Benefits Of Raised Bed Gardening

Unless you’re living in the country and have room for a large garden, I highly recommend raised bed gardens because they’re far easier to deal with. There are many benefits of raised bed gardening, especially if the only space you have is in your backyard. It’s also the best method if you’re new to gardening or don’t have a lot of extra time to devote to your garden.

In this post I’m going to list the benefits of raised bed gardening and hopefully encourage newbies who are intimidated by gardening in general. The picture below shows a typical raised bed garden.

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TIPS FOR A RAISED-BED VEGETABLE GARDEN

Posted on November 14, 2013 by Garden Prepper November 14, 2013

Raised-bed gardening is a great way to grow vegetables — especially if the garden soil is poor or compacted or has poor drainage. And there’s no bending over to pull weeds or harvest vegetables.

Raised beds take very little space, and can be built right over a concrete patio. Drainage in a raised bed is superior to that in an in-ground garden bed. A 12″-deep bed provides ample room for most vegetable roots.

The soil in raised beds warms up more quickly in spring so planting can be done earlier. And if the bed is narrow, 3′ or less, there will be no need to step on the soil and thus it prevents compaction. It’s much easier for roots to grow in loose soil.

Don’t build a raised bed on a wooden deck: when the bed is full of soil and water, its weight could cause structural damage.

If the raised bed sits directly on the soil, line the planting bed with hardware cloth or chicken wire at building time to prevent visits from burrowing animals such as gophers and moles.

The bed may be made of wood, stone, brick, cinderblocks or any other material from which you can build a base at least 12″ deep. Choose a location that gets at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. Almost any type of vegetables can be grown in raised beds. Exceptions are potatoes, whose roots need a lot of room, and corn, which would grow so high that harvesting would be difficult.

Here’s how to plant a raised bed:

1. Fill the bed with good-quality potting soil or compost, and rake the surface smooth and level. Remove any rocks or debris.

2. Plants in raised beds may be spaced a little closer together because fertilizer and manure can be concentrated in the small gardening area.

3. Plant lettuce by poking holes in the soil with your finger at 6″ intervals, and sprinkle a few seeds into each hole. Once the seeds germinate, thin to one seedling per hole.

4. You can also broadcast seeds over the surface of the raised bed. If you plant carrots, apply fine-textured potting soil over the top of the seeds. Carrots will attract some species of butterflies to your raised beds.

5. Cucumbers may be planted along the edge of the raised bed, where they can trail over the side. Cucumbers will grow right on top of your patio.

6. Water the garden well immediately after planting.

$10 CEDAR RAISED GARDEN BEDS step by step

Cedar raised bed make gardening easier, more accessible, more economical, and more efficient. But often a cedar raised bed can cost hundreds of dollars. With this plan, I figured out how to create raised cedar beds – deep ones – for about $10 each.

A while back while shopping at the Blue Store – AKA Lowes – shopping for mortar and grout and stuff for our river rock stone veneer for the face of our house, I happened to smell some cedar.

Continue reading $10 CEDAR RAISED GARDEN BEDS step by step

Is treated lumber safe for building raised bed vegetable gardens?

Posted on October 18, 2013

After a few posts in my blog about the benefits of the raised beds in my garden, I received several questions and emails from readers asking if I had built my frames using treated lumber and they then proceeded to inform me of the health risks involved with  the use of treated wood in my garden.

Chris McDonald  asked me: Enjoyed this read. Have to ask about the lumber. Do you recommend treated lumber? I’m a little put off on that for the fact of all the chemicals used. Input would be greatly appreciated.

One readers email gave a dire warning to the effect that I would surly die from the first bite of produce taken from the garden if treated lumber was used to construct the frames because arsenic would leach into the surrounding soil and into my food, then kill me when I ate it…

I would like to thank you for your concern, it is appreciated and noted. And to answer the question, yes, my new raised garden bed frames were built using treated lumber but I’m now concerned about it… not even a little bit.

Years ago many folks including several national magazines and agencies suggested that it was ”possible” for small amounts of chemicals to leach into the soil from treated wood when that wood was used to build frames for a raised bed vegetable garden. The main health worry was arsenic, because treated lumber at the time contained arsenic that was used in the treating process.

According to this article from University of Missouri Extension Office:

“Pressure-treated lumber uses CCA (chromated copper arsenate) or ACA (ammoniacal copper arsenate) as a preservative. However, studies done by Texas A&M Agricultural Extension Service showed insignificant movement of these compounds into surrounding soil. Pressure-treated lumber has no proven effect on plant growth or food safety.”

