Raised beds…consider them for this garden season. They offer many advantages when growing ‘green goods’ such as vegetables, herbs or flowers. The two key advantages raised beds offer are 1) they can be filled with perfect soil and 2) they provide ideal soil drainage. Plus they are very easy to dig in and plant! A raised bed also enables the soil to warm earlier and stay warm longer so your growing season is extended meaning more ‘freshness’ for you. So if you have an outside area that is less than ideal in terms of function, soil, esthetic appeal try a raised bed planter.
Raised beds can be made of a variety of materials such as wood, stacked cement pavers, stacked stone or mortar brick. Keep in mind this type of planter can be raised to any level suitable for you. For example, if you don’t want to constantly bend down to work in your garden, choose a style of raised bed that is higher from the ground. The higher from the ground (aka deeper it is) the more soil it will take to fill but as long as it is in a permanent spot, it shouldn’t matter. You get convenience as the trade-off for the extra soil required and that’s a good thing!
I really enjoyed this small raised planter in my garden in Pennsylvania. It started out as a way to hide a water well pipe that stuck up from the ground outside our back door. After we built the stone structure and filled it with soil was when I had the idea to place an obelisk in the middle to grow vertically as well as within the planter. I grew tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs and bush beans in this small planter and it worked beautifully. Both the tomatoes and cucumbers used the obelisk for support and for climbing.
Although a variety of materials can be used many raised beds are made from wood and are a standard 6-12 inch in-depth. Usually the wood is a non-treated cedar or redwood because they hold up to the elements and are slower to decay. Another new choice for raised beds is Juniper wood. It is said to be even more durable than cedar and redwood and is very sustainable yet not as easily available as of yet. A great thing about using wood for a raised bed is that it can be created in almost any size to work in your space.
If you do not have a lot of space you might try a plan that shows how to stack planters for a tower effect. This type of planter can be used for strawberries (my little girl loved it), herbs, smaller vegetables and trailing vegetables.
For my current garden, the somewhat standard 4’x8′ and 4’x4′ by 12 inches high have been great. A four-foot width is smart because you can reach to the middle of the bed from either side without stretching too far. If you will not have accessibility from both sides try modifying your width to 2 feet. The 8 foot length works well because it is not too long so that complications like bowing sides etc… come into play.
Speaking of building… this plan from Sunset Magazine is a straight forward, quality plan for building your own boxes. I currently have four beds based on this plan with some slight modifications and am very satisfied with the design and performance. A key element of this plan is the hardware cloth recommended to attach at the bottom of the box. Although it adds a bit to the overall cost, it serves the purpose of keeping any type of tunneling animal such as voles, moles, gophers, etc…from being able to tunnel from underneath your raised bed.
In addition this plan offers the option of extending your growing season by turning your planter into a hoop house. You don’t have to add this feature, we only put it on one of our boxes. One change we made was to add an extra support post in the middle of the 4’x8′ size. The extra support post reinforces the sides making sure they will not weaken/bow due to the constant weight of the soil.
Of course, there are many plans and videos on building raised beds but I like this one as it is easy to understand, provides some extra options if desired and gives a detailed supply list and cost estimate.
Once you have your raised beds built and in place remember to fill them with good topsoil and plenty of amendment. This is your opportunity to make a wonderful soil to grow the finest food and flowers. Use lots of compost and organic matter along with some native soil to create the ideal soil environment. Also remember, if you really want to grow something but your natural soil conditions are not adequate a raised bed is the solution. Fill the bed with the correct soil make-up and grow to your heart’s content.
For me, taking this eyesore and turning it into something that is a delight to walk thru plus provides fresh food for our family is nothing but good!