Ten years ago a raised garden bed was something of a new concept. I thought it was a great idea since it would eliminate so much of the hassle with weeding,ground borned insects,and soil that I could not control. I was particularly interested because our backyard suffers from the giant rock syndrome which made it impossible to grow such root vegetables as carrots and parsnips unless you wanted them to have the appearance of a crooked staff.
My first raised garden bed was my daughter's waterbed. Yes you read it correctly.She was leaving the nest and we needed the space occupied by the waterbed for other endeavors. So I moved the waterbed to the garden, knowing it was already waterproof,and reassemble it in a good sunny location. I still painted the outside with a good brown deck paint for reassurance that it would not rot and go to pieces on me. This particular bed is still there to this day despite being rammed by an over zealous lawn mowing person.
THE CONSTRUCTION OF A RAISED GARDEN BED
Since most of you have no access to an old waterbed,illustratred to reveal how simple it really is,I will discuss the only other material that I have found suitable for a raised bed garden. You can wrestle with stone,concrete blocks,or brick and yes its appearance is great if you want to become a landscape artist for some flower magazine. However practicality and ease of assembly lead me to cedar. It is easy to deal with,weather resistant and attractive if allowed to turn weather gray. Again I personally preferred to paint with the good old deck paint. The following are the steps to build this wooden cedar bed:
- Select three cedar boards 8 foot by nine inches high
- Have cut or cut yourself one board into two four foot pieces
- Purchase one four by four post eight foot in length.
- Have posts cut or cut yourself into four two foot lengths.
- Purchase a box of galvanized wood screws two to three inches in length
- Paint all boards and posts both sides with a good deck paint
As you can view from the picture the posts are placed on the inside eliminating the need for long screws. Just make sure your boards are flush with the edge of the posts. I would measure with your boards to make sure your post placement is in the proper area so that, as mentioned above, your boards are flush with the edge of the posts. The post should be buried with one foot below the ground and one foot above the ground. It maybe wise to add wooden braces at the mid section of the eight foot sides to add stability. I used trex railing cut into twelve inch pieces and driving three inches into the ground and fastening them to the cedar board with the screws. This is pictured below
Leveling Is An Important Factor In All Raised Garden Bed
I firmly believe that a level raised garden bed is a must. If it is not as level as possible, you may encounter a circumstance where water accumulates in one end of the garden leaving you with a puddled bed. This can easily be avoided by the use of a level on your frame to ensure that all sides are even. This can be accomplished by removing some of the soil beneath it until you have a level frame. This is the easy story now let me tell you the difficult story.
I wanted to place the above raised bed off the end of another. I knew the ground was extremely unlevel and required me digging it out even prior to placing the bed in position. Now even after I assemble the raised garden bed it was still unlevel to the naked eye and had gaps under the bottom railing. I purchased about 20 bags of gravel stone to place on the inside of the bed and have the sides resting on the gravel stone. I still needed support on the corners so I forced some of my giant stones under the corners to provide added support and the gravel stone help level the entire inside of the bed. This is the kind of thing you can run into when constructing your raised bed.
Raised Garden Bed Weed Blocker
If you don't encounter the kind of leveling problem I had above then it will be as easy. You may want to mow short the underlying grass prior to placement of the weed control cloth which is available at any local nursery or hardware store that is in the flower business. I have used this weed control cloth from the very start and have never encountered any detrimental experiences with it. I have heard rumors that it causes mold to form but then, after investigation, I found it was being used under only two inches of soil. This could cause breathing and air problems for the underlying soil and create a mold problem. However under nine inches of soil I have had no problems.
If you don't avail yourself of the cloth and you don't need intensive leveling, than you are going to add to your labor by removing a 4x8 patch of grass. I don't know about you but grass removal is not all that easy and takes a lot of time and more than a few angry words. The use of the cloth in the raised garden bed will eliminate 95% of your weed worries with the only weeds growing in your raised bed coming from airborn seeds landing on your raised bed soil.
Another word of advice,this cloth comes in two different widths three foot and four foot with varying lengths,if you purchase the three foot width and your bed is four feet wide you will need to cut an additional three foot piece and overlap it with the other. You are going to say, well, I will buy the four foot length but don't do it unless you like to spend money needlessly. The four foot width costs three to four times as much as the three foot width and for that I can cut two 3x8 foot pieces and overlap them.
It is Raised Garden Bed Soil Fill Time
This,to me,is the most labor intensive part of the entire construction of a raised garden bed. You have two choices here you can either buy top soil in bulk or in bags that usually weigh around forty pounds each. Buying top soil in bulk maybe difficult if you are only constructing one raised bed unless you have other uses for the top soil. I purchased the forty pound bags and will require 25 bags for 4x6 raised bed and 36 bags for a 4x8 bed. This is a real material handling job for which you need a wheel barrel and a box cutter type knife. Don't attempt to haul any more than four bags at a time from whatever vehicle you have used to bring the bags home.
