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By Sue Scott
Gardeners are a stubborn persistent lot, especially if they are told “that can’t/won’t grow there”. They will find a way. I personally believe that is how raised bed gardens came into existence.
My son, Michael, and his family moved to Florida about a year and a half ago, courtesy of the US Air Force. They are very happy with the move but moving from North Dakota to the sunny south has made for some interesting gardening problems.
Elise, my daughter-in-law, comes from a family of avid vegetable gardeners who love their fresh produce to eat and preserve. She is from Canada, so having fresh canned fruits and vegetables all through those long winter months is worth the all the work. Michael, well he had me for a mother, so they both have the gardening bug.
The “soil” in their yard is sand. Not great for successful vegetable gardening so they recently built a raised bed garden.
Raised bed gardens have many advantages. They can be put just about anywhere as long as they get enough sun, it’s easier to control weeds and pests (both insect and animal), it’s easier on your body especially for gardeners with mobility issues, the soil warms up faster so you can plant earlier and many people like the visual appeal and tidiness of raised beds. One of the main and most common reasons for raised beds is that you have control of the soil. That is why my son’s family built their bed.
This is a big advantage for people with clay or hard packed soil, rocky soil, problems with tree roots, nutrient depleted soil or sandy soil, like my son.
So, what kind of soil should you fill your raised bed with? The most common mix is fifty percent topsoil and fifty percent compost. If you are getting your topsoil delivered from a service, make sure where it is coming from. If it is originated from construction or development sites the soil could have sat for a long time and the nutrients could have leeched out. If you are buying bags off topsoil look for labels that say organic vegetable and herb mix or organic garden soil.
Whatever you use for topsoil you must add the compost element to it. Think of your raised bed garden as a really big pot. In any container the soil will settle and deplete as time goes on. That rich organic matter that is compost is important to hold moisture and add nutrients to your plants. If you don’t have your own compost, you can buy bagged compost. There are many kinds of compost available. Some are mushroom or shrimp compost, composted manure or organic vegetable compost.
One drawback to a raised bed garden is that your plants will deplete the soil sooner than a traditional ground bed. You will need to add fresh compost every year to continually have healthy, high producing plants.
There are some other things to keep in mind about raised bed gardens. First, don’t walk in your new bed. A big advantage to a raised bed is the light, fluffy perfect soil. If you walk in the bed, the soil will compact and you lose that advantage.
Now soil will compact naturally on its own. An easy way to lighten compacted soil is to use a garden fork. Just stick it straight into the soil and wiggle it back and forth. Do this in several places in the bed and it should lighten the soil without a lot of work.
After planting, mulch the bed. This will help with weed control and moisture loss. Which leads me to the next point – raised beds will lose moisture quicker than a tradition ground bed. A soaker hose or drip irrigation is ideal for raised beds. This slow watering will keep the soil from compacting and will save a lot of time standing around holding a garden hose.
It is a good practice to plant a cover crop or cover the bed with mulch (like fall leaves) at the end of the growing season. Winter weather can be hard on an unprotected bed causing rapid nutrient breakdown and compacting.
I came across a fun idea for a small raised bed garden. Try planting a Fairy Garden and miniature plants in a small raised bed or tucking one into a corner of an existing bed. They will be close to eye level for curious little hands and eyes.
Michael and Elise have already planted their new raised bed garden and are planning on building another one soon, enabling them to pass their love of growing things on to my grandchildren, Michael and Abby. Right now, I think that Michael and Abby’s favorite thing about their new garden is being able to get their hands dirty!