If you’re thinking about being a bit creative when organizing and planting your vegetable garden, why not consider a raised garden bed? Raised beds can be simple or quite elaborate depending on your creativity and your budget. And they’re not just for vegetables! On the contrary, raised garden beds can become permanent fixtures in your garden for perennial plants and flowers adding to the decor of your property. What’s more, they are no more expensive to maintain than a standard in-ground garden once they have been put into place. But they do offer quite a few benefits.
What Exactly Is a Raised Garden Bed?
Gardening with a raised soil bed entails growing your plants and vegetables in soil that sits higher than the ground. Most often they will be enclosed with wood, stone, bricks, or even some piece of old furniture that has been repurposed to host vegetables or flowers.
When you construct your raised garden bed, instead of tilling the earth and digging in the ground, you place the soil bed above the ground. This allows you to place it where you want, either in direct sunlight or in a partially shady area of your property, depending on what you intend to grow. Imagine creating the perfect conditions for your favorite flowers or vegetables. It will be much easier for you to control the quality of your soil as well as its drainage, too, and these soil beds sit above the ground’s frost line. Your soil will warm faster and maintain the temperature for longer, lengthening your growing season. Seeding and transplanting young plants and seedlings will be more protected and secure.
How Does it Work?
When choosing to garden in a raised soil bed, you’ll want to maximize your productivity if growing for food. Whereas it is possible to place more plants in a smaller space, you’ll need to avoid overcrowding because your plants will never grow to their potential when lacking air circulation, or when competing for nutrients, water, or space. You’ll need to plan your spacing correctly depending on the plants you choose to cultivate and where you are located. How do your plants grow? Are they climbers, bushy, or trailing? You can use stakes and cages even in a raised garden bed if helpful.
Even though you can sew seeds directly into a raised garden bed, it might be wiser, to begin with, a seedling or young plant to shorten the actual growing time before harvest. It also may make better sense economically to invest in a few plants if your raised soil bed isn’t large enough to host an entire packet of seeds.
When to Plant in a Raised Soil Bed
When deciding the correct time to begin planting in your raised garden bed, consider the following:
Plant type. Some plants will be able to tolerate and even thrive in cooler weather. Other plants will likely die in temperatures under 40°F. Check out the best period for planting individual vegetables or flowers.
Frosts and Soil temperatures. In many geographical zones, your growing season will fall between the estimated first and final frost dates. Plants that do not thrive in the cold, should not be planted until any danger of frost has passed for your area. The other extreme is heat. If you live in a warmer to hot climate, you’ll probably be planting in the fall to avoid summer heat extremes. Finally, most plants will thrive in moderate soil temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees. A few may do well in cooler temperatures around 45°F. It is important to know the ideal soil temperature for the particular crop you are cultivating.
Once you have planted the soil should be watered to a depth of approximately two inches. Soil should remain moist if you have used seeds and also in the case of seedlings until either one produces their first true leaves. This is particularly important if you have sown seeds as the hard outside shell must be kept moist for the seed to germinate. Covering your raised garden bed with plant fabric will help. Young seedlings and plants should not be transplanted in bright hot sunny or windy weather. Cooler weather is more appropriate for transplanting.
Tips for How to Make Raised Garden Beds
To make your raised soil bed, you basically, need to form the outside shape with whatever material you have chosen for the walls of your raised soil bed if you are not using an already formed container such as an aluminum animal trough. Create a bottom layer of organic material covered in newspaper or cardboard and simply fill it with the best soil mix for the plants you intend to cultivate.
Space and position
You will want to place your garden beds somewhere where your crops and plants can get sufficient sunlight. A position that affords at least six hours of sunlight daily is ideal. By placing them north to south, plants will not shade each other out of receiving adequate sun. Beds should be at least a foot wide but should not exceed four feet as both weeding and harvesting would be unmanageable. Length will be cost-effective for harvesting food if your raised bed runs at least six to eight feet. The ideal height should be anywhere from ten to fifteen inches to encourage strong and healthy root growth. Plan your beds with several feet of space between them so you can walk through with supplies or with a wheelbarrow.
What goes on the bottom of a raised soil bed?
Place a layer of leaves, grass clippings, wood chips, and organic material at the bottom of a raised bed. Cover it with cardboard or newspaper. The organic material will provide you with a bed of compost while the cardboard will inhibit weed growth.
You’ll need rich dark nutritious soil for your raised garden. Mixing quality topsoil with aged compost will provide your plants with a nurturing environment. You should test your raised garden soil for both nutrient and pH content, then add in any elements necessary.
One of the best things about raised soil beds is the drainage which is terrific for the health of your plants. One word of caution, however, regarding dry-raised garden beds. These beds are much quicker to dry out, so if the soil appears dry to the touch, water it. A drip irrigation system is a very convenient and relatively inexpensive solution. It will bring the water directly to the plant roots without compromising foliage. A programmable timer will save you time, water, and money.
in a garden or yard will also be easier to maintain, enhancing your space aesthetically as well as contributing to the health of your plants.
Creativity and Recycling
For the creative DIY-ers, you can free your creativity because the alternatives in building materials have no limits, and if you believe in recycling, here is a great opportunity to do just that.
If you’re wondering how to build raised garden beds, imagine creating one with any of these materials:
- Concrete Blocks. This is a popular option for creating a raised soil bed. You may want to opt for new concrete blocks as older cinder blocks can contain fly ash which may not be safe when cultivating any vegetables that you plan on eating. Concrete will tend to block leech lime which can raise the pH in your soil, so select plants that thrive in soil with high alkaline levels.
- Logs harvested from your property can provide you with a no-cost solution and they integrate well with the soil’s natural ecosystem buffering moisture and promoting natural soil fungal activity.
- Milk Crate Raised Gardens. Have any unused milk crates laying around? Milk crates can be organized in any shape you prefer, and they are transportable so if you get tired of your initial design idea, you can change it without too much difficulty. Want your herbs close to the kitchen door, no problem. In hot weather do your plants need some shade? With milk crates, they can easily be moved to a position that favors their well-being, and crates already have drainage holes, so that’s one less thing to worry about.
- Sheet metal raised garden beds. One advantage to using or recycling sheet metal for your raised bed is that the metal will retain the sun’s warmth longer in your soil. It is a very adaptable material that can be used in numerous shapes if you have specific designs or forms in mind.
Raised soil beds come in all shapes and sizes. Some interesting options include built-in raised soil beds as well as border walls and containment walls with enclosed soil beds. And if you need a bench to sit on in your yard or garden, you can build a bench around the outside of your raised soil bed. This could be of use to people who need to sit when gardening for health reasons. The same logic applies to building a waist-level raised soil bed for those with some physical limitations or who are unable to bend comfortably.
The Bottom Line
There are numerous benefits to choosing to garden with raised soil beds:
- Garden anywhere while creating landscape architecture for your property
- Harvest more food from a smaller space by cultivating plants closer together
- Increase the growing season length by beginning earlier since they offer better water drainage, and the soil warms up faster
- Take advantage of improved soil quality beginning with the ideal soil mix for your selected plants
- Fewer weeds due to a smaller growing space, and easier removal from new loose soil
- Pest control is better managed because of limited space. Raised beds can be covered if needed. Avoid pests that tunnel underneath your garden, munching on roots and eating your plants. Rowdy dogs and curious toddlers will be less inclined to invade a raised garden bed, although you may find your cat sleeping in the middle of it.
- Ideal for gardeners with physical limitations
Now get out there and free your creativity by building your one-of-a-kind raised garden bed!