How to Create a Raised Bed Garden

Vegetable and flower garden in raised beds | Kerry V. McQuaid

Raised bed gardening refers to gardens whose surfaces are higher than the surrounding ground, whether they’re in the yard or on a patio or deck.

Most are constructed by building large boxes to hold the garden soil approximately 8 inches higher than the surrounding ground; but, it is also possible – and sometimes quite practical – to simply mound up the soil into rows of raised beds without any additional support at all.

Some ornamental raised beds may be two or three feet high, depending on their placement in the landscape. And, some are designed as free-standing boxes that are ideal for decks and patios as well as for folks who can’t or don’t want to bend over or kneel to tend to their gardens.

Raised vegetable beds with spinach and green peas | Lukas Budinsky

Regardless of the design, there are many advantages to raised bed gardening:

  • They can be highly productive, as most gardeners tend to plant their vegetables closer in raised beds. Properly designed, there’s no need for paths between rows of vegetables, as all of the plants can be reached from outside the bed.
  • The soil warms up more quickly in the spring, so most gardeners can plant a little sooner than those who garden on a more traditional plot.
  • The soil won’t become as compacted as soil in a traditional garden, because there’s no need to walk on it.
  • You have greater control over the quality of the soil. If your soil is heavy clay or very sandy, building a raised bed enables you to create a garden environment with rich, loamy soil… which you can purchase or create with the use of lots of compost.
  • Garden maintenance is much easier. Intensive planting and good mulching will significantly reduce weed growth. And, since everything is easily within reach, raised beds are easier to weed and spray as necessary.
  • They can be very attractive and can provide a neat and clean border between your lawn and your vegetable garden.

The only disadvantage to raised bed gardening is that there is a small up front investment of time and money; but, the investment will quickly pay huge dividends.

How to Create:

  1. Choose a location that is fairly level, if possible, and one that will get at least 8 hours of sunlight each day.
  2. Remove any existing turf, as this will significantly reduce the amount of weeding you’ll need to do later.
  3. Till the soil where you’ll be adding your bed. Add sand, if your soil is heavy clay; and, add compost, regardless of the soil type. This will enable you to have both good drainage and a productive foundation for deeper roots.
  4. Build the walls of your bed with untreated lumber (cedar is ideal, composite lumber is also okay), or use bricks, concrete or decorative blocks for a more decorative bed. Ideally, raised beds should be about 8 inches higher than the surrounding ground. If you’re using 2 x 8 lumber on edge, secure the lumber with 2 x 4 support stakes. Drive the supports at least 18″ into the ground to prevent the walls of your bed from collapsing.
  5. Free-standing beds – accessible from both sides – should be about 4 feet wide. If your bed is bordered by a fence or building, make it 3 feet wide, so that you can reach into it without walking on the garden’s surface.
  6. If you are building multiple beds, leave enough space between them so that you can easily mow the grass or create pathways with shredded wood mulch. (Don’t use shredded wood mulch for the vegetable garden, though, as it tends to deplete the nitrogen in the soil.)
  7. Fill the bed with good garden soil, which can be either purchased or created. The best soil for most vegetable gardening is loamy soil that drains fairly well – that ideal medium between clay and sand. Each year you can improve your soil by adding compost and tilling your soil.
  8. Plant intensively; give the plants enough room to mature, but you don’t need to allow space for walking. Indeed, one of the main benefits of raised bed gardening is that you don’t need to walk on the beds.
  9. At the end of the gardening season, add compost to the soil and till it. Cover the soil with a layer of mulch – our favorite is a layer of shredded leaves and grass clippings, which can easily be tilled into the soil at the beginning of next season.

With a little planning, and a little work up front, you’ll enjoy years of productive gardening with raised beds.

If you have a large garden, and you’re thinking of converting it to a series of raised beds, the Mantis Planter/Furrower attachment for the Mantis Tiller is particularly useful for this.

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