Wednesday, June 8, 2011

How to make a raised garden bed

This year we put in 6 raised garden beds in our 25' x 35' plot of dirt. Ideally we would have added 9-12 beds, but financially it made more sense to start with 6 and if it works for us add more next year. We purchased the fantastic book, Backyard Homestead, along with tons of really useful information it described many of the benefits you can expect from using raised garden beds. I had been contemplating it before but this info sealed the deal. I had to have raised beds:
  • Reduces soil compaction. With a 16 month old and two dogs, our garden is often a highway of ball chasing and wagon rides. Raising areas of the garden will keep traffic out of the planted areas and keep soil loose and aerated for the roots to grow.
  • More space. It may seem the opposite, but raising the beds allows you to place your plants closer together because you no longer need a place to step in between. Also, because the beds are raised and the paths in between are more defined, your walkways can be smaller as well.
  • Controlled soil conditions. Each plant needs specific nutrients. When your plants are organized based on growing needs you can pick and choose where to mulch and fertilize without having to apply it to the entire garden, often wasting it on walkways and un-planted soil.
  • Weed control. Using grass clippings and leaves in the walkways controls weeds and unwanted growth in-between beds. And since your soil conditions are more controlled within the beds, after the first two or so years weeding becomes a thing of the past as long as you are not bringing in soil or compost that is seeded.
  • Easier to tend a raised garden. Bringing the garden up brings it closer to you making it easier to weed, pick and tend to on a daily basis. This is especially important to me being 8 months pregnant in the middle of summer. The less bending the happier I am. 
  • Looks classy. Man our garden looks good now! Really organizes your plants making crop rotation easier and companion planting more effective.
We already had a few 2" x 6" x 8' boards in the garage so we built the first raised bed with those. The hubby simply cut one of the 8' boards in half, using wood screws assembled a box together measuring 4' x 8' x 6" high. The hubby pulled in dirt toward the center of the box making somewhat of a trench on the outside. Using a level he moved earth around until the box was level with the ground. He then began using dirt from around the box, mostly where the walkways will be, and filled the box full. When the first one was complete it seemed a bit low compared to what we had in mind. The Backyard Homestead recommended using a 6" or 8" high boards for the boxes. We decided to purchase 8" high boards to complete the remaining 5 boxes. We spaced the boxes out 3 feet on each side. Using a similar method of pulling dirt in, then placing the box in the desired area, using a tape measure to measure 3' off of the first box we put in and then a level to ensure it was level with the ground, he then used dirt from the walkways and the area of the garden that would not have boxes to fill each one in. Overall the process for creating the 6 boxes only took about four hours, but it was a 90 degree day so I think it felt a little longer to the hubby. We did not use corner supports for the boxes, we simply screwed together the four walls and it seems to be holding the dirt and weight of water with no complaints.
trenching around the garden box to mark where it will go
pulling dirt into the center of the box from the walkways
helping to define where the garden box will go

I told him to 'make it look really hot out'
it was 90 degrees that day, the sarcastic
look is for the fact that no acting was
necessary to portray this

too hot for dogs

Using this amazingly easy and useful tool from Mother Earth News, I planned out what and where to plant each item in the garden based on companion planting and time of the year to plant. I'm very much an amateur gardener and I'm constantly learning as I go, with this map of the garden I can create a journal of what worked best where and what needs to be changed for next year. I'm learning that you not only need to think of this years crop, but plan ahead for next years at the same time.

The  scale of the garden is a little off, I used the garden planner before we actually built the boxes and realized we needed 3' between each box, not 2'. Also (more as a note to my future self) I actually switched the tomato box with the Brussels and broccoli box - I have always had a hard time growing tomatoes and wanted to rotate within the garden the area that I had planted tomatoes previously in an attempt to have successful growth this year. 

So far the raised boxes look great and have already made our garden more organized, spacious and easier to tend. 


Elizabeth said...

I have used similar software for garden planning, but I found the best way to document and plan (esp with crop rotation) is just to take pictures of your beds. A few times during the season. My beds are 7x14 and 7x7 and one bed fits nicely into the camera frame (you can see enough to recognize which plants are which, if they are too crowded/spaced out, etc.) for the next planting season. Also, they have time stamps on them so one year when I first had Colorado potato beetles show up on my plants, I had the date handy so I knew for subsequent years when to start keeping my eye out for them. Sure enough, the next year I looked and was able to control them before they devoured my entire crop (live and learn).

Admin said...

Great tip! I would really love to have a detailed journal of the garden and its progress every year, can't believe I didn't think of actually taking photos throughout the season with timestamps to record growth, pest problems and location of each plant within the garden. It's definitely early enough this season to start this too! Thanks for sharing!

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