Raised garden bed
Raised garden beds are great! Here’s a slightly different variation on the same theme using fabric grow bags.
- Benefits of a traditional raised bed
- Go vertical
- What do I fill the raised bed with?
- Composting solution
- Alternatives to traditional raised beds
- Other consideration
- One more
- One more once
- final thoughts
Benefits of a traditional raised bed
Raised garden beds are quite popular in todays gardening culture. Some of their benefits are also solutions to larger problems. Lack of topsoil and poor soil are two very big concerns with new construction. If you’re not familiar with modern home building, we’ll fill you in on the details. Modern builders typically come into a new development, scrape off the topsoil, build the home and then drop sod on the soil horizon below the topsoil. Any topsoil let is usually nowhere near the quantity that was present before the home was built. This creates a massive headache for the homeowner who want to grow a garden. How do you plant vegetables into the layer of earth below the topsoil? It doesn’t work!
At this point, a homeowner is left with a few options. A popular option is to go vertical with a raised garden bed. Raised beds can be purchased as kits or fabricated into any shape or size needed with literally any type of material. Some of the most frequently used materials are wood, galvanized panels, stock tanks and stone. The easy part is picking out the material. The harder part comes into play when the reality sinks in the raised bed needs to be filled up with something. This is totally doable and we’re not trying to discourage the reader. Realistically speaking though, as a raised bed owner, you’ll have to transport cubic yards of compost, soil and other amendments to fill said raised bed. If you like to stay physically fit, it’s probably not a bad chore.
What do I fill the raised bed with?
Assuming you decided to go with the raised bed option, what goes into the raised bed? Depending on how deep your raised bed is, it could be as simple as filling the bed with a 50/50 mix of compost and topsoil. A note on compost. Do you know if there’s a composting facility in your neighborhood? Here in Minnesota, it’s illegal to dump yard waste into the garbage cans.
As a solution to this law, many municipalities have community compositing facilities. Some are free and some charge a nominal fee. It’s a pretty good deal all the way around for your raised garden bed. Local citizens take their yard waste to these facilities in the fall and can return in the spring to pick up seasoned compost. The only thing required is sweat equity and preferable a pickup truck. One word of warning however. From first hand experience, you may experience minor problems with weed seeds being found in your compost from these facilities. It’s not a deal breaker, but your should be aware of the fact you may bring weeds into your garden when you first add this compost.
Alternatives to raised beds
So are there alternatives to using raised beds if there’s very little topsoil? Absolutely there are. One of the other popular methods of getting around the “no topsoil” problems is to grow with containers. If you have a patio, deck or porch, containers provide a great way to grow food without a lot of fuss. Same as the raised beds, containers can come in all different sizes and shapes as well as different materials. Clay/terracotta, plastic and fabric containers are all options. There are many more options like metal, but the clay, plastic and fabric are some of the more commonly found containers for gardening. These materials have different characteristics and we’re partial to fabric because it outperforms clay, plastic and any other material when growing in a container.
So, let’s say you invested all that sweat equity into building and filling a common 4’x8′ raised bed. There’s a problem though. It’s too close to the house and is shaded in the afternoon! Speaking from experience, this should be the first consideration when planning a raised garden bed. The sun should be studied over the course of a 24 hr period. Any potential structures like tall trees, building and shrubs should be analyzed and watched to see if they shade any part of the potential site for the bed. Consider also that the sun’s path through the sky changes at different times of the year in different seasons. Here in Minnesota, the sun is pretty close to being straight overhead at noon, but is much lower in the sky towards the south during the fall months.
Where’s the water source? Raised beds solve the issue of having poor topsoil or no topsoil, but they drain water quickly. This is bad news during the heat of the summer if there’s not a lot of rainfall. Plan on providing a water source for the garden bed. This can be as easy as running a soaker hose to the bed and running it for 10 minutes in the morning. This process can even be automated with a timer. We advocate for automation because sometimes life happens and chores and tasks are forgotten. Many vegetables plants (especially fruiting plants like tomatoes) require a lot of water. Their performance and yield will be severely impacted if they don’t receive the amount of water they require to perform optimally.
One more once
Get a report on the compost and topsoil if possible. If the composting facility doesn’t have one available, you can easily send a compost/ topsoil from to the state extension service to have tested. This will provide you with basic information on mineral elements in the soil that will go into the bed.
If you have the option, start with containers, then expand to a permanent raised bed. At least with the container garden, you can…wait for it…move the containers! The last thing you want to have happen is find out the grow bed is in a horrible spot because of sunlight issues. It would be great exercise though, but we think you’d have more fun harvesting lettuce and peppers than shoveling cubic yards of soil and compost.