But, this is all a moot point because arsenic has not been used to treat lumber for residential use (with the exception of some woods for marine purposes) since December 31 2003.

So the admittedly small risk, associated with using treated wood before that date to construct raised vegetable garden beds and frames have been further removed with the elimination of  arsenic in the treating process.

According to Becky Wern, Master Gardener with the Duvall County Agricultural Extension Service and the University of Florida:

Today’s pressure treated lumber “is safe to use around children and animals and for gardens with edibles.”

Also according to The National Gardening Association:

There\’s still a lot of controvery about using treated wood for vegetable gardens. There was a time when pressure treated lumber contained arsenic (CCA) and was not considered safe for use in raised vegetable gardens because the arsenic leached out into the soil. The newest method for treating wood is Micronized Copper Quaternary (MCQ).

It is chemically different than the old CCA treatments. It is made of tiny (micro) particles of copper. These particles are forced into the wood cells or pores during the pressure cycle. Once in, they stay in, also forming a barrier keeping in the quaternary. The leaching of chemicals out of MCQ is practically non-existent and using the treated lumber for a vegetable bed is safe because the chemicals do not leach out into the soil.

However if you’re still worried then don’t used treated wood to frame your raised vegetable gardens, it’s that simple. Or line the inside with heavy plastic (but then I’m sure some will worry about the plastic “leaching” stuff  into the soil) or line the sides with rock or some other material.

Click here for more info about the raised bed garden and benefits 

In Bloom: 4 Keys to Great Flower Beds

Posted on September 29, 2013 by Garden Prepper September 29, 2013

There’s no better way to enliven a landscape than with colorful flower beds. Flowering plants are especially effective when planted alongside a foundation wall, fence line, patio, front porch, retaining wall, or pathway.


Flower beds typically contain three types of plants: perennials, which bloom each year for several years; annuals, which bloom, seed, and die all in a single season; and biennials, which bloom after two years and then die. You don’t have to be a botanist to realize that perennials require less tending than annuals, which must be dug up and replaced every year. Annuals are often rotated throughout the growing season. For example, many gardeners plant
early-blooming annuals in the spring, which fade and die around Labor Day, and then replace them with other annuals that will last until the first frost. In warmer regions, you can often plant a third time for producing flowers late into winter.

There isn’t a single approach to flower-bed maintenance—there are simply too many different varieties of flowering plants. But here are some general rules that can be applied to nearly any flower bed.

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Fertilizing

Besides water and sun, flowering plants need fertilizer to produce healthy, colorful blossoms. Every high-quality plant food contains a mixture of three essential nutrients: nitrogen, for healthy growth of vibrant green leaves and stems, and phosphorus and potassium, which stimulate root growth and flower production.Serious gardeners use different fertilizers to feed various plants, though you can get excellent results using an all-purpose plant food. As a general rule, apply fertilizer before periods of rapid growth or flowering. Granular fertilizers are best used when preparing the flower bed in the spring and fall. Liquid fertilizers are best when applied after planting.

Many experienced flower gardeners recommend using a balanced fertilizer: one containing equal percentages of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, such as a 10-10-10 blend. If you apply a fertilizer that’s high in nitrogen, a common mistake, the plants will have great-looking leaves but produce fewer flowers.

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Mulching

Mulch serves four purposes: It deters weed growth, retains moisture, insulates the soil against drastic temperature changes, and creates an overall neater appearance.Mulch comes in many forms, including shredded bark, wood chips, pebbles, and cocoa-bean husks. Spread fine mulch, such as pebbles or husks, to a depth of 2 or 3 inches. Coarser mulch, such as bark or wood chips, should be spread at least 3 or 4 inches deep. After application, pull the mulch a couple of inches away from each plant to allow fresh air to reach the base of the plant.

Note, too, that recycled mulch is now available in many communities. Made from partially composted green waste, recycled mulch keeps valuable organic matter out of landfills, and it’s cheaper than commercial mulch.

Mulch is commonly available in 2- and 3-cubic-foot bags or in bulk from garden shops. To determine how many bags of mulch you need for your garden, consider this: A 2-cubic-foot bag covers approximately 6 square feet when spread 4 inches deep. A 3-cubic-foot bag of mulch covers 9 square.

