Raised beds pack a lot of growing power into a small space. They provide an excellent growing environment for all types of plants including vegetables, flowers, herbs, and berries, as well as offering gardeners ways to overcome a variety of difficult growing conditions.
By definition, raised beds are garden beds constructed higher than the surrounding soil. The dimensions can be anywhere from 2 inches to 2 feet or more above the ground, as determined by site location, the soil conditions, and/or the gardener's personal preferences. Raised beds are typically 3 to 4 feet wide so that plants remain within easy reach from all sides, with the borders supported by a framework of boards, stones, or other types of edgings.
An Attractive Appearance: Raised beds look attractive. The framing creates lines and shapes that are naturally pleasing to the eye as well as giving your garden a tidy, well-organized appearance.
Easier Maintenance: Raised beds are easier to maintain. When it comes to watering, weeding, and harvesting, plants remain easily accessible from all sides. Design variations can be made to accommodate difficult terrain and suit any landscape theme.
Efficient Use of Resources: Anything added to the soil to support plant growth (e.g. fertilizers, water, soil improvers) are all concentrated within the growing areas so there is no waste. The same is true for the application of sprays and oils used to control insects and disease.
Expanded Growing Space: In a raised bed system, walking paths are created between the beds not between plants. This allows you to dedicate all of the growing space for crops, and allows you to space plants closer together, which maximizes yields.
Fewer Weeds and Pests: Closely spaced plants shade the soil and suppress weeds. The edges of raised garden beds also act as a barrier to invading grasses and weeds and help protect plants from a variety of crawling pests including slugs and snails.
Improved Soil Conditions: Instead of battling poor soil conditions, raised beds can be built over existing sites and filled with nutrient-rich soil.
Lack of Soil Compaction: The soil in raised beds is never walked on so it stays loose and friable.
Rapid Soil Warming: Better drainage in the spring allows the sun to warm the soil faster for earlier planting.
Reduced Physical Strain: Because you work at a higher level, the kneeling and bending that comes with traditional gardening is minimized. Also, for gardeners with limited mobility, raised beds can be custom built to a height and width that accommodates the physical limitations of the individual.
Faux wood and stone products cost more initially, but will last for years. Avoid wood products that have been chemically treated when constructing beds used to grow edibles. Naturally rot-resistant wood like cedar or redwood is good, though a bit more expensive. Untreated pine or Douglas fir will rot eventually, but can be replaced easily and inexpensively.
For beds designed to be accessible from all sides, a width of 6 feet will keep plants within a comfortable reach (3 feet) for most gardeners. Beds located against walls or fences should be constructed no more than 3 to 4 feet wide for easy maintenance. The length and depth of your raised beds is really a matter of personal choice. If the existing soil is poor, plan for a minimum height (new soil depth) of 8 to 12 inches. This will give plant roots plenty of room to grow and spread.
When selecting a site for your raised bed, position it so that the long side of the bed gets maximum sun. You'll want to keep taller plants in the back if the bed so they don't cast shade on your shorter plants. If you are constructing more than one bed, leave enough room between them to accommodate garden equipment like wheel barrows and lawn mowers (about 3 feet).
A good soil mix consists of 50% soil and 50% compost with some fine sand or grit thrown in to help drainage. It will take a surprising amount of soil to fill up your beds, so if you need to import soil, it's usually cheaper to buy it in bulk than to purchase bags. If you have to purchase bagged products, look for a planting mix that contains compost or well-rotted manure. Soil is usually measured and sold by the cubic yard. (1 cubic yard = 3x3x3 feet). To figure out how much you need for your bed: width x length x depth. Fill the bed completely full to compensate for settling.
About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services.
This coming summer will be the 3rd summer of gardening in a raised bed. I absolutely love it. The soil just gets better and better because I save all my egg shells, coffee grounds and veggie peels, ends, ones that have gone bad and etc. and add to the soil. I have a Ninja blender and finely chop all the "stuff" into fine pieces and work it all into the dirt. It is amazing how fast it decomposes. I have tons of worms now that work their magic! I even went to the store and bought some fishing bait (live worms) and set them free in my garden!
Here is how I water my garden. I purchased a seeping-type black watering hose from the store and laid it in rows back and forth between where the veggies will be planted. It was placed about probably 5 - 7 inches or so down. Leave the end of the connecting hose outside of the box closest to the water faucet so that the hose can be easily attached for watering. Cover with soil and then plant your veggies between the rows of hose. Now your veggies' roots get watered and not have to worry about mildew and such on the plant leaves from watering.
The first year I did this planted tomato plants that were about a foot tall. They grew and grew to over 6 feet with tons of tomatoes. Wow!
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