Garden rows are retired as raised beds rise

Two new raised beds, ready to plant. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

Two new raised beds, ready to plant. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

Four down.

Four to go.

My husband and I are in the process of converting our veggie garden from a traditional row garden into a raised-bed garden. OK, to be honest, I’m the driving force behind the project and he’s the unpaid labor.

Last spring, “we” built two 3-foot-by-12-foot beds and “we” added two more last weekend. Come fall, I hope two more will materialize.

Why not do it all at once? My husband is determined he won’t be doing this again, so the forms need to last at least a minimum of, oh, forever. That means no relatively inexpensive wood for us. We’re building them of composite decking material with a 25-year warranty and a price tag that makes our bank account squeal. Or is that me?

There are lots of reasons to grow in raised beds. Here are a few:

  • Because you never step on the soil in the beds, it stays looser, improving soil drainage and aeration, which is beneficial for roots. It makes pulling weeds easier too. These are my main motivations. It’s always bothered me to till the soil so it’s nice and fluffy and then immediately set about compacting it again by stomping all over it with my not-so-dainty No. 9s.
  • Since the soil doesn’t get compacted as quickly, tilling, which brings bazillions of weed seeds to the surface where they germinate and drive you crazy, isn’t necessary as often.
  • Raised beds reduce waste and save money, since soil amendments and fertilizers only go into the beds, not between rows or in pathways.
  • Taller beds are great for dealing with poor soils, such as clay. Ours are only 6 inches high because we are lucky enough to have good soil already. We just tilled soil amendments into the existing soil and raised the level about 4 inches. But you can make them as high as you like.
  • Since much of the space is between rows in a traditional narrow row garden, raised beds offer more usable space and increase yields.

Of course, you can create raised beds without containing them. Just add organic matter to your existing soil and mound it into flat-topped beds. Over time, they will flatten, but you can just re-form them.

If you do decide to create forms, other material options include bricks, stones and cement blocks. Beds can be as long as you want, but keep them only 3 to 4 feet wide so you can reach in to plant and harvest without stepping into the bed.

What do you think of raised bed gardening? Since I’m relatively new to it, I’d love to hear how it’s worked – or not – for you.

More info

My friend Joseph Pedro, gardener extraordinaire, sent some additional info on raised bed gardening, which he’s been doing for more than 30 years. Now that’s experience!

“After you have the frame up, if you place about 1/4” to 1/2” of newspaper (black and white print only), then top it off with cardboard, then add your soil to it, you will end up with fewer weeds and more earth worms, because the worms just love the newspaper and cardboard.
“I really like using the cinder blocks because I don’t have to worry about wood rot, and they stay in place better,and most of all I don’t have to worry about chemicals that is in the wood.Most people use treated deck boards or 2×6’s in the construction of raised beds. However, these boards are not treated for ground contact.

“When using cinder blocks and cardboard, be sure to place the blocks on the top of the cardboard, this will help with weed control.

“Also if you would like to dress it up, you may purchase some paver blocks to place on the top, and they are the same size of the cinder blocks (one inch thick).Or you can just leave them open (uncovered) and plant in the holes of the blocks.”

 

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