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Deadheading

To encourage flowering plants to continue to bloom throughout the season, it’s important to pinch off the flowers once they begin to fade. This practice, which is known as deadheading, will not only make your garden look neater, but also extend the growing season and produce healthier plants. (Note that some plants, such as like begonias and impatiens, don’t need deadheading. Planting them can help you save time in the garden.)

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SpacingFinally, many flower beds fail because plants are placed too close together. Planting too many flowers in one area results in stunted growth, fewer blossoms, and a maintenance nightmare. Every plant has a recommended spacing requirement that takes into account future growth. To find the recommended spacing for your flowers, look up each species in a plant encyclopedia or call a local garden shop.An effective solution to overcrowding is to use dwarf species, which can be placed closer together than taller versions of the same plant. For example, the popular and colorful annual snapdragon must be planted 14 to 16 inches apart. However, dwarf variety snapdragons can be spaced as close together as 8 inches.Next we will show you how to combine flowers with aquaponics,  a very useful way to grow plants and veggies

How to Build and Install Raised Garden Beds

Posted on September 29, 2013 by Garden Prepper September 29, 2013

For the experienced gardener or the novice, raised garden beds take the hassle out of horticulture. Here are tips on planning, building, protecting and irrigating raised bed gardens. Become  self sufficient and eat your own  organic food

Experienced gardeners use raised beds to sidestep a long list of gardening challenges. These controlled experiments in plant parenthood are so easy, in fact, that they’re also well-suited to novices picking up a shovel for the first time.

Bad dirt is out, because you fill a raised bed with a customized soil-and-compost blend. Drainage is built into the bed walls, which hold the soil in place to keep erosion in check. Greater exposure to the sun warms the bed, which allows more plant diversity and extends the growing season. Plants can be spaced closely together, so yields go up, water-use efficiency is maximized and weeds are crowded out. Finally, raising the soil level by even a foot reduces the back-bending effort needed for jobs such as planting, weeding and harvesting.

Beyond the ease is the control—as you grow your organic food, you feed and soak your plants with just what they need for optimum growth.

A raised bed is most productive and attractive as a bottomless frame set into a shallow trench. The sides can be almost any durable building material, including rock, brick, concrete and interlocking blocks. Watering troughs or claw-foot tubs can work, as long as they have the capacity and drainage.

But by far the most common material for raised beds is lumber. The major caveat, since raised beds are often used to grow edibles, is to steer clear of wood preserved with toxins. Avoid creosote-treated railroad ties; opt instead for naturally rot-resistant cedar or redwood. The EPA considers wood infused with alkaline copper quaternary (ACQ) to be safe for food crops, but if you use this pressure-treated wood you may want to line the bed interior with landscape fabric—an air-and-water-permeable screen—to prevent soil contact. Whether using pressure-treated or naturally rot-resistant wood, put the bed together with galvanized or stainless screws or bolts.

Location, Location

A 3 x 6-ft bed should be wide enough to support sprawling tomatoes, but narrow enough to reach easily from both sides. The ideal height is 1 to 2 ft tall—you can go taller, but you need a considerable amount of soil to fill a 3-ft-high bed. Don’t fill the bed with dirt from the garden. Instead, use peat moss, compost or a soil mix for planters. Use a 2 x 4 to level the soil, then plant. If possible, build more than one bed, which makes it easier to rotate crops and meet the watering needs of specific plants. Aligning beds in straight rows simplifies the installation of an irrigation system.Finding a flat spot spares a lot of digging—you want the walls to be level. In general, a north-south orientation takes full advantage of available light. Stay close to the kitchen, but avoid sites shaded by the house or beneath messy trees. Leave at least 18 in. between beds for walkways, or 2 ft if you need room for a wheelbarrow or lawnmower.

Planning, Building

To prepare the site, get rid of turf and weeds. Outline the bed dimensions on the ground with chalkline or string, then dig with vertical strokes along the outline, just deep enough to bury about half of your first course of lumber. Raised beds are designed so water trickles down, eliminating most of the problem of poor drainage. But if your only viable location is bogged in a marsh, you can prevent the “bathtub effect” by digging a few inches deeper and putting a layer of coarse stone or pea gravel in the excavation. (You can also install perforated drainage pipes in trenches under or around the bed, or just drill weep holes at the base of the sides.)

