Starting A Raised Bed Garden
Unlike your traditional garden, a raised bed garden has the convenience of being able to fit in just about anywhere you want. As long as it has exposure to six to eight hours of sunlight per day, the choices of placement are endless. Although you can make your raised bed any shape or size you like, for the purpose of this article, I am going to be referencing the most common raised beds, such as I have built, that are rectangle in shape.
You will need to decide a few things upfront, and then you can play it by ear as you go. This is not an arduous task, nor is it time-consuming or back-breaking. However, a little pre-planning can go a long way to a more productive result.
First things first–there are no hard and fast rules as to the shape and size a raised bed should be. There are those who feel that a smaller size is best, and then those who feel a bigger one is more advantageous. I, myself, started out with 4’x4′ beds my first year, and then after realizing that the size may be a little small for my needs, decided on 4’x8′ beds the following year. I also felt like 4′ wide gave me the ability to reach into my bed, whether it be while planting or taking care of my plants, without having to overstretch or even step into my bed. It at all possible, do not step into your raised beds as you will then run the risk of compacting the soil. I also suggest that you make sure to reinforce the beds at the corners, as the weight of the soil will eventually cause the boards to lean outwards.
The height of your beds will be determined by several factors. If you are choosing to put your beds onto a hard surface, such as clay or compacted soil, you will need to make sure that the height is deep enough for your plants to effectively take root. If you leave the depth too shallow, when your plants attempt to dig down and establish their roots and meet a hard surface, they will be stunted or may not even thrive at all. I chose to make my raised beds twelve inches deep, and my plants have been doing pretty well with that.
One of the most important areas of preparing your raised garden bed it that of its placement. It is vital that you remember that location is everything. With that said, unlike with most traditional gardens, your raised bed gives you the option to place it just about anywhere you want—the backyard, the front yard, the side of your house, or even your driveway. Again, as long as your bed will receive six to eight hours of daylight, any of these areas would work well for its placement.
Another vital part of deciding your bed placement is if there is any existing slope. If so, you will need to look into making modifications, as the ability to drain is an essential component in this type of gardening. However, if the bed does not drain enough, this can prove to be just as detrimental to your plants as well.
Anyone who has taken on the task of digging up sod to remove grass from a project can tell you it is not the easiest or most desirable job in the world. It can be both frustrating and back-breaking, to say the least. However, there is another route that you can take that not only saves your back but allows mother nature to do most of the work.
Some people prefer to layout the area the bed will go in, and then do the base prepping. I chose what I felt was a much easier route, in that I built my beds, located them where I wanted them, then prepped the base. When it came to prepping the bottom, it was easy and quick. Again, some prefer to use cardboard as their ground cover, but at the time, I did not have enough available. So, I used the only thing I had on hand, which was packing paper. I covered every nook and cranny of the ground and then threw a little dirt on top to hold it in place while it worked to kill the grass and weeds.
This is the point at which the rubber meets the road. No matter what style or shape of raised bed you decide on, it doesn’t matter if your soil fails to nurture and feed your plants. Many individuals decide to go with whatever is around. However, I made the decision to mix my soil, and that has played out in aces for my beds. My mixture was simple, and all the components readily available at a local hardware store. I figured out how much cubic foot of soil I would be needing, by multiplying the width, by the length, by the height of my beds. I then mixed two cubic foot bags, one cubic foot of compost/cow manure, and 1/4-1/2 cubic feet of peat moss. I found this ratio to work well for my beds, and I had the security of knowing that there were not harsh fertilizers or additives included in the mix.
The first winter after I initially built my beds, my dirt did a lot of settling. I had to go back in the next spring and add more of my mixture to bring my depth back up to ten inches. Then, each growing season since then, I chose to recondition my soil by adding in the two bag-one bag-peat moss mixture. This has been working really well from year to year, and I am in my fifth year now.
Although a raised bed garden can provide you many more options than the traditional garden, it is essential to remember that you there will be a limit on how much you can plant. However, I feel the trade-off is a reasonable one, as, over time, I will save wear and tear on my back, and in return, I have beautiful fresh produce to can, dehydrate, or freeze and add to my pantry.