So, you’re thinking about starting a raised bed? Raised bed gardening can be very rewarding in many aspects! Oh, there’s nothing more satisfying than a weed-free, lush vegetable garden full of bountiful crops, glistening with morning dew.
The harsh truth is, it’s a lot of hard work contrary to what most would have you believe. There’s the constant weeding. If you don’t have great soil, it can take years to develop healthy crop producing soil. Amending the soil every year with organic matter and fertilizer, and seasonal tilling.
This work is the happiness that we call GARDENING!
People don’t always have the time for this joy though, so we can work with the raised bed to get the results we want.
Raised Beds are the secret to a plentiful harvest for people with less space, less time, and those who want less work!
Benefits of Raised Bed Gardening
You don’t have to amend your soil for years to get the best soil for a raised bed garden. You start with the best soil possible. You can buy ready mixed raised bed soil in your local garden center or check out different websites for special blends for specific crops you’re trying to grow. You can even plant on top of concrete if you make your beds deep enough. Most crops only require about 10 to 12 inches of soil to grow healthy in.
More Crops in a Smaller Area
If you don’t have a huge backyard or plot of land to do a garden, go for the raised bed approach. Raised beds are designed with the square foot gardening technique in mind where the crops are planted more densely. Better drainage and deeper rooting make for better crop yields!
This is the selling point of raised beds for me! Less weeding! I didn’t say “no more weeding” because weeds will always find their way into a garden, no matter what. Even if you do find a weed in your raised bed, it’s easy to pull out of the loose soil as compared to the hard, compacted soil that’s created by constantly walking around in your traditional garden.
When planted efficiently, you’ll do less watering. If the plants are planted closer together, they effectively act as a living mulch and shade the ground. Therefore keeping the ground cool, and allowing less evaporation.
Extend the Growing Season
In colder climates, you can start a raised bed while the ground is still frozen in the early Spring. And as Fall comes along, you can build a cold frame over it to keep the soil warm for warmer weather crops to continue to produce.
When planning your raised bed, a good idea is to consider companion planting. Companion Planting is finding the right plants that grow well together and benefit each other in many different ways.
Some of the benefits of Companion Planting are:
Green Beans and Field Peas bring Nitrogen to the area for other plants nearby
Natural Occurring Supports:
Okra or Corn being a tall and singular growing strong plant can double as a stake for other crops to “climb”. Think of Pole Beans, Cucumber and even tomato plants!
Keep it Cool:
Taller plants provide shade for shorter plants. Large leafed low growing plants provide ground cover for taller plants, keeping the ground cool and reducing water evaporation.
Plants grown closer together or short plants near taller ones will help cover the open areas that weeds like to make their homes in!
Planting Flowers along with the crops will help bring pollinators in so you get a good healthy crop!
Plants are Healthier:
Certain plants will actually alter the soil composition and make it better suited for other plants to thrive!
Check List for Your Raised Bed
Here are a few things to keep in mind before tackling the construction of a raised bed.
Materials to Build the Raised Bed
Although it may not last as long, it is recommended to NOT use treated wood. The chemicals used in treated wood will seep into the ground and also may bleed into your soil thus contaminating or even killing your crops!
Some people use cedar but it is very expensive. It is water resistant to an extent and some say the smell of it keeps some pests away.
You can use cinder blocks but they are unsightly and can be awkward to move around. There are people who swear by the lime it adds to the soil to really help plants thrive!
Picking the Location
Basically anywhere that you can get around 6 hours of sun per day. This is one of the better characteristics of a raised garden bed. You can put them ANYWHERE. That narrow space alongside your house, behind a shed, alongside your driveway. The possibilities are endless!
I must strongly suggest: Be Near a Water Supply! It’s so easy to procrastinate watering if it’s a hassle to bring a bucket or watering can over to get the job done.
Figure Out the Size
Raised beds are usually anywhere from 3 to 4 feet wide. You want it narrow enough so you can pull weeds and or crops from the entire bed from either side.
TIP: For longer and higher beds, drive a stake in the ground about mid-way of your long side. This will keep it from bulging out over time or possible even breaking. The dirt used to fill the bed has more weight than you realize!
