Cook Products Handy Bed Review

Review: Cook Products Handy Bed Raised Garden Bed

handy bed

If you have ever tried your hand at any sort of gardening outdoors, you have probably noticed at some point or another that a lot of people tend to use raised beds for certain crops (or even their entire gardens). Raised beds are great solution to many of the problems gardeners often face when trying to grow things.

One of the most common reasons gardeners will choose to use a raised bed over planting directly in the ground is because the soil below is less than satisfactory. It is often easier to fill a raised bed with a quality mix than it is to try and till in amendments to existing soil. A few other reasons many gardeners consider raised beds is for the convenience of planning and separating plants, as well as being able to position your raised bed in a better location in your yard.

Unfortunately, the problem with most raised beds is that they can be very costly to build when done properly, and can take a considerable amount of time and effort. More recently I have noticed hardware stores offering kits with precut wood sections to build your own raised beds, but these kits are generally very expensive, and still require a good deal of construction – if you are looking for a simple solution this is not the answer.

This is where the Cook Products “HandyBed” comes in to play. I first noticed the HandyBed on a small online gardening group a while back and was instantly intrigued by what I saw – unlike other kits that I had seen on the market, the HandyBed was an all vinyl construction, and was far cheaper than the cedar kits being offered at many hardware stores.

After a bit of research, I decided I wanted to give the HandyBed a shot and see what it had to offer over conventional home built raised beds or cedar based pre-cut kits. There are many sizes offered by Cook Products, but for the purposes of this review I will be talking about the 2’ x 2’ square model. For more information and purchasing check the following product links below:

Cook Products Handy Bed – 2′ x 2′ x 6″

Cook Products Handy Bed – 4′ x 4′ x 6″

Unboxing

Before even opening the box, my first impressions upon receiving the Handy Bed in mail were that the box was much lighter than I was expecting, and also much smaller. This made sense of course, considering that the model I received was the two-foot square bed. Everything is packed tightly inside the box, and nothing was rattling around. Below you can see everything that comes inside the box:

Everything in the box, including hardware and instructions.

Everything in the box, including hardware and instructions.

Inside the box you will find four wall panels, four corner brackets for holding everything together, and a bag of white screws that match the color of the bed. The walls of the handy bed are very lightweight due to being hollow inside, but are still very rigid as they have two “ribs” inside to prevent the walls from being compressed inwards. Another welcome feature is the tongue and groove connections at the top and bottom of the panels, which will allow you to stack multiple beds together securely. Below you can see the interior structure of the walls and the tongue and grooves:

A view of the interior panel structure and tongue and groove connectors.

A view of the interior panel structure and tongue and groove connectors.

Assembling The Bed

Assembly of the Handy Bed is fairly straightforward, but will require some tools. The bed is held together by four pre-drilled corner brackets , which are secured to the wall panels with the provided screws. While you could probably complete the assembly with a screwdriver, I would highly recommend using a power drill for assembly as the wall panels are not pre-drilled. I found the easiest way to go about doing this is to find a good solid raised surface to place a panel on, and then secure a bracket to each side.

Securing the corner brackets - using a power drill makes this a breeze.

Securing the corner brackets – using a power drill makes this a breeze.

You will want to make sure the brackets are square to the panel and flush with the bottom, otherwise things wont line up properly later on. Once two wall panels have had both brackets installed on them the remaining assembly is a breeze – simply attach the remaining two panels and you are done!

Use and Final Thoughts

I am a big fan of square foot gardening, so for my Handy Bed I will be using it to grow four pepper plants. I placed the bed off in a sunny corner of the yard that I always wanted to use for something that required full sun. Like with any raised bed, it is very important that make sure you level the surface you are placing your Handy Bed on to ensure everything lays flat and drains nicely. Beyond filling the bed with the soil of your choosing, there is not additional steps you must take (no anchoring or staking).

Peppers planted and ready. The fourth plant wasn't ready yet!

Peppers planted and ready. The fourth plant wasn’t ready yet!

For most raised beds I recommend a well draining mix consisting of peat/vermiculite/compost or compost/topsoil/vermiculite depending on the quality and make of your local topsoil. One of the things I particularly like about the Handy Bed over other wood based products is that it can be moved to different locations on yearly basis without falling apart if you so desired – it can also be disassembled and reassembled many times without ever wearing down. According to the instructions sheet the bed includes a lifetime warranty under normal use, something you probably won’t find on a wood kit.

