Raised garden beds seem to be all the craze these days, but why? What can be more gratifying than planting, growing, harvesting, and eating your own fruits and vegetables? Not only will you save tons of money in the process, but you have complete control over every product or chemical that goes into creating your food. This is also a great learning opportunity for your children and a time to foster good eating habits. Kids think it’s totally cool to eat veggies in the backyard but when it comes from the kitchen it’s a completely different story.
The process of building a raised garden can be very simple and inexpensive yielding a bountiful harvest. If we boil down the components of a raised garden bed, you would have four main parts: the lumber creating the bed, underlayment and/or rodent wire, soil, and irrigation.
1. To create the bed, you must first take into consideration the location of your new garden. Ideally, your garden would benefit from a full six hours of sun. However, if you do not have a location that offers this much sun, don’t despair there are veggies that will do fine with at least 4 hours of sun. Once you have determined the location, you need to figure out the dimensions of your raised garden beds. This can vary greatly as you may need to consider pets, access to the garden, how much time you spend kneeling down or cost. A typical garden bed would be 4′ x 4′ x 8″ but could be modified to suit your specific needs. We built our garden near our fence and had to build a gate around it to keep out the dogs. Lastly, the type of wood you choose is perhaps the most important factor when building a raised garden bed. The best wood to use is redwood due to its natural ability to deter bugs which would accelerate wood rot. DO NOT use treated lumber as it contains harmful chemicals that can leach into the soil and contaminate your garden.
2. Once your garden bed has been constructed, you need to protect the garden from being overrun by gophers, rabbits and other backyard critters. The best way to accomplish this is to utilize zinc coated chicken wire or something comparable to line the bottom of your beds. This is a great and inexpensive method to deter pests and won’t cause any problems for the organic gardener as long as the wire is changed out if there is any sign of rust. To install, simply cut the wire to length with enough additional material to fold up and staple along the walls of the bed.
3. The soil is the easiest part, just buy it from your favorite local nursery. You want to be sure that the garden soil you purchase is amended with chicken manure, which will yield some excellent results. If possible, also amend your soil with organic compost to increase the available nutrients in the soil for your new plantings. Another very popular method for a raised garden bed is called Lasagna Gardening. This ‘no digging’ method utilizes different layers of material that create an ideal environment for garden plants. I’m not going to get into the specifics of soil composition at this time, but this is a great conversation to have with a master gardener at the local nursery. Whichever method you choose, you can have great success!
4. The final component to a successful raised garden bed is effective irrigation. My preference is utilizing drip irrigation, which can deliver exactly enough water to each of your plants without losing any water to evaporation or water vapor. This is also a great option because a well-planned drip irrigation system can be easily modified and re-configured with any changes to your garden. This is also the most water-wise solution to irrigation although you can choose to water by hand, collecting rainwater, or using sprinkler heads.
Regardless of how much success you have in your first attempt at home gardening, the physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits will be worth the effort. We had to customize our garden based on the layout of our yard and the footprint of several large shade trees in our yard. The result, a tranquil place where we can learn together and experiment with our children and discover the wonders of science while harvesting food that we can eat. I hope this article has introduced you to some of the main components of raised garden beds and some of the advantages of having one in your home. Stay tuned for a tour of our Smith Family Garden and a more detailed building plan…