A deciding factor in your bed size, unless you want to cut the lumber down or do a lot nailing, is standard lumber sizes. Most all lumber comes in 6 foot , 8 foot, and 10 foot lengths. You get above that size and you’re running into some cost just to get started.
You don’t want a huge bed, the idea behind raised garden beds is an easily maintained, nice little manicured garden!
How Deep Does a Raised Bed Need To Be?
The most common depth is 12”. Here is a general reference chart for common vegetables and their rooting depth requirements. Remember these depths CAN include the ground beneath the raised bed, assuming you didn’t build on top of concrete. You don’t have to build a 3 foot tall garden bed for these vegetables.
Shallow Rooting Medium Rooting Deep Rooting
12″ – 18″ 18″ – 24″ 24″ – 36″+
Arugula Beans Artichokes
Broccoli Beans, pole Asparagus
Brussel sprouts Beans, snap Beans, lima
Cabbage Beets Okra
Cauliflower Cantaloupe Parsnips
Celery Carrots Pumpkins
Chinese cabbage Chard Rhubarb
Corn Cucumber Squash, winter
Endive Eggplant Sweet potatoes
Garlic Kale Tomatoes
Kohlrabi, Peas Watermelon
Potatoes Squash, summer
What type of Soil Do You Fill the Raised Bed With?
Now here’s a good question. It will depend on what you plan to plant in your raised bed. A huge factor is your local weather also. If you live in a rainy area, you don’t want to add a lot of Peat Moss because it retains a huge amount of water. You want your bed to be very well draining. On the other hand, if peat moss dries out it can actually prevent water from soaking into the soil. It will bead off of it and flow on through!
On the flip side, if you live in a dry area, you want it to retain a bit of water to eliminate so much watering.
TIP: The big secret to almost all things gardening –WELL DRAINING SOIL.
The bulk of your bed should be a good topsoil.
Your basic mix which will support about anything, is 30 % compost, 50% topsoil.
Various amenities such as Vermiculite, Coco Coir, and/or Peat Moss can be added as needed for the other 20%
TIP: Chicken Poop !
If you can get your hands on some Chicken Poop, literally and figuratively, you will have an amazing crop!
If you can’t get this stuff from anyone you know or locally, there is also bagged “composted manure” in the big stores.
The pre-mixed “Raised Bed Soil” is really great to start with but can be PRICEY. Depending on how many beds you have, buying the products in bulk will set you up WAY cheaper.
How Much Soil Do I Need?
There are literally raised bed soil calculators online that can tell you how much you need of each component. Products used for filling raised beds are usually sold by the CUBIC YARD. For your basic one ingredient fill up, (in feet) is Length X Width X Height.
Bagged Raised Bed Soil in the Home Improvement Store is sold by the CUBIC FOOT, usually 1.5 per bag. As an alternative, materials to fill a raised bed can also be bought in bulk at landscaping supply stores.
So.. if your bed is 8 feet long, 4 foot wide and 10 inches tall (round it up to 12”), you will need about 1.18 cubic yards if you’re buying in bulk.
(8 x 4 x 1= 32 divided by 27 (number of cubic feet in 1 cubic yard) = 1.185 CUBIC YARDS
32 cubic ft divided by 1.5 cubic ft bags is about 21 bags of Raised Bed Garden Soil. You don’t want it full to the top so you could get away with 18.
See? You did need Geometry in the real world!
Research into the materials you’ll be using
It’s very important to take this into consideration when planning your raised bed. Finding a wholesale landscaping supply is your best bet. Depending on what you use for soil, it can become pretty pricey.
Remember, raised bed soil can be rejuvenated each year by adding a layer of an inch or two of compost early in the beginning of the season. This gives the microbes time to do their magic before planting time begins.
Wow! There’s a lot of thought that goes into planning anything in the garden really!
Don’t let this get you discouraged!
A raised bed garden can bring you years of gardening delight and a good harvest to enjoy once you get one started.
What are you going to grow in your raised garden bed this year?