As of right now the Handy Bed is only available in white, but this should be suitable for most purposes. If you are looking for a raised bed that will last you for a very long time I can highly recommend using the Handy Bed over some of the other products available right now. For more info head on over to the Cook Products website

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Hot Peppers, Really Hot Peppers & Saving Seeds

Hot Peppers, Really Hot Peppers & Saving Seeds

hot peppers

I’m sure many of you are confused where I am going with this one after reading that title, but rest assured, I have a purpose for this post. Like many other gardeners, I am now in the process of starting certain seeds like peppers, cabbage and onions, and planning when to start others. Last year was the first year I decided to grow “hot peppers,” which I say in quotations because “hot” is very subjective and varies from person to person. My idea of a good hot pepper to try was a Cayenne pepper plant, which I only grew one of, as I didn’t know how much I’d actually use them.

As it turns out, I actually used them a whole lot, mostly drying them and crushing them to use for cooking or topping pizza with. When I would dry the peppers I would cut them in half to provide airflow and aid in the drying process. During this process many seeds would fall out after the peppers were fully dried, which I decided to save, because why not?

For most of the fall these seeds sat on my desk, stored in a neatly folded piece of printer paper made into a makeshift seed envelope – my intent was to save these and see if I could grow new plants and save a bit of cash the next season.

hot pepper seeds

Saved seeds ready to be planted.

During my spring seed shopping/planning this year I decided I wanted to try additional hot peppers, including additional Cayenne plants. During this process my dad was looking for pepper seeds of his own, notably “Carolina Reaper” seeds, supposedly the hot pepper in the world. While purchasing these seeds he also acquired “Scotch Bonnet,” “Sapporo,” and “Prik Chi Faa” seeds to try for this year, on top of the saved cayenne seeds.

About a week ago I  started one of each pepper type, with the exception being the cayenne seeds, which I started several containers worth. This morning when checking on my seeds to see if they germinated, I was surprised to see that nearly every plant had popped above the soil overnight.

Not only this, but every single cayenne seed that I sowed germinated – something I was not expecting considering I didn’t take and special precautions or steps while drying my peppers. Honestly I just hadn’t thought of saving the seeds at the time.

hot peppers

Left: Tiny “Carolina Reaper” seeds. Right: Cayenne seedling from my saved seeds

Depending on how successful this is, I may need to reevaluate my seed shopping habits and start saving more of my own seeds. I realize that many hybrid plant seeds are not ideal candidates for this, as they may be sterile, or possibly produce an unwanted plant variety. However, this process should be fine for most heirloom varieties, and could potentially save a great deal of money over time. I know many people, myself included, have become accustomed to the convenience of buying a packet of (relatively) cheap seeds, all while browsing over a vast selection.

Consider this a trial run I suppose, but so far things are looking pretty good. If you have saved your own seeds to grow for the next season I would love to hear your thoughts/experience, whether they be good or bad.

 

Starting Onion Seeds Instead of Buying Sets

Starting Onion Seeds Instead of Buying Sets

trimmed onion seedlings

Each spring before I start purchasing any seeds I have a checklist I follow. First I carefully plan out what I want to grow, where I will put it in the garden, as well as how many plants I want of each.  I find doing this is a good way to keep track of everything and keep my seed starting on schedule and organized.

So last spring after I had planned out my entire garden layout and started purchasing seeds, I ran across onion seeds and onion sets in the local gardening shop while looking for various other seeds. I had never considered started onion seeds, so I simply grabbed the sets out of convenience.

Having never grown onions before besides green onions, I decided to pick up a bag of sets to play around with. Not knowing where to put them, I simply scattered random onion sets in various somewhat open spaces. After noticing that the onion sets I had planted weren’t growing well I started doing some research, only to find that:

1.) Generally onion sets apparently don’t grow as large or healthy as those grown from seed

and 2.) The sets that I purchased from the local shop were the wrong day length for this area (D’oh!).

Note: Many people successfully grow onions from sets. I am not suggesting that sets aren’t a viable option. 

A Fresh Start: Starting Onion Seeds

After picking my embarrassingly small onions (think golf ball sized) I decided that I would try growing my onions from seed the following year. One of the things I immediately noticed was how many varieties of onions are available when growing from seed. Literally hundreds of varieties from some places, with many different advantages to each type!

While I was feeling adventurous enough to grow onions from seed, I was not feel so adventurous as to pick out too many different varieties or any crazy odd types. After some browsing I settled with three varieties of onion seed: “Candy Hybrid”, “Walla Walla” and “Red Ruby”

While most seeds are started six to eight weeks before being planted outdoors, I discovered that onions are started as far back as 12-14 weeks before transplant. I imagine this is why so many people prefer to buy sets over seed. I received my seeds in early January, and started them shortly after, sometime in mid January.

