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Home & Garden: A garden of raised beds adds to the beauty

LaVerne Wetzstein has enjoyed gardening since her childhood days.

While walking my dog through one of West Fargo's alleys, I discovered a backyard that had numerous raised garden beds. It is the home of LaVerne Wetzstein and her son, Don. LaVerne, her late husband, Frank, and their family are long-time residents of West Fargo, living in this home which her father helped build, since 1957. LaVerne has been a gardener since childhood, but has passed the spade on to Don.

The Wetzstein's backyard is completely enclosed with a cedar fence to keep out the bunnies. About three years ago, Don began building raised beds, setting them next to the south and west side fences and directly behind the house. He constructed the beds with stacked 2 by 4' fir boards so they are not only sturdy, but attractive as well. Several of the one foot high beds are 8 feet by 5 feet, but some are larger and some smaller. The corner beds have angled ends to fit into the space. He plans to make two more beds so that they can plant squash, but Mom says no corn.

Don filled the beds with compost from the Fargo compost site. He never has to till or hoe this soil and picks all weeds by hand. Each fall he covers the beds with leaves, holding them in place with wire fencing. He rakes the leaves off in the spring and is ready to plant. The leaves come from a large American elm in the southeast corner that somehow survived the Dutch elm disease infestation that took most West Fargo elms. An area between the lawn and the beds is filled in with cedar chips and everything is bordered with bullet shaped cement bricks.

Don has gone to all organic gardening and goes by the bible, 'The Vegetable Gardeners Bible' by Edward Smith. He starts seeds under lights in his basement for most of the plants. One hundred zinnias seedlings came up this year and he found a place to plant all of them. No pesticides are allowed in the garden or yard. He collects rainwater in four large garbage cans for all of his watering needs.

Just behind the house there is a very large bed (about 4' x 15') filled with tomato plants that must be 7 feet tall. Don put coffee cans around the stems to keep out cutworms and placed the tallest tomato cages available around each plant. The variety this year is 'Big Boy.' There are a few cherry tomato plants that are equally tall in another bed. LaVerne claims that planting marigolds near tomatoes keeps the bugs away. They change the location of the tomatoes every three years.

One bed contains only onions, two beds are filled with bush beans, and two have cucumbers. Don has staked the cukes so that the vines will climb and enclosed them in a fence to keep them off the lawn, and to try to keep the squirrels out. He also grows beets and a few cabbages. When I walked by earlier in the summer, there was a beautiful bed full of lettuces and spinach. Just before I came to take pictures, he had pulled all of these plants out, as the hot weather was too much for them.

The vegetable gardens are green and lush, but there is no lack of color. LaVerne has potted up many containers with an assortment of flowers. In addition, filling some beds are all those bright zinnias and marigolds.