by Mimi Hedl
With Michaelmas Day fast approaching, the mid-point of winter when “half our hay and half our wood should still remain,” I checked my to-do list. I still hadn’t made the raised beds for the culinary garden. That garden has twelve beds that measure 32-inchest wide by 48-inches long, and four beds 48-inches wide by 72-inches long. When designing the garden, twenty-seven years ago, I wanted that garden, the Medicinal and Brother Cadfael’s, to have formal beds. The other gardens, the Cottage, Butterfly, Meditation, Death and Entrance would have looser boundaries. Back then I admired the organized beauty of English gardens, especially the monastic herbal gardens, hence Cadfael’s. I think even now I’d want some order, though perhaps not as much. A different time, a different woman.
Ron made the beds out of lumber we’d salvaged from old barns and chicken houses we’d tear down. We both admired the look of this old wood, with many years of service left in most pieces. What didn’t merit a new life, became cook wood that produced delicious cornbread and baked beans, apple pies and canned tomatoes. Ron used nails to fasten the boards, I use screws. The screws come out more easily if I have to replace one of the four partners. I also use 2x4s instead of 1x4s. That means the beds weigh twice as much, but they last longer too.
A day came along that seemed perfect for cutting the lumber for the beds. After assembling my tools, Skillsaw, square, pencil, tape measure, ear plugs, clamps and saw horses, I headed down to the hay barn where I have my lumber yard. I need wood for five replacement beds.
I love my lumber yard. I save wood of all sizes and shapes and I organize the piles too. In fact, whenever I pull out a piece of wood, I move around other pieces if I see something out of place. A piece of cedar mixed in with the oak, pine mixed in with the treated lumber … You could call it dithering or nitpicking, I call it fun. I used to ask my mother if I could arrange her spice shelf, and would clean everything out and put it back together in some sort of order. It didn’t stay that way long, but then I could do it again. When we’d cut our winter supply of wood, Ron would holler at me in the woods, “There you go, neatening up the woods. Come help me pull this log out.” I confess. It seems silly, but I feel compelled to do this sort of senseless work. I don’t have control over much, but I can establish some sort of order for some short period.
The supply of 2x4s has dwindled. I ‘ll have to ask Mark to ask his Uncle Henry, who has a sawmill, to let me buy some of the old 2x4s in his barn. A woman has to have her 2x4s after all. I find some shorter pieces, under 30-feet long, some under 48 feet. I can make them work.
I carry the lumber back to my saw horses and measure, mark and cut. When I have all the pieces for the five beds cut, I then cut 20 pieces for corner braces. I’ll screw into the corner braces instead of into the ends of the 2x4s. They have more strength that way.
It took one short paragraph to say what I did, but it took me one day, including a short nap, and lunch, of course, to complete this chore. The next day, I carried all the pieces, in separate piles, onto the summer kitchen. (Thirty-five degrees seems way too cold to do delicate work outside.)
Since I have variable lengths of wood, I have to calculate where I’ll put the brace pieces for each bed. I become a bit confused. I haven’t established order yet, and will end up having to take the screws
out of the first 3 beds, and reassemble them correctly. The last two went together easily and quickly, like I knew what I did.
This work tires me. Drilling holes for 3 ½-inch decking screws into old oak would not qualify as fun. After all these years of using an electric, old-school drill where you can see fire inside the motor, has not made me an expert. I still have a slight tilt to my holes, with no one nearby to tell me, “away from you” as I prepare to drill another hole. No matter. The screws will hold the beds together and no one will know about the sexy tilt.
I put three beds together in a long day, exhausted at the end of the day. While the last two I put together in less than 2 hours and I felt terrific. It really does help when you know your craft. As I finished each bed, I hauled it out to the deck, and then down the steps to rest against the white oak. I’ll need my sled to haul them out to the Park. And one bed per trip. (A nice aside: each bed cost me the price of 20 decking screws, at 10-cents apiece, $2. Not bad for a raised bed with history and texture in its soul.)
Some day in early spring, I’ll go out to the Culinary with tape measure, shovel, wheel barrow and level. I’ll have to dig around the bed to make way for the new bed, a futzy job but pleasant enough when the sun shines. With the flowering quince eradicated from the space of the fig trees, new beds for the culinary herbs, I feel like I have a brand new Easter outfit, ready for spring.