Gardening is not only fun; it is rewarding.
During World War II, Americans were urged to plant “victory gardens” as the nation faced potential food shortages. Though we are beginning to see some recovery from the coronavirus crisis, we are still experiencing less than ideal produce in our grocery stores. This is leading Americans to grow their own vegetables.
This is a great idea. However, if available space or your soil is less than ideal, a raised bed or large container may be an option. Raised bed gardens, at least 2 feet in height, also provide an accessible option for individuals whose physical limitations prevent them from leaning or working at ground level.
Garden dimensions can be adapted to the gardener’s needs. The larger the dimensions of the raised bed, the more soil that will be required.
Select wood or another material that is long lasting. Try to avoid pressure-treated lumber and used railroad ties. These products may contain toxic preservatives that may leach into the soil. Though more expensive, materials including black locust and cedar are an alternative to pressure-treated wood and will last for multiple years. Other materials, including concrete landscaping stones or large barrels suitable for smaller properties or apartments, can also be used.
If building multiple raised beds, it is critical to leave enough space between the beds to allow passage for garden equipment such as wheelbarrows and possibly lawnmowers. Avoid making beds wider than 3.5 to 4 feet, or it may be difficult to access the middle of the bed from either side.
Selecting a soil mix high in organic matter and with good water-holding capacity will support a variety of plants.
When purchasing a soil mix, inspect the materials that compose the mix. For most raised beds, a blend of half compost and half topsoil can be used to fill the bed. Avoid a strictly topsoil composition since its composition can be varied. The compost will provide organic matter.
Since compost decomposes naturally, compost should be added to the soil at the end of each season. A soil depth of no less than 10 inches is the minimum amount suitable for growing most vegetables other than potatoes and larger vine crops such as watermelon. Remember vegetables require over 8 hours of direct sunlight per day.
Raised beds placed on the ground often will have weeds coming up from the ground. To prevent this from happening, apply a layer of non-glossy newspaper on the ground before adding the soil to the raised bed.
Raised beds will lose water more rapidly than plants sowed directly in the ground. Remember to drill drainage holes through the base of barrels that may be used. During the summer, or when conditions are warm and sunny, water plants regularly with 1 inch of water per week. To avoid having to carry a watering can to the garden, the raised bed should be within length of a water source. As an alternative to watering with a sprinkler, a drip irrigation system can be set up prior to planting.
Growing plants in raised beds gives gardeners the advantage of controlling soil characteristics. This style of gardening works well in compact spaces with full to partial sun.