Germination time was far quicker than I anticipated, and for the most part, most of the seedlings had emerged above the soil after one week. Below you can see the onions emerging after only four days from the time they were sown:

onion seeds emerging

For the first week or two the seedlings seemed to be growing at a fairly slow rate, and for the most part the only “maintenance” I was performing was simply breaking the loops forming as the seedling was trying to pull the husk from under the soil. To my surprise, into the second week the plants started growing like mad, and below you can see a picture taken just eight days after the picture above:

onion seedlings

At this point the onions began growing very rapidly, with many of the plants getting as tall as ten inches or more. At these tall heights I began noticing that the plants were starting to fall over, unable to support their own weight.

My initial thoughts were to trim back the plants like you would with chives to around three to four inches tall or so. After a quick google search I determined this was the best course of action and would also help send more energy to root growth. Here you can see me trimming the onion seedlings back for the second time:

trimming onion seedlings

After trimming the onions back I usually get a fairly large pile of onion tops. At this point my onion seedlings are now about six weeks old, and I am trimming them back once a week or so.  These are perfectly good to save, and can be used like chives when cooking.

Obviously at this point we are still well away from transplanting anything outdoors, so this is still a work in progress, and as such, I will be posting further updates in the coming days and weeks.

As this is not a step-by-step article on how to grow onions from, and is more of an in progress growing log, please refer to the following links for great information on exactly how to grow your own onions from seed:

Growagoodlife – How to grow onions from seed  – This is an excellent, easy to follow guide. 

VegetableGardener.com – How to grow onions from seed – Another great guide with information on popular onion seed types

 

Building a PVC Hydroponic Strawberry Tower

Building a PVC Hydroponic Strawberry Tower

hydroponic strawberry tower

If you have ever grown strawberries, you probably know that it can take a good amount of plants to get a decent size harvest. Of course having a good amount of plants also means more space taken up from your garden. One of the recent trends in small space and urban gardening is to grow your crops vertically instead of flat on the ground, allowing you to grow more than you could traditionally.

Not only does growing vertically create a smaller footprint on the ground, which is ideal for us urban gardeners, but it also can also be beneficial in other ways. One of the biggest benefits of growing vertically is that you can keep your fruit off the ground and away from pests, as well as making it easier to harvest by keeping everything to a confined area.

When planning my strawberry crop this year I decided to go with two different methods of vertical gardening. One method is utilizing a set of hydroponic strawberry towers, which I will talk about in this article, and the other is a hybrid set of soil/hydroponic wooden strawberry towers which I will discuss in a separate article.

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Square Foot Gardening Project: Filling The Beds and Soaker Hose Irrigation

Square Foot Gardening Project: Filling The Beds and Soaker Hose Irrigation

square foot gardening garlic

In my last post I talked about how I was experimenting with square foot gardening in raised beds, and was in the process of getting all of my beds filled. Over the weekend I went ahead and bought the remaining top soil and compost to get the remaining beds filled (some were already filled) in preparation for planting in the coming weeks. I also bought some soaker hose and various fittings to set up a hassle free irrigation system. While I am not finished setting up the irrigation system, it is functional enough to water what plants are already in the beds.

Adding Topsoil and Compost

When filling each bed, I decided on using a 50/50 mixture of regular bagged topsoil and compost. Each of the fourteen foot beds took around 14-15 bags (40 pound bags) to fill around halfway, and the remaining space was then filled with compost, which is provided for free in many cities (it is in mine). Once the topsoil and compost was in the beds I thoroughly tilled them to ensure an even distribution of compost.

topsoil in raised bed

Adding the plain topsoil to the beds

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Square foot gardening trials

Square Foot Gardening Trials…

square foot garden layout

So I have decided that this summer I will be trying my hand at this whole square foot gardening thing after reading so many rave reviews. I admit that I am not completely following it to a tee and will be putting my own spin on things, but the basic concept is still there. For this project I decided on building three raised beds with the dimensions of two feet by fourteen feet (2’x14′), and one smaller two foot by eight foot (2’x8′) bed for herbs.

I decided on using untreated common boards to build my beds, and after much deliberation, chose not to waterseal or paint them.This may seem crazy to some, but I came to this conclusion for a few important reasons: it was far cheaper to go this route, considering the price of all the waterseal/paint would cost me around $30, and my total cost for lumber was only $50. Second, considering this is an experiment or a trial, whatever you want to call it, I am not even sure if I will be reusing these beds the following year. Finally, if I do like the results from this year’s beds, I will likely just rebuild beds out of better wood such as cedar.

