Raised garden beds are much easier to plant and maintain than traditional garden beds. It’s easier to amend the soil in raised garden beds, which is especially helpful for those of us with clay, rocks or otherwise poor soil. Raised bed gardening is not only better for the plants, it’s easier on gardeners. Believe me, that small amount of height difference; plus the addition of soft soil, makes gardening easier on tired backs and creaky knees.
Raised garden beds don’t have to be fancy; they just need walls to contain the soil. These walls can be made from wood, brick or stone. In reality, a raised garden bed can be almost any height to suit the gardener’s needs. But for an easy and basic raised garden bed, purchase 2″ x 6″ lumber in the desired length. It’s easy to build a simple rectangular box with six inch high walls by putting the boards on edge. Purchase weather resistant cedar or pine boards and exterior wood screws to join the ends of the boards. Never use treated lumber for gardening due to the harmful chemicals that leach into the soil.
Prepare the Site
While you do get to control the soil that goes into raised garden beds, you can’t just plop them down on a grassy lawn. Prepare the site by removing the grass (or weeds, rocks, toy trucks, yard art, moles, etc.) Rent a small tiller or use old-fashioned muscle with determination to loosen the top soil. This is especially important if you have hard compacted dirt, like my lovely rust-colored Tennessee clay. In this case, you might need to till the soil to a depth of a least six inches, then add compost and gravel for better drainage.
Build the Garden Frame
Build a simple rectangle frame for the raised garden bed, securing the ends of the boards with exterior wood screws. Be sure to drill pilot holes in the wood first.
This is also a good time to recycle a stack of newspapers. Place a thick layer of paper on the freshly tilled soil inside the frame. This will help prevent the regrowth of any weeds or grass and eventually will compost to further enrich the soil.
Fill With Quality Soil
Fill your framed garden bed with nutrient rich soil by combining a quality top soil with compost or manure. For small raised garden beds, bagged compost and garden soils can be used. But this can get pricey for larger raised beds. Either way, be sure you add plenty of rich organic matter to the bed.
Plant Your Raised Garden
You’re ready to plant your new raised garden bed with your favorite vegetables, herbs and ornamentals. Remember to mix various types of plants. It’s fine to plant flowers with vegetables and the results are usually more attractive. Use trailing plants to soften the edges of the raised beds and plant taller vegetables or flowers in the center.
Tips to Remember
1. The raised beds can be any length you want, but keep in mind the weight of the soil can cause side boards to bow out over time. Use a support board in the center section of each side board, if longer than five feet. Always keep the raised beds a manageable width, typically four feet wide. It should be easy to reach the middle of the raised garden from both sides of the raised garden, because the soil should never be walked on.
2. Don’t forget to locate your raised garden in a full-sun location. Most vegetables require at least 8 hours of sun per day.
3. Don’t forget to mulch the soil in the raised garden after you’re finished planting. Mulch will help keep the soil moist and cool in hot summer months. Now that you’ve accomplished building your first raised garden bed, congratulate yourself. Before you know it, you’ll be harvesting your first homegrown tomato!
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