Mid to late Spring is a great time to start getting your garden ready for planting. If you don’t have a lot of room or need to keep your garden off the ground due snail, slugs, and other cute little nibbling creatures, a raised bed garden might be the way to go. Raised beds are a great resource for small gardens; they keep your soil from eroding due to rain, allow drainage and also prevent weeds from creeping in.
To start a raised bed garden, you should use untreated lumber for the frame. Untreated lumber is best because there won’t be any chemicals on it that may seep into your plants. Cedar is usually the wood of choice because it is very rot resistant, and, Mmmmmm, that cedar smell! (Before you put the lumber down, make sure you have excavated the dirt and turned it to look for rocks and roots that could hinder your plant growth.)
The most common depth of a raised bed is around 12″. Most plants do well in this height because a lot of nutrients are found in the first 6″. Remember, there isn’t a bottom to the raised bed, so if you want to grow deeper-rooted plants, they will be allowed to grow further into the soil. Shallow root plants include things like: garlic, lettuce, potatoes, brussel sprouts, corn, and onions to name a few. Medium to deep-rooted plants are things like: carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, kale, peas, pumpkins, and watermelons.
Now that you have the framing ready, what do you fill it with? For a new bed, we recommend a 50/50 mix of topsoil and compost. This will give the soil a good jump-start to growing your plants well. If you have an existing bed with soil, we recommend topping off the soil with about a 2″ layer of compost and then work it in with 4″ of soil, creating 6″ of growing media. Nutrients from the compost will work their way down into existing soil. The compost will also help with holding moisture so you won’t have to water as often and supply much needed mineral nutrients. If you garden every year, it’s important to replace the nutrients you have taken out with each crop, and the 2″ of compost should do it!
When you are thinking about starting to plant, make sure to keep an eye on the weather in your area. Usually May is a good time to start, but be careful for frost. Leafier greens do better when planted in cooler temperatures, but things like peppers and tomatoes prefer warmer soil temperatures.
“I’m anxious to eat my own veggies!” Growing and harvesting results will obviously depend on what you planted. A little research will help out and on most seed packages, the back label will tell you how long it takes to grow to maturation. Some veggies, like spinach only take about a month where other things like peppers can take several months.
With limited space, a raised bed garden is an easy way to produce your own fruits and vegetables. It’s exciting to be able to grow your own food and know exactly how they were grown. It certainly gives you a sense of accomplishment when you can bite into your first homegrown tomato and know that you did this! Good luck and happy growing.