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Starting Seeds Indoors – Seedling Maintenance and Care

Starting Seeds Indoors – Seedling Maintenance and Care

seedlings indoors

If you read last week’s article on starting seeds indoors (The Complete Guide to Starting Seeds Indoors) and started some seeds of your own, then there’s a good chance you have seedlings that have emerged above the soil.

There is nothing better than seeing seedlings emerge after several days of patiently waiting and constantly checking, after all, everyone likes the feeling of doing something successfully. If you want these seedlings to survive long enough to eventually plant outdoors, there are a few things you will need to know in order to ensure your plants maintain good, healthy growth.

Light Distance and Temperature

When your seedlings emerge from the soil, one of the most crucial things you need to do is ensure there is a light source available for them – If there is no light when they emerge, there is a good chance they will stretch. For this reason, I recommend leaving lights on 24/7 to prevent seedlings from stretching and becoming leggy, which can have a significant impact on plant health. Once your seedlings have their first few sets of leaves, you can cut your light schedule back to 16-18 hours on, which is sufficient for most plants.

growing seedlings under t5 light

Here you can see the light’s distance from the seedlings

 

As I mentioned in the last article about seed starting, I like to keep my lights (T5’s) about five to six inches from the top of the flat when the seedlings first emerge. I keep my light slightly further than normal at this time to prevent the light from drying out the soil too quickly, as I have lost seedlings in a matter of just a day or two from this.

After a few days when the seedlings have established themselves and extended deeper roots, I will begin to lower the lights – around three to four inches from the tops of the plants is what I have found to be the best distance in terms of keeping plants short and not frying them. With good air circulation you can get your light as close as one inch from the top leaves like in the picture above.

Fans and Air Circulation

Another important factor in plant health is maintaining a good air circulation around your seedlings. Doing this will help prevent a local buildup of heat from your lights, which can cause a slew of problems such as  drying your soil out very quickly, as well as causing heat stress to your plants – this is especially true if your seedlings are in an isolated corner or closet.

acurite thermometer for plants

Use a thermometer like this one to monitor air temperature and humidity

 

For regular air circulation you don’t want to use anything too powerful for extended periods of time, as too much air flow can hurt the plants and stall growth. You want to choose a fan with a nice steady air flow that will provide fresh air without moving the plants much.

I like to use a few 120mm computer fans, as they are very quiet if you get a lower RPM model, and they also move a good amount of air. If you choose to go this route, you will have to cut the ends off of the fan cable and wire it to a 12 volt power source – I like to use 12v wall chargers, which can be found at most electronics stores or online for cheap. If you are not comfortable doing this, look for a small, low speed fan that already has a wall plug attached.

computer fan plant air circulation

Here you can see a computer fan mounted to a piece of cardboard to direct air at plants

Occasionally you may want to use a more powerful fan to help encourage strong stem growth and harden the plant up a bit. To do this you can simply direct a more powerful fan towards your seedlings just enough that you can see them moving a bit, but not too much – In most cases you will want to deflect the air off wall or other surface to dampen it and it from prevent damaging your plants.

Watering Seedlings

Watering your plants seems easy enough right? Well, you would think so, but most plants are killed by not watering correctly. Under water your plants and they will dry out and die; over water your plants and they will suffocate and die. One of the most common mistakes people make when caring for seedlings is over watering – you do not need to water your seedlings every day, and likely not even every other day.

over watered seedling

A good indicator of a seedling getting too much water is green growth on the soil

There is no set amount of time for how often you should be watering, as there are many variables which can affect how often you need to water, such as air temperature, soil temperature, air circulation and the growing medium. The easiest solution to determine how often you should water is to simply monitor your plants, and record how long it takes for them to dry out.

When it comes to how to water seedlings, I have found it is best to bottom water – for this reason I put my containers in a 20″x10″ plastic flat for easy watering. By bottom watering you can ensure that water is evenly distributed throughout the soil by allowing it to be wicked up. Doing this will also keep the top of the soil from becoming waterlogged, while still keeping the underlying soil wet, encouraging deeper root development.

bottom watering plants

Bottom watering plants in a tray

If you choose to top water, make sure that the soil is thoroughly soaked by watering until you can see water drain from the bottom. You will also want to gently water from the top to prevent the soil from washing out or creating deep holes from pouring water. Be sure you don’t leave standing water in the tray after it drains, as this can cause root rot, and create an environment for fungus gnats to thrive in.

