A raised bed is easier to plant because you don’t have to bend down as far. Weeding is also less strenuous because you can easily reach into the smaller area. Watering is more efficient since you have a much smaller area to water. Because raised beds are never walked upon, the soil is not compacted, which makes hand tilling a breeze.
Probably the most important decision to make when planning a raised bed garden is its location. Pick an area that gets 6 to 8 hours of sunshine a day. For convenience, it is best to locate it close to the house. A garden that is visible will be better cared for.
Drainage is important, so the area should not puddle after a hard rain. Remember that your raised bed will be filled with a new soil mix, so the existing soil in your yard doesn’t matter.
Another important decision to make will be the size of your raised bed. For ease of planting and care as stated above, you should keep the width to no more than 4 feet across, a distance easy to reach for most people. The length can be almost any length you want.
For most vegetables the height should be at least 6 inches. You will want a deeper box for your root vegetables like potatoes, carrots and beets, probably 8 to 12 inches.
The design and shape of raised beds can be endless. Having a well designed plan on paper will save time and money. You may want to add more beds over time to save on the initial cost.
Now let’s talk about materials. Raised beds can be made out of many different materials, including wood, vinyl, brick and stone. But the best material to use for the frugal gardener is free material.
There are some things you should not use, however. Old painted wood that may contain lead should not be used. Also, wood preserved with chemicals like arsenic or creosote should not be used as it can leach into the soil. Reclaimed cedar is a good choice as it is rot resistant.
When constructing your beds out of wood, pre-drilling the holes for the screws will keep the wood from splitting. To help preserve the wood, you can use linseed oil. You can also paint or stain the bottom, outside and top, but leave the inside next to the soil bare.
To fill your new beds, you will need to make a soil mixture that will give your plants all of the nutrients they will need, while holding moisture and draining well. Here is the perfect mix for vegetable gardens when you use equal amounts by volume:
1. Peat moss
2. Coarse vermiculite
3. Blended compost (use many kinds for a better mix)
Compost is the most important of the three ingredients. The best compost is the free compost that you make yourself. If you need to buy it, try to buy bags from several different stores to get a better mix.
The coarse vermiculite holds more moisture than the finer varieties.
Mix equal parts on a large tarp. Peat moss and vermiculite are both very dusty so you should wear a protective mask.
To prohibit weeds from growing through the bottom of your beds, you may want to line them with a landscape fabric. For a more frugal approach use either cardboard or thick newspaper.
Next, fill your beds one third of the way, water well and repeat two more times until full. You are now ready to plant your beds and enjoy gardening with your frugal raised bed!
The Ashtabula County Master Gardeners group encourage you to send questions that you would like answered in this column to 39 Wall Street, Jefferson, Ohio 44047.