Raised bed gardens have become quite popular among both vegetable and flower gardeners, and it’s easy to see why. Gardening with raised beds is far more convenient than traditional gardening, making it easier to reach the plants and control weeds, moisture levels, and more. They make gardening so much easier, but deciding on what kind of bed to use, what to put in them, and how to maximize their potential can be daunting. That’s why we’re going to talk about the basics of raised bed gardens today.
Raised Bed Gardens 101
Today is all about the basics of raised bed gardens. Gardening is as much an art as it is physical labor, so you can’t put everything there is to know about anyone gardening subject into a single post. That being said, when you’ve finished reading this, you’ll be well on your way to gardening like a pro with raised beds.
Choosing the Right Bed for You
Raised bed gardens come in a variety of styles. From metal to wood and simple boxes to garden beds on legs. There are a lot of raised beds to choose from. The simplest raised bed is the classic “box on the ground”. This type of raised bed garden is simply a box that sits on the ground.
Raised bed gardens can also come in models that have legs. This is nice for people who have back or knee issues, as it eliminates the need for a lot of stooping and bending.
Whether simple or raised on legs, these boxes can be anywhere from small to very large. Most raised beds are between 8″ to 12″ deep. When choosing your bed, the deeper the better. All plants need plenty of room for their roots to grow, but this is especially important for vegetable gardeners. Planting vegetables in beds that are too shallow will result in stunted plants.
You can find a variety of raised bed gardens at your local Home Depot.
Preparing Your Raised Bed Gardens
Raised bed gardens come in wood or metal, and either will work. Metal is nice because there is no chance of wood rot. However, metal can rust. Conversely, wood will not rust, but it can rot. As you can see, in either scenario, filling the box with earth takes a toll. Whatever box you choose, it’s recommended that you seal the interior of your raised beds to keep moisture out. The simplest way to do this is by applying a layer of roofing cement to the interior of your box with a putty knife.
You also want to keep the dirt in your raised bed gardens where it belongs. To do this, cover the drain holes in the bottom of your beds with landscape fabric. To ensure that the fabric stays in place, put it over the drain holes with several inches extending outward on the bed floor and then cover the floor – not the holes – with roofing cement.
To get really healthy plants that produce big, beautiful blooms or delicious vegetables, you have to take a little time with your dirt. You can’t just throw topsoil in there. Just like people, plants need nutrients to be healthy, and the best way to ensure they have them is by starting with a great base.
While you have to add more than topsoil to your raised beds, it’s still the number one ingredient in your soil mixture. In fact, you’ll start off with 50% topsoil for your raised bed mixture. You can buy quality topsoil almost anywhere. Home Depot has a variety of topsoil and garden soils to choose from. Ensure your topsoil is black, not gray and smells earthy, not rancid.
After you’ve gotten your topsoil, it’s time to get compost. 30% of your raised bed soil should be made up of high-quality homemade or certified compost. You can use a tumbling composter to make your own, but if you’re just starting out, you’ll need to buy your compost for your initial bed mixture. It might take a little Googling, but chances are, there’s a compost supplier near you. Remember, a good compost company will have plenty of reading materials for you to look through that outlines what they use for their compost and where they get it.
Other Organic Ingredients
Finally, the last 20% of your soil mixture for your raised bed gardens will be a cocktail of organic materials. There are many out there to choose from. You can use them in any percentage you like, but as with life, variety is the spice of gardening, so it’s recommended to use about 5% of each of your chosen organic ingredients until you hit the 20% mark.
- Leaves – Rotted leaves work great, but they might not be available on your first foray into raised bed gardening, and they require about a year to become useful.
- Mineralized Soil – Mineralized soil is widely available and usually locally sourced. The extra minerals make the garden soil extra healthy for your plants.
- Vermicompost (Worm Castings) – Both of these are just fancy names for worm poop. While it can be hard to get and can be a bit pricey, worm casting delivers an extra kick to your garden that both flower and vegetable plants love.
- Mushroom Compost – Made from materials leftover from mushroom farming like hay, gypsum, corn cobs, cottonseed hulls, and they like, mushroom compost adds a nice kick of nitrogen along with a bonus of magnesium and calcium.
- Composted Manure – Composted manure has been the old standby by for gardeners since time out of mind. The nutrients, organic matter, and varying particulate matter found in compost is a plant’s dream.
Adding Plants to Your Raised Bed Gardens
Raised bed gardens are simply gardens that are, well, raised. So the sky is really the limit when planting in them. There really isn’t anything that you can’t plant in a raised bed as long as the bed has good depth. This is especially true of flowering plants. You can put any flower species you’d like in your raised beds.
Both vegetables and flowers do so well in raised beds because you as the gardener have complete control over everything that happens. You’ve made the best soil possible, and you can control the moisture levels with ease. That means you can plant anything at all in these beds.
That being said, while any flowering plants at all can be planted in raised bed gardens, vegetable gardeners do have their favorites. The most popular raised bed vegetables are:
- Root Vegetables – Root vegetables are perfect for raised bed gardens, especially those on legs. Root vegetables require digging to harvest which is made much easier in a raised bed.
- Leafy Greens – All leafy greens do incredibly well in raised beds. In fact, they almost do better in raised beds than they do in traditional gardens.
- Onions – Like root vegetables, onions are easy to plant and even easier to harvest in a raised bed.
- Tomatoes – Tomatoes are finicky plants and heavy eaters, so they do well in raised beds. The ability to control moisture and ensure high nutrient levels in these beds make for healthy plants with big, juicy fruits.
When to Plant in Your Raised Bed Gardens
You can plant in raised bed gardens in the same way that you can in traditional gardens. In fact, you can plant a bit earlier with raised beds. That’s because the warming air temperature and sunlight heat up the soil of raised bed gardens more quickly than traditional gardens because there is less area to heat up.
Plant flowers or vegetables at the recommended time for your zone and watch them grow. You’re free to have a traditional spring and summer vegetable or flower garden as well as a fall garden if you’d like.
Raised Bed Gardens are a Great Way to Grow
Raised bed gardens are a great way to grow almost anything, especially for beginners. Being able to easily control the soil makeup and moisture levels in these raised beds makes it almost impossible to not have an amazing garden of beautiful blooms are huge, tasty veggies. Following these tips, you should be well on your way to being a raised bed gardens master in no time at all.