Raised Beds for Easy Gardening
Looking for a nearly hassle-free garden, one that's easy to plant, weed and harvest?
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Efficient, well-drained, easy to work — raised beds give your plants an advantage over conventional garden beds.
Raised beds look good, solve soil problems, help control pests, improve yield, and conserve water. "I've always found that the soil in a raised bed isn't nearly as compacted as it is in a more conventional garden," says master gardener Paul James. "So it's easy to just pluck the weeds right out."
Raised beds aren't just for summer vegetable gardens. Any plant that loves a well-drained soil will love a raised bed. "Most raised beds are created to raise the soil line, creating a bed that eliminates foot traffic," says "Farmer Fred" Hoffman, a radio show host in Herald, California. And raised beds can be made from a variety of materials such as fence-post caps, the remnants of a concrete driveway, or from the most commonly used material, wood.
Hoffman uses redwood for this project, although cedar and cypress work well, too. "Raised beds can be any size, but I recommend nothing wider than four feet; otherwise it's difficult to reach into the middle of the bed for weeding or harvesting." Hoffman builds a 3- by 3-foot raised bed, with 2- by 6-inch boards to create a cap to provide a place to sit while gardening. Each side is measured and cut 12 inches high and two inches thick supported with 4- by 4-inch redwood posts at the corners.
To help the bed last longer, he uses an oil stain. The stain protects the wood from damage caused by wet soil. Hoffman avoids using stains with chemical preservatives that might harm the plants.
Once all the wood is cut and painted, he assembles the sides by mounting the 4 x 4 support posts to the 12-inch side boards. To add even more water protection to the sides of the bed, Hoffman nails a strip of compost roofing to the side panels.
Hoffman then runs a drip-irrigation system from existing beds to the new raised bed. Drip irrigation saves time, money and labor, and it's the most efficient way to water a bed. The hose runs under the bed, with an extension that reaches the top edge. The end is capped to easily flush the system of dirt, which could clog the emitters.
Hoffman adds a thin layer of soil to cover the bottom of the bed. "The beauty of raised beds is that you can use whatever kind of soil you want to grow whatever kind of plant," says Hoffman. "For instance, in my bed, I'm using a mixture of sandy loam and mushroom compost that drains well and has the perfect ph level of 6.7." He tills in the new soil with the existing clay soil to help improve overall drainage. Tilling also improves root growth because the impenetrable layer is now gone.
Hoffman uses a posthole digger to create holes for the support posts, deeper than the bed is high. Because this bed is 12 inches high, he digs a hole 18 inches deep. When the ground is ready, he installs three of the four sides. He lines the base of the raised bed with 1/4-inch hardware cloth mesh to keep gophers and other pests from bothering the bed. The hardware cloth is cut about two inches larger on each side to allow extra for lining the sides thoroughly.
Next, he adds the soil, leveling it out as he goes until the bed is about halfway full. Then he installs the last side of the bed, making sure that the sides are level with each other. He connects the sides of the bed with metal braces and screws and attaches the 2 x 6 sitting cap.
Then Hoffman attaches a metal flap to the end of a large board to create a wheelbarrow ramp to finish adding the soil. Once the bed is full, he adds dirt around the support posts. Next, he makes a hole in the irrigation line, inserts an L-shaped barb and 1/4-inch drip line with built-in emitters. He flushes the system of any dirt and debris, and then caps it off.
For a small bed, Hoffman recommends placing the irrigation lines in concentric circles secured in place by small line stakes. He places the rubber tubing at the end to stop the water flow.
Hoffman chooses tuber roses for the raised bed because they look great, smell heavenly and will multiply like rabbits in this rich soil. Dense planting is no problem in raised beds because the soil is rich in nutrients, and the roots grow down, not out.
"If carpentry isn't your thing, there are always old tires around," says Hoffman. "And they make great raised beds." Tires are perfect for crops that need a warm spring to get growing, such as squash, sweet potatoes and peppers. Just stack two tires on top of one another, and fill them with soil. If you live in a high wind area, you may want to stick a couple of stakes inside to hold the tires in place. Because black rubber absorbs heat, Hoffman plants heat-loving peppers. "One word of caution when using tires as a raised bed: in the summer, they can get very, very hot. You may need to water the plants every day."