Raised Bed Gardening – How to Grow Well in Small Spaces
What is raised bed gardening and why should you be interested? It’s planting that isn’t done directly in the ground. It is — usually — done in some kind of raised bed gardening in containers. There are square raised beds, rectangular raised beds, and round raised beds. You can make a raised bed just about any shape you want and, yes, container planters are a form of raised bed.
You don’t have to have land the size of Green Acres to garden successfully. You know what I mean — land stretching out for days.
You also do not have to grow vegetables in the ground. There’s nothing out there anywhere that says a veggie garden will only be successful if you have an acre of ground to plant in.
Raised Bed Gardening and the New Homeowner
Let me tell you about my first house and the very first square foot garden I’d ever tended on my own. It was 1991 and I’d just closed on a townhouse in Marlton, New Jersey. It had fenced backyard but the previous owner’s dog had really it ripped up.
Now, lots of women may have focused on things like window treatments or furniture.
Not me, boy. The day after closing I went to the home center and had them cut eight 1×12 pieces of lumber.
For those of you not familiar with the size and dimensions of lumber, the one is the thickness and the 12 is the width. I asked the lumber yard to cut these pieces 4 feet long for two 4×4 square raised beds.
After that, I went over to the garden center and picked up eight bags of garden soil. Why eight? ‘Cuz I had no clue as to how much I’d need.
Then I bought some plants and some seed packets. I spent between $30 and $35 for everything.
I learned about raised bed gardening from watching garden shows on TV including Mel Bartholomew’s TV show on PBS, “Square Foot Gardening”.
Now, I’m not a tool belt diva. I had the rudimentary tools — hammer, two screwdrivers, and a ratchet set. Hey, how hard can it be to nail four boards together to form a four foot by four foot raised bed garden box?
Harder than I thought.
I either needed someone to hold the lumber while I nailed or needed clamps or a vise. I discovered this after boards came loose and I had littered the air with blue words.
In the end, I got enough nails into the lumber to hold it together (I’m sure my neighbors had a good laugh watching me do this). The pressure of the garden soil also helped keep the shape of the raised bed garden box together.
The point is that raised beds don’t have to be works of art — they don’t have to be structurally sound or be able to withstand a 7.3 earthquake. They just have to hold soil.
I grew lots of things in those to raised beds: tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, oregano, squash, beans, dill, basil, eggplant, spinach, musk melon (small cantaloupe), scallions, and fennel.
It’s astonishing how much could grow in a small raised bed garden. I also did it with the help of vertical gardening using trellises.
One of the greatest advantages to raised bed gardening is that you control the soil content.
Let’s say you’ve got clay soil like I do here in Tidewater Virginia. Not a problem. Build some raised beds and filled them with a mix of garden soil, compost and something to lighten it up — vermiculite, perlite, peat moss, or even some sand. One thing you should know is to never use topsoil — it’s too dense and muddy.
I personally use Miracle-Gro products — I like their water retention mix. Most of their soils have plant food already mixed in and you can buy garden soil, topsoil, and/or potting mix.
Every once in awhile, I’ll combine garden soil with potting mix because the potting mix already has some perlite in it and this tends to be a lighter, fluffier soil.
One of the things you want to avoid in raised bed or container gardening is heavy soil density. It’s like trying to grow plants in wet concrete. The lighter and fluffier it is the easier it will be for plants’ roots to grow.
And raised bed gardening does not have to be on the ground. If you have a bad back or you have avoided gardening because you don’t want to look like one of those pieces of bent over garden art — you know the ones, women with fat butts in bloomers — build your garden beds higher.
You can stack your raised beds on top of each other. Just make sure to anchor the boxes together so that the top box doesn’t slip off the bottom. Or you could get wider pieces of lumber to make them higher.
You can grow just about anything in a raised bed. From potatoes to tomatoes to a cutting garden full of zinnias, you can do it in a raised bed.
The only exceptions would be really large-scale shrubs like azaleas and hydrangeas or trees. Although, you could probably plant dwarf trees in them. If you want to grow larger scale veggies like squash, zucchini, melon, or watermelon, you’ll probably need most of one end of the raised bed for them to sprawl out in.
Garden Versatility with Raised Bed Gardening
Cultivating soil in a traditional row garden takes time. I don’t care if your house is located on the most wonderful loam in the world. It’ll still to take time to make it better. Using raised beds allows you to garden instantly.
And you don’t have to put to raised beds on dirt or grass. You can place them on a deck or patio. If you do that, I’d either put some kind of bottom on the raised bed box or even set them on pallets (you can sometimes get old pallets from grocery stores for next to nothing).
The point here is when putting a raised bed on a hard surface like concrete, give the plant’s roots some air. Make these beds a bit deeper by making the sides of the bed higher — that allows for plenty of plant growth.
Victoria Rosendahl has been getting her hands dirty in the garden since she was 10. She writes a free monthly ezine, The Frugal Gardener, [http://www.myfrugalgardener.com] and has designed the ultimate raised garden bed, GardenRack, which allows you to garden without bending or kneeling. Check out her site at http://www.garden-rack.com or send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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