By Todd Heft | October 4, 2009 | Organic Vegetable & Fruit Gardening
Building a raised garden bed. Cedar lines the side of the bed and milk jugs are used to protect spring seedlings from frost.
Raised garden beds changed my gardening life. My back hurts less, I spend less time watering and weeding and I grow more fruits and vegetables in the same exact space.
Raised garden beds allow for deeper root growth, better drought resistance, and fewer pest and disease problems. Once the raised garden bed is established, weeding is a breeze, watering is more efficient, and you can take much more pleasure in your gardening.“A garden contains two kinds of space-space for plants to grow, and space for a gardener to walk while tending the plants. Walking on garden soil…forces soil particles together and compresses the space between them. The result is compacted soil, which…can no longer support abundant root growth.
“In a typical narrow row garden, over half the soil is compacted into walkways for the gardener…In a garden with wide, deep, raised beds…plants get the lion’s share of the space and they get the lion’s share of the soil…”The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Ed Smith
4 steps to building a raised garden bed
1. CHOOSE THE SUNNIEST PART OF YOUR YARD FOR YOUR RAISED GARDEN BED.
Check the track of spring and summer sunlight in your potential garden space and look for shadow-casting obstacles. Is there a wall near your future garden? Trees? Shrubs? Plan for as much sun exposure as possible, even if that means removing shrubs or trees. Your raised garden beds don’t have to be perfectly straight or exactly the same width from tip to tip – use your imagination to take best advantage of what space you have. The best orientation is south-facing so they’ll receive the maximum amount of sunlight.
2. DETERMINE THE RIGHT LENGTH AND WIDTH FOR YOUR RAISED BED.
Your raised garden bed can be as long as you want it to be, but the width should be gauged according to your arm’s reach: If you can comfortably reach 18″, the garden bed should be no more than 36″ wide, so you can reach the halfway point to weed, plant and harvest from either side.
3. MARK OFF THE AREA FOR YOUR RAISED GARDEN BED.
Once you’ve decided on the width and length, use a measuring tape, stakes and twine to mark off the area which you’ll be digging. Put a stake at each corner and an additional stake on each long side, and tie the twine between each stake. Create as many bed outlines in your garden as you like, allowing 18″ between each for your walkways.
4. DIG AND BUILD THE GARDEN BEDS.
Using the stakes and twine outline, dig (or till) a deep garden bed (10″-18″) so your plant’s roots have plenty of room to spread. Loosen and turn the soil with a garden fork, then follow with a spade shovel, making sure that all turf is turned upside down and broken up.
The walkway in between raised beds is lined with cardboard, newspaper and mulch.
Next, dig your walkway 18″ wide and at least 10″ deep and place this soil on the raised garden bed. Rake in.
Then, line the walkway with cardboard (1 layer) and newspaper (2 layers), and cover with wood mulch or straw. This will keep weeds from taking over the walkway. Eventually the cardboard, newspaper and mulch will break down and turn into compost, which you can then turn into your new raised garden bed.Related Post
Note: Your local climate and rainfall can determine what you use in the bed walkways. Some gardeners use pea gravel, some use mulch, and some plant grass, which can host beneficial insects. I encourage you to experiment and find what’s most comfortable for you. I’ve used all of these and currently have grass planted between the beds, which I love, because kneeling is much more comfortable.
After they’re built, add lots of compost, shredded tree leaves, grass clippings, or composted manure to your new raised garden beds to build the soil, working it in with your rake (composted manure should never be used solo, but it’s great when mixed with other forms of compost). The best time of the year to build your raised garden bed is in the Fall so the compost can work its magic until it’s time to plant in spring.
Many gardeners build raised garden beds with wood sides (cedar is best) but you can leave them open as well. Wood sides help control water runoff and maximize planting space better than sloped, open sides. They’ll also prevent weeds from encroaching on your garden.