2011-03-03 / Features

Elevate Gardening to a New Level

The Potting Shed
By Carole McCray


McCray McCray Short on gardening space, then consider a raised garden bed. Gardening in a raised bed is less work than in a traditional garden. Raising vegetables, flowers and even fruits such as raspberries and strawberries and herbs can be done in a raised bed.

A raised bed garden is a garden built on top of your native soil, and it can use native soil or a soil mix. The soil in the bed is higher than the surrounding soil, and the bed is a size small enough to work without actually stepping into the bed.

Poor soil and limited gardening space are two primary reasons to try raised bed gardening. Another advantage offered by raised bed gardening is that the raised beds warm up faster in the spring and this means you can work the soil and set plants out earlier. Drain-age is better in raised beds. Also, you can be more selective with the soil by choosing soil according to the plants you grow in the bed. Once you have constructed your raised garden bed, there will be less maintenance than a conventional garden bed and very little bending over to tend to your plants. Weeding is practically non-existent if you apply mulch.

According to Colleen Vanderlinden, garden writer and avid organic gardener, these are her suggestions for making a raised bed garden:

Vegetables, herbs and flowers need at least eight hours of sun, so if you plant any of them, choose a site that receives adequate sunshine daily.

An ideal size is a raised bed garden that measure 4 feet wide and one where the garden is accessible on all sides to avoid stepping inside the garden bed.

If your soil needs amended, the bed should be 10 inches deep or more; most vegetables will grow well in soil that is six inches deep; however deeper is ideal if you can. If your soil does not need amended and is comprised of little clay or rocks, then loosening the soil and constructing an eight-inch bed will work.

Use landscape fabric to cover the bed and apply your soil and any soil amendments on top of the fabric. Before applying landscape fabric, it is helpful to dig out existing sod, loosen the soil with a garden shovel or garden fork. By doing this, you will be giving the roots of your plants room to grow.

The best materials for constructing your raised garden bed are rot-resistant lumber. Cedar or a composite lumber is good to use. Avoid treated lumber and railroad ties because toxic materials can leach into the garden bed.

A good size of lumber is two by six; it will give you six inches of depth. Attach the lumber to create the size of frame for your bed. Attachment of the lumber is to make a simple butt joint at each of the corners by pre-drilling and then screwing the corners together with galvanized screws.

It is important to make sure the bed is level. Use a level to test the frame’s level. A bed that is not level will have water running off in one section of the garden and gathering in another section. To level the frame, you might have to remove some soil if a part of the frame is sitting too high.

Fill your garden bed with good soil – quality topsoil, compost and rotted manure. Once the bed is filled and you have raked it level, you can plant or sow seeds.

Once plants appear, apply a mulch to help retain moisture and eliminate weeds.

Constructing a raised garden bed means less maintenance than a conventional garden bed and very little bending over to tend to your plants. Weeding is practically non-existent.

Carol McCray lives, writes and gardens in the scenic Laurel Highlands east of Ligonier, Pa. She is an award-winning writer; her most recent award was the Garden Writers Association Award for her article on Native Seeds which appeared in The Christian Science Monitor newspaper. She can be reached at mountain26@verizon.net.

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