Raised beds are a wonderful addition to any backyard garden if you have the space, and materials required.
There are many benefits to having raised beds:
- Ideal for smaller spaces (versus a conventional row garden)
- Great for rocky, poor, or abused soil
- Produces a higher yield for the area, thanks to better drainage and deep rooting
- Allows for a longer growing season, since you can work the soil more quickly in the spring in frost-hardened regions
- Makes gardening easier; for example, intensive planting creates shade mulch to keep the weeds down
When choosing the size for your beds, keep in mind that you'll need to be able to reach to the center of your beds to harvest, so don't make them to wide. You won't want to have to struggle just to reach your produce inside your bed.
If you have more than one bed, consider putting in a mulch or gravel pathway, in between your beds.
Want to get the most out of your growing space? Try vertical trellises going up the back of your beds to grow peas or cucumbers on!
Or, build a "vining ramp", over your raised bed, to provide shade for "shade loving" lettuces or other vegetables underneath!
To ensure that the wood lasts, there are several options:
- Regular pressure-treated lumber sold today has a mixture of chemicals applied to prevent the moist soil and weather from rotting it. Although pressure-treated wood is certified as safe for organic growing, some people have reservations about using it and there are various eco-friendly alternatives.
- More expensive woods such as cedar contain natural oils which prevent rotting and make them much more durable. They are more expensive to buy but they will last many more years.
- Choosing thicker boards can make the wood last longer. For example two-inch thick locally-sourced larch should last ten years, even without treatment.
- You could also use concrete blocks or bricks. Remember that concrete will increase the pH in soil over time.
- Some people use railroad ties, however, we would advise against this. Though the very old ones may be fine, newer ties use creosote-treated timber which is toxic.
Tips of Building the Bed:
- To support timber beds, place wooden stakes at ever corner (and every few feet for long beds). Place on the inside of the bed so that the stakes are less visible.
- Drive the stakes about 60% (2 feet) into the ground and leave the rest of the stakes exposed above ground.
- Ensure that the stakes are level so that they're in the ground at the same height, or you'll have uneven beds.
- Set the lowest boards a couple inches below ground level. Check that they are level. Use galvanized nails (or screws) to fix the boards to the stakes.
- Then add any additional rows of boards, fixing them to the stakes, too.
Getting the Best Dirt:
- Fill the beds with a mix of topsoil, compost, and other organic material, such as manure, to give your plants a nutrient-rich environment.
- Note that the soil in a raised bed will dry out more quickly. During the spring and fall, this is fine, but during the summer, add straw, mulch, or hay on top of the soil.
- Frequent watering will be critical with raised beds, especially in the early stages of plant growth. Otherwise, raised beds need little maintenance.