Likewise, if there is no turf between your beds, put down some landscape fabric and cover it with pavers or a layer of gravel to improve drainage—after running out in the rain for a fresh bell pepper, you’ll appreciate the mud-free shoes.Level the earth or gravel layer at the bottom of the bed, then put down a layer of weed-suppressing landscape fabric that extends to the outer edge of the wooden frame. Now is also the time to think about pest control. “The rich soil in a raised bed has worms and other delicacies that attract moles, and gophers and voles relish young veggie roots,” Sausalito, Calif., garden designer Tom Wilhite says. “To keep out burrowing pests I always recommend a bottom layer of hardware cloth”—a mesh grid of steel or galvanized metal.

Build each wall separately, then fasten them together and put the bed into position. Raised-bed builders often sink posts into the ground for stability, either at the inside corners of the bed or halfway along the side walls. These help hold the bed in place, but can also reduce the outward pressure that a full bed exerts on the frame, which can dislodge the lumber after a single season. A cap railing that runs around the top of the bed ties everything together. Plus, it provides a handy place to set down gardening tools while working, or, when you’re done, a seat to admire the fruits of your labor. Bed covers ward off insects and keep plants warm in cool weather.

Greenhouse Effect

A simple framework of hoops and a lightweight cover can extend your growing season in cool areas, conserve moisture in dry areas and protect plants from birds or insects. Use galvanized pipe straps to mount 1-in. PVC pipe inside the bed walls. Cut ½-in. flexible PVC tubing twice as long as the beds’ width. Bend it, mount it and clip a cover in place. Use clear polyethylene film to raise soil and air temperatures in early spring or fall—to get an early start on heirloom tomatoes, for instance, or to try your hand at exotic squashes. But be careful not to bake your plants on warmer days. Remove the cover or slit vents in it to avoid excessive heat buildup. For pest control, cover the bed with bird netting or with gauzelike fabrics known as floating row covers, which keep out flying insects but let in both light and air.

Once you add an automatic watering system to your raised-bed garden, you’re free to plant, weed and harvest. A simple micro-irrigation setup ensures that plants get water consistently—especially important for seedlings and leaf crops such as lettuce. “The sides of raised beds heat up quickly in the sun, baking the moisture out of the soil,” Wilhite says. “Irrigation delivers the water evenly and gently. You can set your timer to water early in the morning—less will evaporate, and you resist disease.”

A basic setup starts with a faucet or hose-bib attachment that is essentially a series of valves that prevent back flow into the plumbing, filter the water and control the water pressure.

These valves are designed with 1-in. or ¾-in. connections. From these, attach supply lines of flexible ½-in. poly tubing. The tubing’s accessibility makes it easy to check for leaks and repair damage from punctures or bursts. To protect the tubing, bury it a few inches and cover the line with mulch.

Lay the tubing along the beds in lines 12 in. apart. Fit sections together with compression elbow and T-fittings. Install drip emitters at 12-in. intervals along the length of the tubing for even delivery of moisture to plants. Low-volume sprayers or misters on risers can also be used, but these lose more water to evaporation. Close the ends of each line with hose-end plugs and caps. Then sit back and let the system water for you and enjoy your backyard liberty

Source and Credits: FIONA GILSENAN.

Raised Garden Beds

Posted on September 28, 2013 by Garden Prepper September 28, 2013

The Benefits of Raised Bed Gardening

Raised garden beds, also called garden boxes, are great for growing small plots of veggies and flowers. They keep pathway weeds from your garden soil, prevent soil compaction, provide good drainage and serve as a barrier to pests such as slugs and snails. The sides of the beds keep your valuable garden soil from being eroded or washed away during heavy rains. In many regions, gardeners are able to plant earlier in the season because the soil is warmer and better drained when it is above ground level.

By raising the soil level, raised garden beds also reduce back strain when bending over to tend the bed. This is especially helpful to older gardeners or people with bad backs. And if the beds are built well, the gardener can sit on the edge of the bed while weeding, and for some gardeners this is the biggest benefit of all.

Raised beds are not the same as garden planters. Planters are elevated containers which have bottoms to prevent the soil from falling out. Planter bottoms usually are slatted, with some type of semi-permeable cloth barrier which permits drainage. Raised beds, however, do not have bottoms; they are open to the ground, which offers the benefit of permitting plant roots to go further into the ground for available nutrients.

Raised garden beds are available in a variety of different materials, or they can be made with relative ease.

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed

Gardeners can build their own elevated garden beds with relative ease. You will need to decide what kind of wood to use, how tall you want the bed to be, and whether you want to build the entire bed yourself or use pre-made corner braces which simplify the construction process and provide a secure corner that won’t work loose over time.

