Step Two: RAISED BEDS
This one tip can make your garden grow lush, with better seed germination, fewer weeds, and higher vegetable/flower production. Soil prep is also greatly reduced, saving you a ton of prep time and effort each Spring.
Why it works:
- You never compact the garden soil by walking on it.
- Rototilling is eliminated.
- Weeds come out effortlessly.
- Vegetable roots spread quickly in the loose garden soil.
- Plants grow and fill out rapidly.
- Gardening is compartmentalized.
For years I planted our vegetable garden in rows in the existing clay soil. I did amend our soil each year but it became compacted as I walked between the rows to pull weeds, water plants, or harvest. Winter rains further compacted the soil. In the early Spring I’d pull out the rototiller and go to work. I don’t know about you, but in the spring I want to plant, not rototill. I typically avoided the tilling until late in the season. Some years, the Bermuda grass and weeds took over and we never got around to planting a garden at all.
Then I decided to bite the bullet and build a few raised beds and fill them with garden mix. I used old lumber I had collected over the years from past projects or tear-downs. The boxes don’t have to be pretty, just functional. You don’t even need nails. Some of our boxes are made up of a few 4x4s laid on the ground with a couple stakes hammered into the ground to hold them in place.
Craigslist is a great place to find free lumber and keep it out of the landfill.
I used 2×6 and 4×6 boards for other boxes…whatever I had on hand. I recommend that you fill the bed with at least six inches of good planting mix or garden mix. Most vegetables will root into the top 6″ of soil. The underlying soil will help retain moisture and give aggressive roots a place to go. If your lumber is only 4″ high, dig out 2 inches of existing soil before filling the boxes.
You can buy planting mix bags at your local nursery or home supply store. If you have a truck, call landscape supply yards and see if they have a “garden mix”. You can save a lot of money if you buy the soil mix in bulk. They will deliver large loads. If you go this route, you may need to add compost to the bulk mix. In my experience, the bulk mixes don’t contain quite enough organic material. The loamy soils are nice but can form a “crust” on top and hinder water penetration. I’ve remedied this by mixing compost into the top layer or adding a product like Soil Moist when planting. Check the soil quality before you buy. The mixture will vary between landscape supply companies. If you want more organic material in the mix, see if they will mix more compost into it for you before they load it into your truck.
You can make boxes in any size but, ideally, you should be able to reach the veggies without stepping inside the box. This keeps everyone from walking on the soil. A good size to start with is four feet by four feet.
TIP: If you have to go with larger boxes (like I did above), add stepping stones or planks to avoid soil compaction. I put three stones in the (far) pumpkin patch above.
In the winter, cover the unused boxes with a 2″ layer of leaves or straw to keep weeds in check. I leave the mulch in place until I am ready to ready to plant each box. If you only get one box planted, no problem. The weeds don’t get out of control in the other beds and they are still waiting for you when you are ready.
Rototilling is not needed. Just add a layer of compost on top of the garden soil in the Spring. Mix it in with your favorite hand tool. A hula hoe works well too.
Start small and test it out. Build a 3 or 4 foot square and see how it goes. I’d love to hear how this works for you.