Place four bags at a time in the eight foot bed or three bags in the six foot bed and slit the bags with a box cutter or knife and dump the contents. I find it easier to spread around wearing gloves and spreading it evenly with your hands. You can use a rake but it is not as evenly spread as when you use your hands. This will save lots of double and triple handling time rather then first placing all the bags beside your raised garden bed and then have to handle them again dumping into the raised bed.
What to Plant and What About Fertilizing
It is a decision that you have to make as to the vegetables you want to plant in your raised garden bed. First you must realize that a raised bed will not hold large numbers of vegetables. Think about those vegetables you most like in the summer and start from that point. To give you an example,we started with tomatoes planting six plants. A few plants of Basil because we like to make pesto and lettuce for summer salads. This is about all you can accommodate in a 4x8 raised bed without crowding. It maybe your first year so there is no need to go overboard.If you like the results, and you have the space, add another raised garden bed the following season.
How About The Fertilizer
The initial installation of your raised garden bed will require some type fertilizer and mulching after you have selected your vegetables. The fertilizer however can be added prior to planting and this can be done with fresh compost,manure(which you can purchase in a garden shop)already bagged or use a pellet form of slow release fertilizer. I have tested all three and frankly see no difference in the ultimate result. Just apply whatever you decide to use into the top two or three inches of the soil. I suggest,after your raised garden bed is established,to apply this top dressing each spring,prior to planting,and in the fall when all of your vegetables have been harvested.
As you note from the photo Our raised bed garden is arrange in such way that each one touches the other except for the water bed frame and the new bed that was pictured earlier. You have to be concerned about the hours of sunshine that will pour heat and light on to your bed or beds. In most cases,vegetables need a minimum of six hours of sun to properly develop and bear fruit. We endeavored to arrange our beds around the hours of sun in that particular spot. This is why the new bed,that looks like a cedar log cabin, was positioned further away from the others to absorb more of that needed sunshine.
Raised Bed Requires More Watering Than a Flat Garden In the Ground
This is another good reason ,as you add beds, to have them in close proximity to make it easier on the watering as long as you have enough sunshine in that area to add more raised garden beds. We just use an ordinary garden hose about 125 feet in length to reach the location of are beds and by purchasing one of those multi selection water nozzles you can use the gentle shower on your vegetables instead of blasting them with a straight stream. In the beginning I recommend,after you have fertilize and before planting, hit the soil with some soaking water for about fifteen minutes and get that water to penetrate into the new soil. Remember this soil is new and may have some moisture but not enough for your new vegetables. The watering may require,in the beginning, a twice a day happening once before you go to work and once after you arrive at home. Of course, this all depends on the temperature and the amount of natural rainfall your garden has received.
I would like to steer you away from a few vegetables,which I feel are totally impractical, for a raised bed garden. These would include peas,beans,and corn. You need too many plants to provide you with enough food to feed the family. I would also like to caution you about vine plants such as cucumbers and all types of squash as they require a great deal of room to develop. I do plant them but not until I had several raised beds so I could provide them with adequate room. You can,however,try the trellis method with these plants by erecting a trellis in your raised garden bed. This will allow the vines to climb and save your precious space in the bed itself. I have not attempted this method but I will be doing this shortly and we will see how the outcome is as far as fruit production.
A MATURE RAISED GARDEN BED
The raised garden bed you are viewing here is about five weeks into planting. I have a lot of plants in this bed but all are very compatible. I have two Zucchini plants,three cucumber plants,three egg plants and five pepper plants in this garden. The hardest plants to control here are the Zucchini plants and the cucumber plants as they have the natural inclination to sprawl everywhere in this garden.
I put in two trellis for the cucumbers and I staked several branches of the Zucchini plants so they would not lie on the pepper plants. I have been somewhat successful with this method but believe me these plants have a mind of there own. However the impact has not caused any growth problems of the fruit. I have already harvested several cucumbers and a pepper with a huge quantity of peppers to go. The Zucchini is not far behind.
There is one point of caution here you must check the compatibility of your plants as not all plants are happy with each other. This combination seems to be working out fine. As you can see from the accompanying pictures everything is healthy and no disease or insect invasion as of yet. Keep well watered during dry periods because of the amount of foliage involved here. This raised garden bed is four foot by eight foot.
Here is another view of the mature raised garden bed. There is an earlier picture of this same bed on this web page.
It really is worth the time and labor to produce your own vegetables in this fashion with less anger and frustration at the insects and wild animals that enjoy your efforts along with you. You can buy an already made raised garden bed if you don't have the desire or skill to build one. Just make sure what you are getting in to before the purchase. I got lazy this spring and decided to purchase a raised bed from a reputable catalog companyand ended up with all kinds of assembly problems. The delivery was slow and so we went out to the local lumber store and purchase one and then of course the other one showed up so now we added two. The lumber yard one slipped together in less than ten minutes and the other I struggled with for over four hours. I think,if available,I would rather purchase it locally allowing a review of how difficult it will be to assemble.
I have a feeling that everyone,who has the room, will be needing some raised garden beds in the near future.
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