Raised bed gardening began centuries ago. People used areas of soil raised above the normal ground level because the raised areas had better drainage and because they warmed up earlier in the spring. Today's gardeners use raised beds for the same reasons. A raised bed contains your garden plants and soil. When you amend your garden soil with compost, it stays in the bed where your plants can use it. Raised beds require less kneeling and are easier to work in. They make watering more efficient, and they also make it more difficult for creeping weeds to invade. Raised bed vegetable gardens produce two to five times as much per square foot as traditional flat gardens.
Customize Your Raised Bed Vegetable Garden
Build a raised bed by simply building the side frames of a box. Choose a material that complements the rest of your home's design, and plan the placement of your beds to accommodate the needs of the vegetables you will grow, such as plant height and spacing. Keep in mind that vegetables need full sun.
Beds should be no wider than 4 feet. This means you reach no more than 2 feet from either side to work in the center of the bed. The length of the bed depends on the layout of your garden. Leave plenty of space for a wheelbarrow or garden cart. You will want to walk between shorter beds rather than all the way around a long one, especially when you carry in those vegetables. Never step into the planting bed, because it will compact the soil.
Fill your raised beds with good garden soil mixed with compost. If your soil is clay, add peat moss to improve the humus content, and sharp sand to improve drainage. You can customize the size of the bed and the soil in each bed to meet the requirements of the vegetables you will grow there. For example, if you will grow carrots, parsnips or deep root vegetables, you may want that bed to be deeper than your lettuce bed.
Plant and Care for Raised Beds
You can set transplants into your raised bed garden earlier than you would set them into the ground. The soil will be warmer in the bed. A raised bed is easy to cover with clear plastic to make a mini-greenhouse, which provides even more protection in early spring.
Plants can be spaced a little closer together in a raised bed than a traditional flat garden, because every inch of soil is for growing. No space is a compacted pathway. Plant more than one kind of vegetable in your beds. Set taller plants like tomatoes or peppers in a row along the back of a bed, and use shorter plants like bush beans or lettuce in front. Include supports for peas, pole beans or tomatoes in your building plan for your raised vegetable beds.
Inspect regularly for insect damage, and apply organic controls when necessary.
If you water using a garden hose, a raised bed garden keeps the water where your plants can use it. A drip irrigation system is efficient; make it a permanent part of your raised bed garden.
Double crop your organic raised vegetable beds. When early crops are done, use the space again. Apply more compost and plant late-season vegetables.
About this Author
Fern Fischer is a freelance writer with more than 35 years' experience. Her work has been published in various print and online publications. She specializes in organic gardening, health, rural lifestyle, home and family articles. Fischer also writes about quilting and sewing, and she professionally restores antique quilts to preserve these historical pieces of women's art.