Raised bed gardening is a very popular way to grow vegetables for many reasons, but it can be a bit daunting if you don't know where to start. I get it. If you're new to gardening (like me) or have a brown thumb, you need all the help you can get.
In this post, I'll share step by step tips to getting your raised bed garden going, so that no matter what your skill level is, you can have an incredibly successful garden--easily!
Here's why raised bed gardening is considered to be better than most other methods:
- Easier preparation of the soil (no tilling)
- Less back strain due to the plants being higher than ground level
- Easier pest control--smaller beds are easier to cover or build barriers around
- Better drainage
There are even more benefits than that, but you can see why this is a great gardening method to try. Now, it's true that lasagna gardening is also an easy method with high yield, but raised bed gardening is a great choice as well. It's really personal preference as to which you should choose.
If you do decide to go this way, here's what I recommend.
Raised Bed Gardening 101
Gardening in raised beds is basically just getting your beds and preparing the soil. After those two are done, the work involved with raised bed gardening is really no different than traditional gardening...except that it's a whole lot easier!
Select Your Location
You'll want to choose a site for your raised bed which receives enough sunlight for growing.
Typically, if you are living in a colder climate, 6-8 hours or more sunlight is better. If you are in a hotter climate, you will likely need some shade to protect your plants from the intense sun.
So to choose your spot, take into consideration what climate you live in, the sun your possible planting areas receive and the vegetables you would like to grow. Alternatively, you can use whatever spot you have and then choose vegetables that will work there. Choose full sun vegetables for bed locations that will get sufficient sun, and choose partial shade vegetables for areas with some shade.
Get or Build Your Beds
Choose the Depth
Whether you buy your beds or you make them, be sure that they're at least 12 inches deep. You'll see some online sources saying that 6 inches is the minimum, but that is typically really too shallow.
The reason for that is that you'll want plenty of room in your beds for roots to develop. Bigger roots means more moisture and nutrients are absorbed making healthier plants--which means healthier food for you!
Choose the Bed
You can buy raised beds already assembled, in kits, or build one totally from scratch. We've done both the "from scratch" and the kits method. Our kits were similar to this kind and they both worked and looked great.
There are so many options to choose from, you're sure to find the perfect raised bed for your needs and tastes. There's everything from vinyl to hardwood, large and small, and standard on-ground construction to beds that are on legs. With the latter, you won't even have to bend over to garden!
You can also find tons of plans and videos online for different style raised beds--from small and simple to large and elaborate.
Prepare Your Soil
Before adding the soil, you need to prepare the base of your bed (the foundation) which is key to having a good raised bed, just like having a good foundation is key for building a home.
First, lay down a layer of cardboard or landscaping fabric on the ground before adding the dirt. This will kill the grass and weeds and prevent them from entering the bed.
If you are doing a more shallow bed and/or have a clay ground that won't drain properly, you may want to put a thin layer of gravel in your bed over the base layer to help your bed drain better. If poor drainage in your yard is not an issue, then you don't need to worry about this step.
You'll want to fill at least 50% of your bed with high quality topsoil. You may want to use more than this, depending on how deep your bed is and the other materials you have available to finish filling the bed. This is mostly filler, whereas the next 2 layers will be the nutrient-rich goodness your plants thrive on.
The topsoil for your raised bed should come from a highly reputable source. Don't go cheap on this!
If you buy your topsoil in bulk, it's a good idea to visit the supplier before purchasing and look at their topsoil. Give it a squeeze. It should hold together when squeezed but easily break apart if you run your finger through it.
Ideally it should be a dark brown or even black, never gray or clay-colored. Lastly, give it a good whiff. Good topsoil smells earthy, not rancid.
However, take heart--even if you make a mistake in this area, all is not lost. If you follow the tips in the rest of this post, you can still have an AMAZING garden by doing the other things mentioned here.
The next layer is compost. Compost is organic material that has already broken down into rich fluffy soil, which is best soil you can grow in!
You can make your own or buy it. If you buy it, again, you get what you pay for.
Cheap compost is usually not nutrient dense and is often just wood pulp and cheap manure. You want compost that has a mix of materials so you get mixed nutrients.
You also want something that used to be alive and green mixed in the compost too, like composted wood chips that include the leaves, leaves by themselves, grass, manure from grass-fed animals, worm castings, and mushroom compost are great options.
Compost is going to be your vegetable plants' happy place, so you can fill your bed almost full if you have access to that much. The compost will also make compost tea every time it rains or gets watered and will enrich the topsoil underneath.
Next step (optional) you can sprinkle on nutrient dense additives like kelp or even colored mineral dense salt like Redmond Real Salt.
Redmond has an agricultural salt you can get at your local feed store. With salt, however, a little goes a long way. You don't want too much because it will kill your plants--you just want a little to add the minerals into your soil.
Finally, you'll finish your bed add a protective layer of mulch on top. You can use things like shredded leaves, grass clippings, wood chips, or straw. This protective layer will retain moisture by preventing your soil from drying out from the sun.
Mulch will also act like a sponge and displace moisture when there's heavy rains. Plus, it will further compost to add more nutrients to your soil, and it will prevent weeds and make weeding easier!
Now all that's left is planting! Of course you've already bought seedlings or started seeds indoors and hardened off your seedlings properly. However, with your raised bed, you'll find planting to be way quicker and easier than with regular gardening. Pulling out the tiller, getting the ground prepared, getting out the rocks and root clumps, then raking and hoeing everything is such a chore!
Planting in raised beds, however, is really fun!
Raised Bed Gardening is Easy and Fun
Once you know how to get started, raised bed gardening is an easy, satisfying way to grow your own produce. This method is easier on you and your plants, and can be much more productive than traditional gardens. So take these tips and get started on your own raised bed adventure today.