  They come with two different depths, both a little shallower than I like for vegetable gardening, but reasonably priced. They still have the nice, neat look that any realtors scanning the neighborhood would approve of.

There were also quite an array of sizes and shapes to choose from. Want a good geometry exercise for the kids?  How many square feet of space do you get with this?

Traingle Raised Beds

Traingle Raised Beds

It’s an equilateral triangle with 7’ sides. Then it has another equilateral triangle on top so you can have that section be twice the planning depth of the large triangle ends, so now you really need to look at the cubic feet,…

When the calculator cooled off, it didn’t make sense to go with the funky shapes, much as I wanted to.

Paver Raised Beds

Paver Raised Beds

Lee Valley had some great kits where you use 16” pavers and their hardware to build beds. These things probably would have survived the next Big One, but somehow concrete and kids and all those nuts and bolts didn’t work for me for this project.  Though I love Lee Valley and the excuse to get some fun tools would have been worth it.

I was hoping to get back to the more natural “wild” look of at least the Natruayards design, if not something onto the other side of that when I came across a post on a gardening chat site that referred to the 600 year-old technology of raised bed design used in English gardens. That’s when I found

Historic Willow Raised Beds

Historic Willow Raised Beds


Modern Willow Raised Beds

Oh yeah. That’s as granola-y as they come.  It’s perfect. Sadly, it’s nearly impossible to find enough Willow that size to make similar boxes today, but the ones we’ll be using in the Dirt to Dinner garden will look something like the modern ones before we seal them with linseed oil, line them and fill them with our garden planting mix.

I’m a little worried that the sticks will need some kind of covering on the top to keep from sticking us, but I’m sure we’ll figure something out.  And we may even weave some of our own versions to see how they compare.

Garden in a Jar

Sprouting Jar

Sprouting Jar

When kids put a seed in the ground, what comes up looks nothing like the seed they started with.  So, to get a bug’s eye view of the sprouting process that usually happens under ground, and to help in the identification of what is going to come up in their garden beds, it’s fun to make a sprouting jar when you are planting your garden bed with seeds.

Take any clear glass or plastic container and line it with a fairly sturdy layer of absorbant paper, like a good paper towel.  Pour an inch or so of water into the jar and let it soak up the paper towel, wetting the towel to the sides of the jar.  Adjust as needed to see that the paper makes good contact with the side of the jar.

As you choose seeds to plant in your seed bed, save one seed of each variety you plant for the sprouting jar.  Using a flat plant label or a popsicle stick, slide the seed down into the jar between the glass and the wet paper towel.

Sprouting Seeds

Sprouting Seeds

Then mark on the outside of the container what you’ve added. I wrote right on the outside of the jar with a permanent marker. At this point it’s also a good idea to tape down the top edge of the paper towel so you don’t accidentally move the seeds away from their labels.

Set the jar in a warm spot where you won’t forget about it and make sure to add water every day so that the paper towel, and the seeds, stay moist.

Day 2

In just 24 hours we already had our first sprout, a radish!

Day 3

Here’s how the radish is looking. And you can also see that the cucumber next door has begun to sprout as well.

Radish Day 3

Radish Day 3

And here is the very beginning of a pea sprout.

Pea Sprout Tip

Pea Sprout Tip


Sprouts are here!

Cucumber Sprout

Cucumber Sprout

Radish Sprout

Radish Sprout

Pea and Bean Sprouts

Pea and Bean Sprouts

Corn Sprout

Corn Sprout

Project Specifics

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The garden is a natural lab that can bring together a wide variety of skills and interests from architecture to poetry with lots of learning in between. This Spring Davis and I will be using the garden as the base for most of our homeschooling activities and testing out many of the projects propsed for Dirt to Dinner classes.  

Here are some further details about projects kids may be invited to try during the Dirt to Dinner class sessions.

Botany will be explored in many different practical, hands-on ways, with additional ideas from Botany on Your Plate. We will examine parts of different kinds of plants, the wide variety of seeds, test different sprouting methods, try growing similar plants under different conditions and other related experiments.

Butterfly or Hummingbird Garden to test which plants and growing patterns attrack which kinds of birds or butterflies.

Compost Science (Chemistry, Physics, Biology) using, among other things, a Scientific Inquiry for High School students program developed at Cornell University.

Ecology with examples from California Academy of Sciences Sustainability Made Simple. We’ll also be looking at food in terms of globalization, fair trade, wise use of available resources, and culture with the support of many additional resources. Kids will also be introduced to Bee Gardening based on the work being done on urban bee gardens at UC Berkeley or the Great Sunflower Project.

Math concepts including number operations, algebra, geometry, measurement, data analysis and probablity will all be part of our garden explorations with further inspiration from Math in the Garden.

Nutrition and Cooking will be covered with careful additions from resources such as the Simply in Season cookbook and What the World Eats. We will also plan service projects around feeding ourselves and others with the help of the staff of the Ceres Project.

New project ideas and individual projects that need a garden home are also welcome.  Join us!

Class Concept Final Draft

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From Dirt to Dinner:

An Exploration of Food, Science and the Natural Rhythms of the Kitchen Garden

Join us for a garden-centered hands-on program learning about food, seasons, life cycles, cooking and nutrition.

Dirt to Dinner will encourage participants to explore full food systems (“seed-to-table”) through both individual and group learning such as compost chemistry and physics, bee gardening, nature journaling, botany trails, cooking service projects, entomology research, food preservation or projects of the participant’s own design.

The goals of the program are to allow participants to:

  • Increase understanding of ecological principles
  • Integrate math, science, language arts and cultural studies through hands-on experiences of their choice
  • Develop an appreciation for where food comes from and how it is grown
  • Experience growing, preparing, eating and sharing healthy, sustainably-raised food
  • Learn about people and communities through the lens of food, its history and world-wide distribution
  • Promote healthy, sustainable living

Learn to make smart choices about food and resources

Group Size  ~8 to 15 kids. Parent participation is welcome.  Registration is due on or before February 14th.

Meeting in Santa Clara near 280 and Lawrence Expressway.

10 meetings, February thru July, to allow us to participate in the Spring growing season.  (A Fall session is also being considered to follow.)

Tuition is $150 per child.  Sibling discount and work exchanges are also offered.

Tentative Schedule

Meetings on Saturday’s 10:00 to 1:00, including lunch

February 28th  March 14th  March 28th  April 11th  April 25th

May 9th  May 23rd  June 13th  June 20th  July 11th

Instructor Bio

Mackenzie Price was born and raised in Southern California.  She always sought out the wild places in her suburban home: building forts in the canyon, playing in the waves or feeding the chickens in her backyard. In high school the weekends would find her rock

Mackenzie Price

Mackenzie Price

climbing or catching some waves.  With a creative approach to education Mackenzie has been a student of the classics at St. Johns College, a student of nature with Sierra Institute (a 2 month long backpacking trip), an intern on an organic farm, a co-creator of a four month backpacking trip and a graduate of RDNA (studying nature awareness and permaculture).  Mackenzie is a part of the Riekes Nature Awareness staff where she works with preteens, teens and expeditions.  She has also worked as a garden instructor for Life Lab at the UCSC farm and garden.  In her free time she loves to cook, play music and get her hands dirty in the garden.  Mackenzie is first aid/CPR and Wilderness First Responder certified. 

Questions?  Email Juli