If you run into a situation in which you let your soil dry out too much and it has become hydrophobic (won’t absorb water anymore), do not panic, it can be fixed! I have found the easiest fix for this is to add a very small amount of dish soap (a small drop is plenty) to your water, make sure it is mixed up in the water, and then simply water your plant. This works because the dish soap will break the surface tension just enough to allow the water to wick through the soil again without hurting the plant.

Depending on how dry your soil got, you may need to submerge the entire container in a bucket of water with dish soap to saturate the soil.

 

Thinning Seedlings

If you planted more than one seed in your container, there’s a good chance you have several seedlings growing in one container. After about a week or two when your seedlings are about an inch tall or so, you should thin out the seedlings and leave only the best one. Contrary to what you may think, the best seedling is NOT the tallest one! You will want to choose the shortest seedling that has good leaf development and looks healthy.

To thin your seedlings you can either use a pair of scissors or kitchen shears and snip each stem flush with the surface of the soil, or you can carefully pull the seedling out if it’s still small enough. It is generally recommended that you try to pull the seedling instead of cutting it, however, you will want to cut the seedling if it has true leaves, as the roots are much more developed at this point.

thinning pepper seedlings

Using scissors to thin pepper seedlings

Applying Fertilizer

If you are growing your seedlings in a regular potting mix, this is usually not an issue, and you will most likely not need to add any fertilizer to your plants, as most potting mixes contain a sufficient amount of nutrients.

Fertilizers become more important when you are growing your seedlings in peat moss or a soil-less mix that does not contain any available nutrients. If this is the case, you will want to add a small amount of fertilizer once your plants have their second set of true leaves (do not mistake cotyledons for leaves!).

When applying fertilizer at an early stage, be sure to use a very small amount, roughly 1/4 of the recommended use – you may also want to try it on one isolated plant first before applying it to all of your plants. You will not need to add fertilizer every time you water, in most cases every ten days or so should be fine – be sure you adjust the amount you add as your seedlings get bigger – just don’t overdo it.

general hydroponics nutrients

Using hydroponic nutrients as a nutrient supplement to potted plants

I like to use a liquid fertilizer for my seedlings, as it is easy to measure the right amounts, and it can be easily mixed in to a jug of water. If you have liquid hydroponic nutrients, most of these can be used for soil as well, just be sure to check the label or website to make sure, and to find the proper amounts to use for soil application.

When to Re-pot Plants

In almost all cases you will inevitably need to re-pot your plants to larger containers. Depending on what size container you started out with, this could be fairly soon after your seedlings emerge, or it could be up to a month after.

If you started your seeds in a 72 cell flat, you will need to re-pot your seedlings around the time they have a solid set of first leaves. If you planted in 2 1/2″ to 3″ containers, you should be able to wait a good while longer before needing to re-pot – somewhere around three to four weeks after your seedlings have emerged. Of course you will have to use your own judgment in some cases, for example, certain herbs can still be very small after a month, and may not need to be re-potted yet.

choosing seed starting container

A variety of container sizes. Transplant plants in cells (left) to larger pots like the one on the right

Re-potting plants is not hard, you just have to be careful not to damage the roots too much in the process. Before you remove your seedling from its container, first prepare the new container by filling it about 1/3 to 1/2 full of new soil. Once you have done this, start by watering the seedling in its original container to help hold the soil together and prevent it from crumbling apart.

After a few minutes when the soil has absorbed all the water, gently squeeze the sides to help loosen things up. You may need to use something flat like a popsicle stick to run around the edges of the container, and a spoon to help hold things together. Be careful not to hold or pull the seedling out by its stem, as this can damage it!

Once you have the seedling out of its original container, carefully place it in the center of the new container, and then fill around it enough to hold it in place. Continue filling and gently compacting the new soil around the seedling until the container is filled. For most seedlings you can add more soil and cover the stem to just below the first leaves – Roots will eventually grow out from the stem and encourage healthier growth. Be sure to verify that this can be done with your particular plant type before trying though.

Final Thoughts

broccoli seedlings

If you have followed all of the steps in this guide, you are well on your way to have healthy plant starts that will soon be ready for planting outdoors. When it does come time to plant your starts outside, remember that you must always harden off plants that were started indoors. This is a simple process that involves taking your plants outside for a bit of time each day for a week before planting. It is recommended to start out at an hour or two the first day, and then simply add an hour each day after. You will also want to put your plants in a shaded spot for the first day or two.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave a message in the comments section below.