What kind of wood to use?

In most cases, cedar is the best wood to use for garden beds because cedar is naturally rot resistant. Western red cedar is commonly used, but Vermont white cedar, Port Orford (yellow) cedar and Juniper are also great choices for outdoor construction projects. Redwood is another excellent rot-resistant wood, but redwood is a more limited resource. How long the wood will last depends on the type of cedar and your local weather conditions. In our garden, we use red cedar for building the beds, and some of these beds have lasted 15 years. In general, you should expect about 10 years from a cedar bed before it begins to deteriorate.

How tall should the bed be?

You can build the bed to any desired height up to 36″. The most common height is 11″, which is the height of two stacked 2″ x 6″ boards. If you have good soil beneath the bed, the roots will go down deeper as needed to access more soil and nutrients, so you can even have beds that are only 6″ high. If you want a taller bed, remember that as you go taller, the weight of the added soil will add pressure to the sides, and will bow them outward. This is easily prevented by including cross-supports. We recommend using cross-supports in any beds which are taller than 18″, or longer than 6′.

It is also important to consider the soil depth requirements for the roots of the vegetables you want to plant. Depending on the soil conditions beneath your bed, you may want to build the sides of your bed higher for certail crops. For more information, read our article Soil Depth Requirements for Popular Vegetables.

How wide and long should the bed be?

We recommend bed width to be no wider that 4′ across. This is because it is easy to reach the center of the bed from either side, and for people with long arms, to reach across the bed. It’s important to keep the width this narrow to avoid having to step on the bed since this would compress the soil. The bed can be any length as long as cross supports are installed every 4′ – 6′ along the length of the bed to prevent bowing. We think longer beds are best, if you have the garden space.

We have built many raised beds over the years, and our construction process has evolved. The method described here is, in our opinion, the simplest method of building a raised garden bed, and it requires no special tools or expertise. Using this method, you can build your bed to any desired length, width and height.

Tools & Materials:

LUMBER

Use cedar “2 x” boards for the sides. These are commonly 2″ x 6″, but you can use 2″ x 4″ or 2″ x 8″ boards if this is what you have available. (2″ boards bought at a lumber yard are actually 1.5″ thick..) For the corner posts, use 4″ x 4″’s, cut to 10″ longer than the desired height of the bed. If your bed is going to be longer than 8′, you’ll need extra posts to put in mid-span to prevent bowing and to provide a place to secure the cross-supports.

In the photos below, we used 2″ x 4″ boards for the posts instead of 4″ x 4″s. This is because the wood we had was full dimension, i.e., the 2″ thickness was a full 2″. If you get your wood from a mill, they can cut it full dimension for you.

FASTENINGS

Use 3.5″ #10 coated deck screws for the project. You’ll need six screws for each corner and two for each mid-span post. If you are using cross-supports, get a few 1″ stainless screws.

CROSS SUPPORTS

Buy several lengths of 1/2″ aluminum flat stock. This is available at most hardware stores, usually in 8′ lengths. It is very easy to cut with a hacksaw and to drill for the screws.

TOOLS

Hand saw, square, carpenter’s level, mallet (or sledge), screwdriver, hacksaw, drill.

Is treated lumber safe?

In 2003, the EPA banned the sale of lumber treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA) for residential use. Two compounds, alkaline copper quat (ACQ) and copper azole (CA-B), have now replaced CCA wood in the residential market. Both contain copper and a fungicide but no arsenic. The copper keeps insects at bay, and the fungicide prevents soil fungus from attacking the wood. In ACQ, the fungicide is quat, which is also used in swimming-pool chemicals and as a disinfectant. The other compound, CA-B, uses copper and tebuconazole, a fungicide used on food crops. According to Miles McEvoy, who works in organic certification with the Washington State Department of Agriculture, no pressure-treated wood is allowed in soils used to grow organic food. If you want to meet this high standard, choose a different material.

Until the safety of treated wood is proven conclusively, we recommend you use a naturally rot-resistant wood like red cedar, black locust or redwood. Under most circumstances, these woods will last 10 – 20 years when used for raised beds. Recycled composite plastic lumber is another alternative, and is now available in a variety of sizes and colors.

Construction:

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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.

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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.

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3. Fill in boards to ground. Saw post tops flush to sides

Now add the bottom row of boards down to ground level, using the same method of simply screwing into the posts. You may have to dig into the ground in places to get the boards to fit.

