The Advantages of Raised Bed Gardening
Though gardening is a fulfilling, enjoyable hobby, growing plants in the ground isn’t right for every home gardener. It takes a lot of work to dig fresh beds and prepare them for cultivation, and some yards are too rocky (or are otherwise unsuitable) for gardening. Establishing and maintaining in-ground beds can also be back-straining work.
Raised beds are convenient because they elevate the garden space, and require less bending and kneeling to tend them than traditional, in-ground gardens do. With raised beds, you don’t have to make do with the soil on your property either. By filling raised beds with compost or a custom soil mix, you can start your plants off on the right foot without spending the time, effort, and money to improve poor-quality soil. Raised beds also add visual interest to your yard, and you can set them up just about anywhere.
Here’s what you need to get started with your very first raised bed garden.
A Raised Bed
The very first thing you need to get started is the raised bed itself. Wooden beds are popular because they’re durable and complement most types of landscaping. Best Choice Products’ raised bed is made from Chinese fir, which is resistant to rot and will last for many gardening seasons. The 2-foot by 8-foot bed also provides ample room to grow edibles such as tomatoes, herbs, and and leafy greens. This product even comes with a divider that allows you to section off your garden and keep your plants organized. Available on Amazon.
Hardware cloth isn’t really a fabric—it actually looks a lot like chicken wire. If you’re installing a raised bed on grass or soil, hardware cloth will help keep pesky ground-dwelling critters out of your garden bed. Staple this metal protective barrier to the inside bottom of the raised bed before adding soil, and say bye-bye to gophers and moles. Available at Home Depot.
Hardware cloth keeps critters out of your raised bed, and landscaping cloth keeps out weeds and interloping plants. Nearby roots from trees or hedges can feed on your garden’s rich, fertile soil and sap its nutrients, leaving a garden of healthy plants looking weak and spindly. Laying landscaping fabric also drastically reduces the amount of weeding you’ll have to do this garden season. Keep out wandering roots and weeds by topping your hardware cloth with a layer of landscaping fabric before you pile on the soil. Available on Amazon.
Good-quality soil is the make-or-break element for a productive garden. To get your raised bed garden off on the right foot, focus your attention, research, and budget on its dirt. Coast of Maine’s soil mix is a terrific pick: It is OMRI listed for organic use, and contains ingredients like kelp, worm castings, mycorrhizae and greensand to boost the soil’s fertility and overall health. Depending on what you’re planting and the quality of the soil you begin with, you may also need to add compost, vermiculite or other amendments to increase your raised bed soil’s water retention and nutrient content. Available on Amazon.
As plants absorb nutrients via their root systems and deplete the soil’s nutrient content, it’s vital to “feed” the soil with fertilizer so plants can continue to thrive. Some gardeners fertilize their plots with homemade compost, but those without composters or livestock need a different solution. Miracle-Gro’s granular organic fertilizer, which is made specifically for raised bed edibles, is a popular readymade option that is most effective when applied every 6 weeks. One container has enough fertilizer for a single 4 foot by 4-foot bed. Available on Amazon.
Tall plants like long-stemmed flowers, tomatoes, peppers, and beans need a helping hand to stay upright. This is especially true if you live in a windy area and your garden is in an open space. Plant stakes, like these bamboo stakes from Gardener’s Supply, are essential tools in a gardener’s toolbox. Use them to support heavy fruiting plants like indeterminate tomatoes, or tie them together to fashion a teepee for climbing beans, squash, or cucumbers to latch onto. Available from Gardener’s Supply Company.
Vining flowers look gorgeous on lightweight decorative trellises. For vining veggies, however, you’ll need a sturdier trellis, like this one from Gardener’s Supply. Use this structure to support cucumber or squash plants, and grow cool-season crops such as lettuce in the shade of the copious vines. To take full advantage of the trellis’s A-frame design, plant seeds on both sides of the structure and let their vines climb to its peak. Made of sturdy, powder-coated steel, this trellis has 4-inch openings that are wide enough to reach through, whether to check for pests or harvest your bounty. Available from Gardener’s Supply Company.
Durable tomato cages like these from GRONEER keep heavy-fruited plants like tomatoes, peppers, and bush squash from toppling over. What’s more, these structures encourage vertical growth and keep leaves from coming into contact with potentially disease-filled soil. The plastic-coated, steel-core stakes require minimal assembly and are particularly useful for gardens in windy areas. You can also use these cages to grow pole beans, cucumbers, and other vining crops like grapes. Available on Amazon.
Supports like bamboo stakes are great, but they won’t do much good unless your plants are somehow attached to them. Plant clips, like these from Sago Brothers, are handy for securely attaching delicate plant stems to their supports. The clips come in multipacks of 20, 40, or 80 small and large pieces. Unlike garden ties they’re easy to use with a single hand, easy to adjust as the plant grows, and can be reused every year. Available on Amazon.
Some lucky gardeners never have to deal with critters munching on the crops they’ve put hours of effort into growing, but others aren’t so fortunate. Squirrels and other garden intruders will make off with juicy, ripe produce right under your nose. To keep deer, birds, and other pests from wrecking your harvest, it’s wise to protect your raised beds with netting. This heavy-duty mesh netting from Dalen Gardeneer is weather-resistant and easy to install over your raised beds—just be sure to secure the netting to prevent it from blowing away in the wind. Available on Amazon.
Plants, Plants, and More Plants
Your raised beds will need some plants, of course. You can direct-sow veggies like carrots, radishes, lettuce, and spinach. If the gardening season is already underway, you may prefer to start with seedlings. Some of the best places to find good-quality seedlings are local nurseries and farms, but you can also mail-order plants from quality online sources like Burpee, Fedco and Baker Creek. If you have friends who are gardeners, they may have extra seedlings to share.
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