Text and photos copyright National Lilac Publishing, LLC
by Barbara Berst Adams A version of this article first appeared in Hobby Farms Magazine
The no-till cinder block garden pictured here can be built in an hour or less once you have the materials gathered.
Cinder block gardens for vegetables, herbs and garden fruits are popular for those who don't care to work with nails and hammers, but like strong long-lasting edges around their raised beds. Cinder block gardens have better flexibility for expanding or changing shape than when framing with wood.
The flexibility allows you to start small and reshape or extend the garden little by little. This is especially handy if you're starting your garden as a homesteading project for yourself and family, with plans to eventually expand into market gardening.
Also, the holes in the blocks are great for planting more invasive herb plants that produce highly aromatic leaves and prefer a slightly less fertile soil than most vegetables thrive in. Different soil can be put in the holes than what's used for the inside of the garden bed. And, with the herbs growing inside the hole, their tendency to rapidly spread can be held in check. These herbs can double as bee and other beneficial insect nectar sources. You can also plant marigolds in the holes or other easy-to-grow flowers that are known to deter garden vegetable pests.
Gather your materials: You'll need topsoil or completely finished compost, at least a half dozen layers of newspaper, brown grocery bags, or your favorite weed barrier for the bottom of the garden, either your garden seeds or garden starts, and of course the cinder blocks.
If you use weed barrier, you may want to make sure it's the kind that roots can permeate and earthworms can come up through.
Set out the newspapers, position the cinder blocks, and fill in the center with topsoil or compost. Then, plant your seeds or garden starts, putting taller plants such as staked tomatoes to the north side so they won't eventually shade shorter plants behind them. (Unless you purposely want veggies like summer lettuce to get some shade during the growing season.)
Fill in the cinder block holes either with topsoil, or a less rich combination of topsoil and organic potting soil if you're planting herbs that do better with less fertility. (Potting soil is often devoid of most nutrients). Plant your herbs or other plants in the holes.
Another alternative to planting in the cinder block holes is to buy flat concrete toppers made to perfectly fit the blocks. These cover the holes so no weeds can come up through them, and they make a nice place to sit while weeding or harvesting.