Over the last couple of decades, raised bed gardening has gained immense popularity amongst homeowners but it’s actually a gardening concept that has been around for centuries. In essence, raised bed gardening is when a large planting box is used to grow plants instead of sewing them directly into the ground. Not only do the raised beds, or “garden boxes” add an aesthetic element to the yard and garden, they provide many advantages to the homeowner over traditional gardening.
Raised bed gardening continues to gain popularity because of its many advantages.
- Ease of Use – Perhaps the most advantageous aspect of raised bed gardening is how much easier it makes gardening. Raised beds allow people to garden without bending down so much, putting less stress on the body, and in turn resulting in less backaches and pains than traditional gardening. Ease of accessibility is especially important for people with physical limitations; when beds are constructed they can be adjusted to any height, making it possible for those who are wheelchair bound to enjoy gardening.
- Improved Soil Structure – When you build raised garden beds you have to bring in all new material to fill them. The advantage though it that it means you create a really good soil structure that is high in organic matter. This improved soil structure means roots will grow well, water drains through the soil more quickly, and there is great aeration in the root zone.
- Extended Growing Season – The soil in raised beds thaws more quickly in the spring, allowing you to plant earlier than when planting in the ground. Hoops can also be built really easily over the tops of the beds to create mini-greenhouses. Both of these allow for a longer growing season than traditional gardening.
- Easier Weed & Pest Control – When compared to traditional gardening, raised bed gardens experience less weed and pest problems. This is partly due to the construction of the beds: new soil means less weed seeds, and the raised sides prevents most pests from crawling up to the plants. In the case that either weeds or pest problems do arise both are easier to spot and treat.
- Higher Yield – Many of the advantages of raised beds come together to increase plant yields: increased soil quality, improved aeration, more soil organic matter. The lower competition with weeds and pests also means less stress on plants, resulting in better yields as well.
Constructing Raised Beds
The first step when building raised beds is to figure out the best place to put them. When growing garden plants, it’s important they receive lots of sunlight and have some protection from the wind. Take this into consideration when you are determining placement.
After figuring out where to put raised beds, it’s time to think about size. Raised beds can be built in whatever size works for your yard and needs, but it’s recommended they be no more than 4’ across in width so it is easy to reach the center of the growing beds to care for plants. Common heights range from 6 – 24”, depending on the physical ability of the gardener. The shallower beds will easily provide plenty of space for roots to grow; the deeper beds are more accessible for someone with physical locations.
When it comes to construction materials, lumber is the most common material used but retaining blocks can work well also. The key is to use a material for the frame that is weather resistance and sturdy as it will need to contain the weight of the soil once the bed is filled. Beds are typically built in squares or rectangles to make construction easier.
Begin by constructing the frame, in the chosen location and desired size. Once the frame is built it’s time to clear the grass out from the bottom (if you are building them in a grass spot) and line the bed with mesh hardware cloth, black landscape fabric, or layers of newspaper to act as a weed barrier. This will prevent weeds and grass from growing up from the underlying soil.
Once the raised bed is framed out and lined with weed barrier, it’s time to fill it with a mixture of nutrient rich soil and compost. Potting soil works well to fill raised beds but can get expensive quickly depending on the amount of soil needed. Some people choose to fill their raised beds with a mix of 50% topsoil and 50% compost to keep the soil light and somewhat friable.
Gardening in Raised Beds
After you have beds built and filled with soil, it’s time to start the actual gardening!
In terms of planting, you follow many of the same tenants as traditional gardening when working with raised beds. The only difference is that plants are typically spaced closer together in raised beds. This is because it isn’t necessary to leave space to maneuver between rows, and the heavily amended soil has more nutrients for the plants, allowing you to plant more densely.
Because the plants are closer together, as they grow their foliage will create a canopy that covers the soil surface, reducing the need to mulch and lessening the water requirements of the plants. Many people with raised beds choose to install drip irrigation systems that run on irrigation controllers such as the Wise Orchard smart watering system to increase their water use efficiency. A smart controller also reduces the manual labor exerted in watering plants, and ensures plants are watered on a regular schedule.
Raised bed gardening provides many advantages to the home gardener and can add an aesthetic touch to the backyard. Raised bed gardening provides more accessibility, making it easier for those with physical limitations, and often results in higher yields because of better soil structure, less weed and pest pressure, and a longer growing season. Beds can be built to whatever size works for your needs, then customized with plants and irrigation systems to suit your lifestyle.
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