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Janis Schram turned her traditional garden into raised beds, which are much easier to access.

Gardening made easier and more organized, regardless of soil

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Janis Schram is a gardener through and through.

Growing up on a farm, she gardened with her family out of necessity. Now she does it for the fresh produce and the pure enjoyment of being outside in the dirt.

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“I love to dig in the soil. I just love the smell of soil,” she said.

She reads through any gardening magazines she can find, and enjoys not only the physical labor of gardening, but also the science behind it.

“I’m always experimenting and reading, the geeky stuff on growing,” she said with a laugh.

When she and her husband, Gerry, moved to their rural Detroit Lakes home, she located her garden best, it was the best soil on the land. After years of successful gardening, she decided to take her traditional garden and turn it into something more user friendly — raised beds.

“It’s easier. I’m not getting any younger,” she said with a laugh. “There are hardly any weeds and you’re not dependent on soil because you can put whatever you want in them.”

So she saw raised beds in a magazine and decided to give it a try.

The Schrams had taken the deck off their house, so she used the boards to have some beds built. In the spring of 2009, she had a couple made and liked them so much that the following fall, she had several more made.

She now has a total of 11 raised beds and still maintains a large area of raspberries. She also has a large flowerbed to greet visitors and several large pots full of flowers around the house.

The heights of her raised vegetable garden beds vary from a few inches to a few feet. The tall ones, she said, are first layered with chunks of wood and then covered with soil. There’s no need to have that much soil since the vegetables don’t grow that far down, she said.

Several of the beds are long, but they are only wide enough so that she can reach to the middle of them to plant and weed. She said it’s nice having the separate beds because she doesn’t have to worry about paths between rows of planted produce.

Some of Schram’s beds have fences built into them for her climbing produce like cucumbers and peas.

To get an early start on some of her veggies, like lettuce and onions, Schram uses a hoop house, similar to a mini high tunnel, to “start lettuce so it can start growing way ahead of time.” The sun warms the tunnel and keeps the cold out, growing the produce.

She gets the seeds started even earlier indoors in front of the patio door, she added.

And with the early start, she and her husband have been eating lettuce for weeks already, and her onions are about to harvest.

“I compost and use peat moss mulch with grass clippings and leaves just to keep the moisture in.”

Careful to keep her garden viable, Schram rotates her vegetables every three years to prevent disease.

Outside her beds, she has paths with wood chips down, making the garden look clean and fresh at all times.

With an abundance of produce for only two people, Schram said she gladly gives away what she and her husband can’t eat or what she doesn’t freeze or can for the winter.

And for the items she doesn’t plant, she said she happily supports farmers markets. She also likes to support roadside stands with corn on the cob and such.

The benefits of growing her own vegetables are numerous. She said society has gotten so far removed from what they eat that some have no idea where it even comes from anymore — other than the shelves of the grocery store. She’s happy to dig into the origins of her food though.

“Not only is it good and healthy, you get to be outdoors,” she said.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.

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