Raised Bed Gardening
Gardening in raised beds means that you grow your plants above the level of the ground. This is usually achieved by building a structure above ground level and filling it with soil. Even planters and pots can be considered as a raised bed.
There are many advantages to gardening in raised beds. One of the primary reasons is that the soil can be amended much more easily with compost or any other needed elements. A soil test is recommended every few years to let the gardener know what is needed or is excessive in the garden area. It is much easier on the gardener to work an elevated area than bending all the way down to ground level. If you live where there is little or no topsoil because of “living on top of the rock”, it is a way to have depth of soil in which to plant shrubs, trees, or flowering plants. Plant roots can be lifted above the poor soil, depending upon the depth of the raised bed. Gardening on a slope is difficult and a raised bed will assist in controlling grade changes of the ground.
Specific plant needs can be more easily controlled in raised beds. The soil can be amended for acid loving plants, cacti and succulents, or any other requirements to make gardening more successful. Good drainage is most important in gardening and raised beds are easier to work. Smaller hand tools can be used rather than large tillers, especially if there is a narrow ledge to sit on while working the soil. There is no need to walk on the bed and compact the soil.
When planning construction of raised beds, consider what you plan to grow before building. Will you grow sun plants, shade plants, vegetable garden? Do you have a source of water close by? Consider the stability of the materials as large amounts of soil in the elevated area can put a lot of pressure on them. Any number of items can be used for raised beds, from pulling soil into mounds or raised areas and planting on top of these areas to using rocks, wood, concrete blocks, bricks, landscape timbers, or other materials as edging to contain the soil mixture.
Before construction, kill all weeds and grass. This can be done by treating the area with a herbicide or covering the area with black plastic, layers of newspaper or other coverings to keep out sunlight and moisture to kill the unwanted weeds. Once the weeds have died, till the area thoroughly and add compost. This is when you should have gotten the soil test results to see if the soil needs additional nutrients.
Raised beds, especially if in a rectangular shape, should not be over four feet wide for ease in reaching across for maintenance and harvesting crops. However, a raised bed can be made in any shape or form desired, depending upon location. Low beds of ornamentals and only a couple of bricks high can have more visual appeal and are less expensive to construct than deeper beds used for vegetable gardening that are made from wood or concrete materials.
Raised beds will dry out faster than normal garden areas. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses are ideal to use for watering. These will keep moisture off plants that are subject to mildew or moisture related diseases. The water can be controlled by automatic timers which is especially useful in hot summer weather.
Raised beds are ideal for raising vegetables. Seeds or plants are easier to plant in an elevated area – especially if you can sit on the side of the bed as you work. Weeds are easier to keep under control as you will have made a workable, friable soil for your raised bed. Once the veggies are growing, mulching around the plants will help conserve moisture in the soil and keep the weeds at bay. Harvesting the food from the vegetables is easier because you don’t have to bend all the way to the ground.
Raised beds are great for the disabled and handicapped. There are a few requirements that make them easy to navigate and garden. Workable height and width for the individual gardener, perhaps seating on the sides, and a smooth and flat surface between beds is especially important for wheelchair gardeners. The joy and satisfaction of accomplishment from gardening can be enjoyed by the disabled by constructing beds to meet their individual needs.
There is a Holistic Garden behind the Horticulture Building at Texas A&M with many examples of raised beds and gardening ideas for the disabled. Likewise, there are many publications with specifics for construction of similar raised beds. A search on www.aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu will give listings of many brochures available on building your raised beds. Also www.raisedbedgardeningtips.com has considerable information on the many aspects of gardening in raised beds which can be a very rewarding endeavor, whether for the beauty of flowers or rewards of vegetable gardening.