Using a hand saw, cut the posts where they stick up, so that they are flush to the sides of the bed. Smooth the ground in the pathway and start filling the bed with soil.

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4. 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.

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5. Top up the bed with soil and get gardening!

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.

Add soil amendments such as peat, lime, rock phosphate and organic fertilizer, as needed. 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!

Raised Bed Installation / Tips / Layout Suggestions

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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.

Double-dig the bed area

If the ground has never been used for gardening, it should be ‘turned over’ (dug) to a depth of 16””. This gives you a chance to pull rocks, and to see the composition of your soil. Leave soil piled up in the center, away from the sides, so you can set the bed in place without obstructions.

Check for roots

As you dig the soil, keep an eye out for any roots which may be growing beneath your beds. If left to grow, these roots will steal the organic amendments you add to the soil. Pull any roots back towards their source, and pull the main root clump. If the source is a living tree, you may need to install a root barrier by digging a narrow trench outside the perimeter of the bed, and deeper than the roots, and then insert a barrier such as heavy plastic sheeting.

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.

Burrowing pests?

If your garden has burrowing pests such as moles, a layer of 1/2″ or 1/4″ hardware cloth (galvanized mesh) can be laid across the bottom, before soil is added. The mesh should continue at least 3″ up along the insides of the bed and be stapled in place. If you plan to grow root crops, such as potatoes or carrots, you may want to set the mesh lower in the ground by digging deeper when you are setting up the bed. There are also raised garden planters available for above-ground gardening. These planters are designed to be easy on the back, but they also keep burrowing pests, rabbits, cats and other critters out of your garden.

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. To learn more about developing the ideal soil for your raised beds, read our article 6 Tips for Building Soil in your Raised Beds and Planters.

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.

It’s very helpful to have a ‘spanner board’, a short sturdy board, like a 2 x 6, that’s just longer than the width of your beds. This board can be laid across the bed, setting on top of the bed sides, and can be used to set buckets on when weeding or adding amendments, and it can be used to step on if you must step on the bed. It also makes a handy seat when weeding or tending the bed.

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 weedeater or a small mower. (In our raised bed gardens the pathways are 22″ wide.)

Mulch the pathways between beds

Weeding pathways is a nuisance which you can avoid by putting a double layer of perforated landscape cloth over the pathway, and cover this with a 2- 3″ layer of bark mulch or coarse sawdust. When laying down the landscape cloth, allow it to come up 1″ against the bottom board of the bed, and staple this to the bed. This will not be visible because the mulch will cover it.

When buying mulch, ask the seller if they have had any complaints about weed seeds in the mulch. It is very common for bark mulch to have weed seeds which sprout in your pathways. Some weeds will still appear on your pathways regardless of the mulch. Wait until it rains before pulling them out, or you may rip the landscape cloth. The weeds will come out easily if the ground is wet.

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Add a trellis to your raised bed

Raised beds are sturdy enough to support a trellis, even one large enough for pole beans which grow to 8′ tall. Here is our favorite trellis design which won’t mark your raised bed with visible holes, yet is easy to disassemble for storage or to relocate to another raised bed.

6 Tips for Building Soil for Your Raised Garden Beds and Planters

Here are some tips for building productive soil for your garden beds and planters – while there are some differences based on locale, these tips pretty much apply anywhere…

When my wife and I first started gardening in earnest, the results were discouraging. The seeds we planted would sprout and begin to grow, but soon the rate of growth would slow and produce undersize vegetables. Some would succumb to damage from insect pests and slugs, and even when we purchased healthy seedlings for transplanting, they failed to grow to the size we expected.

During our first few seasons of gardening we spent more time weeding than anything else. Our undersize plants left much of the topsoil exposed, and local weeds took advantage of the sunlight and available ground space. Although we watered the beds regularly and applied mulch to supress the weeds, the harvest from our early vegetable gardens was pitiful.

Over time we learned what most successful gardeners know: building soil is what gardening is all about. Once we turned our attention to the condition of the soil, our garden began to grow. Today we enjoy bountiful harvests from all our garden beds, and we spend almost no time weeding or dealing with insect pests.

With hopes of sparing you the mistakes we made, here are some tips for building productive soil for your garden beds and planters. And while there are some differences based on locale, these tips pretty much apply anywhere. Continue reading 6 Tips for Building Soil for Your Raised Garden Beds and Planters