Happy Spring! Ideas for a sustainable backyard garden

Posted by Renee Magyar on March 20, 2013

Renee Magyar offers ways to augment a backyard garden with juniper raised beds.

Juniper garden beds built from timbers available at Sustainable Northwest Wood

The light is returning and temperatures are creeping up in Portland, Oregon. For those of us who enjoy getting our hands dirty in the the backyard, thoughts are turning to gardening. If you are like me, you are already planning where to put the creeping winter squash and trying to wait patiently for the soil to be dry enough to turn. In my SE Portland neighborhood, clay is predominant and until late May maintains a persistent seige against any threat of its water logged world being turned upside down. While the sodden clay may inspire some to try their hand at pottery, I prefer to not engage the opponent. Instead, I choose to build up.

It takes time and effort to create a durable raised bed planter, so gardeners and landscapers want a product that will last. Until recently, treated wood was the only option that met this need. Pressure or creosote treated wood may stand up to the elements, but these also leach arsenic and other toxic chemicals into the soil - not ideal for aspiring organic gardeners. Now there is an alternative that does not require the use of harsh chemicals - juniper. The oils in the tree make the wood naturally resistant to decay and insect infestation. And the trees are sourced locally from eastern Oregon grassland restoration projects.

Although juniper is native to Oregon, it has become highly invasive as a result of decades of fire suppression. Native grasses now compete with juniper for limited water supplies. There is widespread agreement that the selective removal of juniper through restoration projects benefits ranchers and small mills and is slowly restoring eastern Oregon's natural grasslands and water tables. One of the local mills that turns this 'restoration wood' into durable exterior products was recently featured on OPB's Earthfix blog.

Sustainable Northwest Wood stocks a variety of juniper timbers that are ideal for building a raised bed. Or, depending on your needs, you could also use juniper decking to build a mini retaining wall.

Once your raised bed is filled with a well-drained soil or compost blend, your seedlings will enjoy dry feet in their new highrise home. And you can feel good about building an environmentally friendly structure from sustainably sourced wood from a local mill. Juniper smells great too!