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Raised Bed Gardening

September 11, 2013

I recognize that as I write this Fall is slowly creeping in.  You're likely wondering why I'm writing about starting a garden, but Fall actually is the perfect time to plan. 

For me, raised bed gardening was something I almost had to do since our ground is full of stones.  Full.  Every small shovel in the ground comes out with more stones than dirt.  Using a raised bed eliminates the soil prep, including amendments, usually associated with gardens.  Additionally, you aren't ever walking on the soil which means no compaction, so there is no digging or loosening of the soil prior to planting.

If you are considering adding raised garden beds there are a few things to think about.

1.  Size of the Garden Beds
     This is important because you want to be able to reach every inch of the bed easily for both planting and harvesting. 
     Not only that but think ahead to the possibility of extending your growing season by adding pvc pipes and making tunnels to cover your plants.  Many gardening companies carry tunnel covers and/or the piping to convert your existing garden bed.  Check these out to find out what sizes are common prior to deciding on the size of your bed.

2.  Type of Material The Frame Will Be Made From
     If you want to use wood, what type of wood and will it be treated or untreated?  Untreated wood won't last more than a few years in most areas but you don't have to worry about any chemicals.  If you choose treated, it will last for considerably longer but any chemicals used in treating it may leach into the soil and, therefore, into your plants.  {there are claims it won't, but you have to decide for yourself if you want to risk it}
     If you choose man-made material the cost is quite high.
     You are making a frame only - 4 pieces of lumber per bed.  The bed is open to the ground below.  We didn't use metal corners - just screwed the lumber together at the corners, but it is an option.  We've had no issues with ours.

3.  What To Fill It With
     You will need healthy soil to fill the beds.  If you don't currently have your own supply on your property for soil, many landscaping companies can give you prices for delivery of it {area times depth will give you the cubic feet for each bed}.  Adding compost is a very good idea.  Visit my Compost 101 post to see that it's something easy to start on your own.

Creating a trellis system to some parts of the beds will enable you to get even more produce from small spaces.  Cucumbers, beans {vining variety}, peas, and many melons and squash can grow up, allowing more space for veggies that need ground space.

You can choose to rototill the area you will be placing the raised beds or not.  We rototilled for our first beds and didn't for our added beds.  Instead, we built the beds in Fall and lay a layer of newspaper along the bottom of the bed, covering it with a thin layer of soil.  In the Spring, the grass was dead and the soil was easily worked.  We used a pitchfork to loosen it and added soil and compost to fill the beds.

4.  How Much Space Between Beds
     This is important because although you don't want to lose space that could be growing produce, you'll want to think about what you'll need in the garden.  If you'll be using a wheelbarrow, make sure you've got the space to do so. 

What We Did
I chose to use untreated lumber that will likely have to be replaced every 4-8 years {so far we haven't had to replace any but next year likely part of two beds will be replaced - they are 5 years old}. 

My beds go the entire length of the designated garden area {13 feet} and are 3 feet wide, allowing easy access to the center of the beds.  See above for how we prepped the ground.  My rows between the beds are almost 3 feet wide as well in case we need to get a wheelbarrow, weedwacker, etc. through.

I found a local farmer who had a chemical-free compost pile.  He ran an ad in the local paper stating he wanted to sell off some of it since he had too much to use.  He gave us a price for delivery and we were able to have him back up right to the beds and dump it in. 

We have compost piles going at all times and are able to topdress the beds every year.  We also grow cover crops in most beds.

For the potato beds {photo above}, I had my husband make me a bunch of 3 foot by 3 foot frames {open on top and bottom}.  I start 4 sets of potatoes, all with 1 frame.  I add a bit of dirt, then potatoes, then more dirt.  As they sprout and begin to grow I continue to cover them in dirt.  When the dirt reaches the tops of the first boxes, I add a second box to each potato bed.  I continue to cover, allow to grow, cover, etc. and adding boxes 3-4 high.  I get a higher yield of potatoes this way.

When planting, I mix plants as often as I can in order to best utilize my space.  During the summer, for example, I grow lettuce between the pea trellis since lettuce bolts in full sun and our summers are typically hot and humid.  My tomato bed is also planted with carrots and herbs in between the plants, etc.

When you have a limited space and need to make the full area count, raised garden beds are a good option to consider.

Don't forget today is Homemade Living Wednesday! 
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Next week I'll be posting in the series along with Daisy at Maple Hill 101

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