No matter how often we commit to eating healthy, it can be a real challenge. Whether it’s getting up early to shop at the market or managing your grocery budget as droughts and supply chain issues send food prices skyrocketing, finding fresh, affordable produce can seem exhausting.
Don’t give up. Instead, enjoy the pleasure and convenience of growing your own food and flowers in a raised bed garden. With a sunny space, a little effort and creativity, healthy eating can be cost-effective, convenient and delicious. In addition, creating a garden-to-table space in your garden creates an incredible sense of satisfaction, especially when creating meals for your family and friends.
Why Garden in a Raised Bed?
For centuries, farmers have grown food in the ground, so why is gardening in a raised bed so appealing? For many gardeners, growing space is limited and it’s easy to put a lot of plants in a raised bed. Whether you want to grow on a sunny lot with several raised beds or are considering planting tomatoes in a small space on a patio, raised beds are easy to build, adaptable and can fit any budget. And, a raised bed makes gardening accessible to people with mobility issues.
Many of us want to grow vegetables, fruits or herbs, but homeowners’ associations and landowners frown on messy gardens. By creating artfully designed raised garden spaces, unruly vegetables are contained, edible flowers and pollinator plants add beauty, and the raised bed becomes an attractive focal point in the garden. Build several beds, place them at equal intervals or in a vegetable garden-inspired design, add stone paths and an arbor, and suddenly you have a beautiful raised bed garden worthy of a magazine photo shoot.
High Quality Soil
Raised beds allow you to control the quality of the soil. Whether you are dealing with clay soil or soil disease in your garden, these beds allow you to control the content and structure of the soil, ensuring a nutrient rich environment for your plants. When you first fill your raised bed, you start with a pre-made soil mix or a combination of several ingredients to give your plants a healthy start. After harvest, simply refresh the soil with additional compost to keep the garden thriving the following season.
With several raised sections in a vegetable garden, it is easy to practice crop rotation. Rotating crops keeps the soil healthy and helps control pests that overwinter in the soil.
Also, as soil nutrients are depleted each season, it is easy to replenish the soil in a raised bed. Adding compost provides micronutrients to the existing soil to refresh the beds and ensure healthy, productive plants.
You don’t need acres of land to grow a large amount of nutritious food. By adding vertical supports for climbing plants, a raised bed maximizes growing space. Lettuce can be planted right next to peas growing on a trellis. Add a border of radishes to the edge of the bed. With multiple raised beds, it’s easy to install a trellis that connects two beds, creating an arching tunnel for beans or cucumbers growing over the walkway. This will increase your food production and ease of harvesting. Plus, adding vertical elements to raised beds is not only practical, it also adds visual interest to your garden.
Raised beds allow the soil to drain properly, avoiding the waterlogging problems of many gardens in the ground. Less irrigation is also wasted in the confined space of a raised bed. Properly installed drip irrigation systems target plant roots, ensuring healthy plants and saving money on water bills. Raised bed irrigation kits help maintain soil moisture, reducing watering chores.
Protection Against Parasites
While wildlife habitats in gardens are a great addition, no one likes furry or feathered friends eating our carefully tended vegetables. Raised beds prevent crops from becoming snacks for wildlife. By reinforcing the bottom of the bed with wire mesh, voles and groundhogs can’t get to your tasty roots, while covering the rows of the bed keeps cabbage worms at bay.
Extending the Season
After the cold, gray days of winter, gardeners are eager to get out and start planting. In the spring, raised beds tend to warm up faster than the ground, allowing spring crops to be planted earlier. Also, with the addition of simple tunnels, crops can continue into late fall. In addition, reclaimed windows can create a cool setting for winter crops, using a raised bed as a base.
Types of Raised Beds
Take a look around the web and you’ll find all sorts of raised beds. While there are a wide variety of styles and materials used to create these beds – bricks, tree trunks, straw bales and even concrete blocks – the most common style of raised bed is easily constructed from lumber. If you’re eager to start growing, you’ll find dozens of ready-to-install raised beds made from metal, cedar or composite materials. Raised beds offer easy and comfortable access to grow your favorite vegetables, herbs or flowers.
Before Starting With Your Raised Bins
Proper planning will save you time and money when creating your new garden. First, think about the types of plants you want to grow. Do you want to grow a few tomato plants each summer, or do you intend to feed a family of five with fresh produce from the garden? Or maybe you’d rather grow beautiful flowers for bouquets. Depending on your goals, you can determine how many beds you’ll need.
If you are a new gardener, start with a small area so you can enjoy the process without getting discouraged. You can always add more raised beds next season.
3 tips for choosing a location for raised beds
Most vegetables, fruits and flowers prefer full sun, for at least 6 to 8 hours. Some crops, such as lettuce and chard, tolerate less sun, but for good fruit crop production, sun is important.
Having a water source nearby is essential. Choose a flat area near the garden hose or rain barrel for easy watering.
Consider how close your new garden is to the kitchen. A garden closer to the house makes meal preparation easier. It’s easier to harvest beans, pick fresh herbs or pull a weed when the garden is close. You’ll also be able to spot potential problems, such as pests or drooping plants, before they become big problems in your garden.
Site Preparation for Raised Beds
Once the location is chosen, remove the grass and weeds. Lay newspaper over the lawn, which will kill the grass and act as a barrier to weeds.
Filling Your Raised Bed
Remember math class? To find the volume of your new raised bed, multiply the length x width x height. If you have created a bed that is 4 feet wide, 8 feet long and 1 feet high, you will need a volume of 32 cubic feet of soil.
You can create your own soil mix. The classic raised bed mix contains one-third mixed compost, one-third peat moss (although coco peat can be used as a more durable alternative) and one-third vermiculite, which provides excellent drainage and aeration.
After filling the bin, water the soil well to settle it.
Plant Your Raised Bed Garden
Decide what you or your family like to eat and create your garden plan. Many garden centers sell vegetable seedlings as starters, but some plants, such as beans, peas and radishes, grow easily (and inexpensively) from seed. Plus, it’s incredibly satisfying to harvest food you’ve grown from seed. If you want to grow unique vegetables or All-America Selection varieties, such as Purple Zebra tomatoes, Wildcat cayenne pepper or Sweet Jade Kabocha squash, starting plants from seed is both an economical and fun alternative to buying nursery-produced seedlings. There is nothing more enjoyable than growing seedlings indoors on cold winter days!
To increase the beauty and productivity of your garden, add flowers. A border of nasturtiums or marigolds attracts beneficial insects, increasing pollination and eliminating many garden pests. In addition, many flowers are edible, making for a great addition to salads and other dishes. Flowers can be both a pretty and practical addition to your vegetable garden. Or perhaps you want to dedicate your raised beds to growing a cut flower garden, so you can fill your vases with home-grown bouquets throughout the season.
Whatever your preference, raised beds make growing your favorite foods, herbs and flowers a great experience.
For more gardening inspiration, visit the National Garden Bureau website.