Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening

If your vegetable gardening plans call for growing plants that require really good soil drainage, you should consider giving raised bed vegetable gardening a try. I’m sure you know how frustrating it is to have a yard that just won’t cooperate. Some plants can handle the excess water that comes from being in a spot that doesn’t drain well. The truth is that the majority of plants can’t handle excessive soil moisture, and when that happens they just die on you. Before you plant anything, you need to find out about the drainage requirements for every plant you buy, and make sure that all your vegetable plants will have similar moisture requirements. Just in case things don’t work out in the ground you’re in, you can always resort to growing your garden in a raised bed.

To first find out how much water an area of soil retains, dig a hole about 10 inches deep, fill it up with water, and come back in a day when all the water has disappeared. Then fill it back up again. If that second filling of water isn’t gone in 10 hours, that area of soil has a low saturation point. It means that when water soaks into it, it will stay in the soil a long time, which is unacceptable for almost any vegetable plant. Fortunately, there is a simple solution. The soil’s drainage needs to be increased and the best way to accomplish this is to elevate the soil bed above grade.

Raised bed vegetable gardening is very simple and easy to accomplish. It involves putting together a raised border for a small bed, then adding enough soil and compost to raise the soil level above the rest of the yard by a minimum of 5 inches, but preferably 8-12 inches or more. This will dramatically improve the water drainage. The area that you’ll build on will either be grass or bare soil. Each one needs to be done a little differently.

Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening on Top of Bare Soil

On bare soil, setting up some kind of frame or border to retain the dirt will be all you really need to do. There are many different kinds of materials to use. There is stone, which lasts forever, and which you could possibly get for free if you have that sort of thing lying around — and some strong friends. I once built raised bed planters myself using flat stone gathered up from along the side of I-75 in Kentucky. You can also use cedar, which is beautiful (at least for a year or so until it turns gray) but pricey, but it can last up to about 6 years. Redwood is top-of-the-line and lasts almost forever, but it’s hard to find anymore and the cost is really prohibitive. Raised bed vegetable gardening done in stone can give you beds that will last decades, and in some cases hundreds of years.

An inexpensive alternative many individuals who practice raised bed vegetable gardening is to use regular old pine, or what’s known in the building trades as a two-by-six or, better yet, a two-by-eight. They only last a few years because they do rot, but considering the availability and cost, pine is probably THE most affordable option.

Beware of and do not use pressure-treated (green) lumber, as this is chemically treated. Although it can no longer contain arsenic per Federal law, the other stuff in it (mostly copper salts) just can’t be good for you, especially if they find their way into your vegetables.

After you’ve built your frame wall, you should put in the right amount of good soil and manure. Depending on how long you plan to wait before planting, you may want to adjust the ratio to allow for any settling.

Installing A Raised Bed Vegetable Garden on Top of Sod

Installing a raised bed garden on top of sod will require some extra work. Cut the sod around the perimeter of the garden, and turn it over so the dirt side is facing up. You’ll need to slice the edges of the sod and work your way under it, which could be a lot of work if it’s a bigger area. You might just want to seriously think about renting a gas-powered sod cutter at your local home store. It will make really short work of it, and the cost is very modest.

Once the sod is flipped upside down, add a layer of straw on top to prevent any grass from growing back up. Build the frame as before, then add the soil and manure mix. No matter if you put your beds on soil or flipped over sod, make sure that the bed’s base will be level, or else all the water and everything else will go sloshing downhill. Use is long a level as you can find. Getting everything to within 1/4 of a bubble off at most will be just fine.

Which Vegetable Plants Grow Best In A Raised Bed

Planting your plants will be easier because now the soil level is higher and you won’t have to bend down quite so far. Make sure the roots of your vegetable plants aren’t going to go too deep so they extend too far back into the original soil you were trying to get them out of in the first place.

You’ll notice an immediate improvement in the productivity of your vegetable plot when you implement raised bed vegetable gardening. The extra soil promotes better root development. Water evaporation will be prevented, as will excessive water accumulation. Because the soil in your raised bed garden will drain better, you will have to keep an eye on it nonetheless to make sure it stays adequately watered. Make sure you mulch.

I’d highly recommend that you situate your compost bin nearby to your new beds so you can dispose of waste from your now more productive raised beds conveniently. This has the added advantage that you can also put composted materials back in your beds, which increases the soil’s nutrient levels and helps the soil in your beds to retain just the right amount of water. The increased amount of organic material also lets your vegetable plants’ roots more easily absorb inorganic nutrient minerals like phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium.

Planning the Best Arrangement of Multiple Raised Vegetable Gardening Beds

The layout of your beds, if you want to have more than one, should accommodate getting adequate sunlight to all of them for at least 6—8 hours daily. Plants that tend to be taller should be located in beds behind those with shorter plants. Make sure that you leave enough room between your beds so you can have good access all around. Your beds should be no wider than about 4 feet across so that you can comfortably reach the middle of them from either side. Also, keep about 2-4 feet between each bed so you can get yourself, garden carts, wheelbarrows, and whatever else in between them easily.

You will definitely want to set up some sort of system for irrigation, like drip lines to each plant or a soaker hose. This is always preferable to using a sprinkler because it takes up less water and doesn’t get your plant’s leaves all soaking wet. Keeping the leaves dry greatly reduces the likelihood of them developing fungal diseases. Raised bed vegetable gardening does give you better draining soils, but that also means watering becomes more critical than ever.

Raised bed vegetable gardening is a fun and easy to set up with inexpensive, easily available materials to suit every need. If you’re still not confident he can carry it off, there are a whole lot of kits on the market in many price ranges that makes getting going with raised bed vegetable gardening a snap!