Raised bed gardening…
For space efficiency and high yields, it’s hard to beat a vegetable garden grown in raised beds. Raised beds can improve production as well as save space, time, and money. They also are the perfect solution for dealing with difficult soils such as heavy clay. In addition, raised beds improve your garden’s appearance and accessibility.
1. Cut and assemble the basic frame, block it up to level. Clear the area where the bed will be located, because you will be building the bed “in place”. Use a square to mark the ends and saw the boards to desired length. Put two screws in each corner to hold it together for now. Set a level on the frame and place blocks beneath it to keep it level. Do this for the ends and the sides.
2. Drive in corner posts and screw the boards into them. Cut the post pieces longer than you will need. You can saw a point on the bottom of the posts, although is it not essential. Set the first post into the corner of the frame and drive the post into the ground a few inches. Screw the frame into the post, using two screws per side. Set the other posts in place and screw them in the same way.
3. Add cross-bracing. If your bed is longer than 8′, or taller than 18″, it’s a good idea to use cross-bracing. This will prevent the bed from bowing outwards in the center of the span. Use a hacksaw to cut the aluminum flat stock to the exact width of the bed. Drill a hole in each end, and use a 1″ stainless screw to attach the cross-brace to the posts at either side of the span.
4. Top up the bed with soil and get gardening! I would strongly advise lining the bottom of your raised beds with hardware cloth, chicken wire or orchard fencing to keep out burrowing varmints. Use your best garden soil to top off the bed. If there are rocks, the soil can be screened through a piece of 1/2″ mesh. Or you can just pull out any rocks you come across. Or you can use a blend of one third excellent compost, one third vermiculite, and one third peat moss. Spray the soil with a fine spray, and top it off again because the water will lower the soil level a bit.
Now your bed is ready to plant!
Lay out the beds so they are horizontally facing south. It’s best if the long side of the bed faces south. This assures equal light exposure to all the plants growing in the bed. If your bed is aligned the other way (the ends facing south), you may have planting limitations because taller plants in front can block the sunlight to small plants in back.
Level the bed. Use a level for this task. This may seem overly meticulous, but after several waterings the soil will settle to level, and you’ll want the bed to be the same. Set a stiff board (2×4) on top of the bed sides, across the span, and set your level on this board. Tap down the sides as needed till you get a level reading. Be sure to check for level both along the length and across the width of your bed.
Spread soil out evenly. Add any planned soil amendments, such as peat, compost or lime, and spread the soil evenly across the bed. Water the bed with an even, fine spray. This will settle the soil; add more soil to “top off”. (Over time the soil will settle an inch or two more.) Rake the bed once more to even out the soil and you’re ready to plant.
Avoid stepping on the bed. Once the soil is added and the bed is planted, make it a policy to never step on the bed. Stepping on the bed will compact the soil, reduce aeration and impact root growth. Pets should also be trained to stay off the raised beds.
Leave a generous width between beds for the pathways. It helps when pathways between raised beds are wide enough for a small wheelbarrow. For grass pathways, make sure they are at least wide enough for a weed eater or a small mower. (In our raised bed gardens the pathways are 22″ wide.)
Now get out there and grow something!