Raised Bed Gardening
By Paul James
I’ve grown vegetables in raised beds since 1979, the year I created my first garden, and I’ve never looked back. At the time, it was considered a new approach to gardening, but in fact it has ancient roots, dating back to pre-Hispanic Inca and Aztec civilizations. Basically, it’s a method of growing plants within a framed bed, and it has numerous advantages.
Warmer Soil in Spring and Fall
Because raised beds warm up much faster in spring and remain warmer longer in the fall, you can get a jump start on planting in the spring and extend the growing season in the fall.
Raised beds filled with loose, fluffy soil (more on that in a moment) naturally drain better, and poor drainage is one of the leading causes of crop failure.
Weeds are much easier to manage in raised beds, in part because they can’t creep into the beds from the sides.
Compaction is bad news for plants, because it restricts root growth. But because you never walk on the soil in raised beds, compaction is basically nonexistent.
The frames of raised beds contain the soil, which eliminates problems with erosion.
Intelligent use of Water
If you water by hand (which I do), you need only water the plants within the beds rather than the paths between, and that saves a lot of water. Plus, you can water only the beds that need it rather than the all the beds at once.
I think raised beds look better, and give the garden a neater, tidier look. That may not be important to you, but it is to me. (Those are my raised beds in the pictures. Pretty neat, huh?)
I’ve always used cedar lumber to build my raised beds, but you can also use stone or cinder blocks. Cedar isn’t cheap, but it’s easy to work with and lasts for ten years or more even when in contact with the ground. Treated wood is my second choice. It’s much cheaper and it’s no longer made with toxic materials. However, it is more likely to warp.
What Size is Best?
Three 8’ boards (whether 6”, 8”, or 12” deep) will create a 4’ by 8’ bed, which is a great size for several reasons. You only have to cut one board in half to build the bed, the beds themselves are portable, and it’s easy to reach into the center of the bed from either side.
Filling your beds with a good garden soil plus a mix of soil amendments isn’t exactly cheap, but once it’s done, you need only add a bag or two of additional amendments once a year. You can buy garden soil in bulk or you can purchase it in bags. Bagged products include topsoil, mushroom compost, and cow manure, as well as specialty mixes such as Espoma’s Raised Bed Mix or FoxFarm’s Happy Frog. Fill your beds to within an inch of the top to allow for settling.
Make sure you remove any existing turf grass before plopping your raised bed on the ground. And if it’s Bermuda, dig down to a depth of 4” to make sure you get rid of all the roots and rhizomes. Otherwise, you’ll end up with an excellent crop…of grass!
By the way, I should mention that both of my boys grow vegetables in raised beds as well. I guess I raised them right.
Happy gardening, ya’ll.
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