It seems everyone I talk to lately about gardening is either building, using, or going to build a raised bed. They are so much smarter than I was.
I spent several years pulling weeds, digging soil, adding manure, and tilling ground before I figured out there was a better way. It started with my husband telling me how stupid I was to garden in the ground and how I should let him build a raised bed for me like his mother always used (note the key words..like his mother used…)
Anyway, eventually I actually listened to what he was saying and it was like a light came on, why was I wasting time and space to garden in a huge area when I could control the dirt, weeds, pests, and use less space and time to get the same results? One season of using the beds and I was converted. Raised beds and container gardening are not only the bomb, they are available to everyone. You can have a small yard, a rental property, or even an apartment or condo and still grow your own food. I have worked full time with a long commute and still been able to take care of several raised beds. I have seen people living in a subdivision grow so much surplus they have vegetables to sell at the farmer’s market. Once the plants are in there is no weeding, very few pests, and you only have to water and harvest. It seriously changes everything.
So, I’m sure you are asking, how do I get one of these amazing raised beds? Well, there are many ways to go about it, (and none of them involve 3 easy payments of $19.99) but I will tell you how we laid ours out and include some links to some reference material and hopefully that will be enough to get anyone started on the road to raised bed gardening. But seriously. Build one. Now. Don’t make gardening harder than it has to be.
So first you have to clear the grass. Mowing will work. That’s right, don’t till, don’t dig. Just mow. Shocking I know.Great for yards with lots of trees, roots, and bad soil. Next cover with some sort of weedbreak. Landscaping weedcloth is the obvious choice. We are cheap so we used thick pieces of old phonebooks. They blocked the weeds and then they decomposed into mulch. Don’t use garbage bags or anything plastic, they are bad for drainage.
Now you need a frame. We used wood because it is what we had. You can use wood, brick, concrete block, whatever suits you or whatever you can get for cheap. Build your beds at a minimum of 8″ high. They do not need to be higher than 12″ even for potatoes and carrots so don’t waste your building materials. There are some beautiful plans available online that will fit into even the nicest of neighborhoods, so don’t think you have to compromise your landscaping. Note: Do not build a bed more than 4 feet wide. It will be nearly impossible to work on the center of the bed without climbing in unless you have really really long arms. It stinks to find this out by accident.
Next, you can add (or not) gravel for drainage. We did not, but in retrospect, it is not a bad idea. If I was starting over, I would add some.
Now you have to fill your bed. Most ingredient lists contain the same ingredients. Dirt, compost or manure, and maybe some peat or potash. There are two schools of thought on the fill. One is mix the manure, potash, peat, dirt whatever. The other is to layer them. We layer, but we know many who mix and grow great plants. I really don’t think the plants care, but do your research and see what works for you. Very important is to use either composted dirt or purchased topsoil in your mix. If you dig dirt from your yard it will be full of weeds and that defeats the purpose.
That’s it. Add plants and water. Literally you could do all this in a day. Garden done. Now just sit back for the rest of spring, drink your iced tea, and watch your plants grow. Easy Peasy.
Square Foot Gardening. A brilliant reference book for both the beginning and experienced gardener http://www.squarefootgardening.com/
Lasagna Gardening, a book for the slightly lazier gardener (not like its a bad thing!) http://www.amazon.com/Lasagna-Gardening-Layering-Bountiful-Gardens/dp/0875969623