Raised Bed Magic – Lift Me Up!

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Raised Garden Beds

In my part of the gardening universe, raised beds make the world go round.

Much of our state has red clay, a great medium for bricks, but not productive for plant growth. In fact, when you dig a hole in clay soil, you are creating a nice bowl for your plant’s roots to drown. Clay soil can be improved, but it takes time, and you can spend an exorbitant amount of money and energy doing it. Or, you can build a raised bed or a burm by piling up soil and organic matter, and have the garden of your dreams in no time.

Besides bad soil, there are other good reasons to build raised beds. Perhaps you want a vegetable garden, but vegetables need sun and good drainage. Creating a spot within your lawn with beautiful raised beds can give your yard structure and grace. An entire landscape design can be created around raised beds.

Say you want to grow carrots. The soil in raised beds is often less compacted, and you are able to better control amendments. To develop long, strong roots, carrots love loose soil. I never succeeded growing carrots until I planted seeds in my potager; i.e., kitchen garden. Although it isn’t necessary, vegetables are often grown in raised beds because they are mostly, hungry annuals. In a smaller raised area, you can concentrate your soil amendments and use them to your best advantage.

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Aching back? A raised bed might be the answer. Most are built six to eight inches off the ground, but there are no rules about situating them higher. In fact, in nursing homes, beds are often built on stilts to make them wheelchair height. Stone or tumbled brick or concrete can be stacked to whatever height you desire. Make the edge wide enough so that you can sit upon it and work giving your back time to rest from hoeing and digging.

Raised beds heat up faster in the spring making it possible to plant earlier than the rest of the landscape. With row covers, you can also extend the season.

Plus, any raised area of the garden generally has better drainage. If your climate is extremely wet, raised beds will help.
As for soil, many suppliers now have soil specifically mixed and tested for the garden. Instead of purchasing bags of soil, once you create your framework, it is often cheaper to have soil delivered. Delivered soil is like Christmas, instant gratification. Then, keep that holiday feeling by creating a compost pile to continue improving your soil each season.

When building your beds, be sure to leave enough room between them for your garden cart or lawnmower. Even if you’re going to use gravel or mulched paths, wider pathways are more esthetically pleasing. If you build the beds from wood, use untreated lumber which can be replaced when it rots. Even though newer types of treated wood are not considered as potentially harmful as CCA was, I would still not use either treated wood or railroad ties soaked in creosote for vegetable beds. Also, raised bed kits, which made bed building simple, are now available online and at many hardware stores. Because I was creating a formal kitchen garden last year, I built my latest beds out of tumbled concrete, but stone would be another beautiful option.

Line your beds with chicken wire or galvanized hardware cloth to discourage burrowing voles and moles. Rabbits are less likely to hop into and devour your kitchen garden if you build the sides of the beds high enough. If you want lower raised beds, fence the area around them to discourage rabbits. As for deer, well, that’s a whole other article.