Raised Bed Gardens

A raised bed garden remains neat and tidy all season long with well-defined walking areas between the beds.
raised beds are great for limited spaces

raised beds are great for limited spaces

Where space is limited or to make raised beds more attractive, stack them high for easy access. (All photos courtesy of Maureen Gilmer)

Where space is limited or to make raised beds more attractive, stack them high for easy access. (All photos courtesy of Maureen Gilmer)

Households everywhere are realizing that a home kitchen garden is a great idea. Not only does it offer fresh-picked produce, but it's also cultivated chemical-free with no dependence on oil to get it to market. It's nature's purest gift to healthy families.

Millions of Americans have never grown a garden. The prospect may seem daunting due to lack of space, poor soils and oddly shaped spaces. But all these can be overcome with one simple solution: raised beds. It takes a bit more doing at first than simply tilling up a plot of earth, but it's worth it.

The biggest challenge to first-time gardeners is problem soils. In fact, heavy earth infested with aggressive weeds or honeycombed with roots of nearby lawns, trees and shrubs makes poor ground for a garden. Little grows effectively in these conditions, and no matter how much attention you lavish on the plants, they'll die or at least fail to thrive.

The best solution is creating a vegetable area out of raised beds. If sized to allow you to reach by hand into the middle of each one, you can make them as long as you wish. Allow 2 feet minimum between boxes, preferably 3 feet clear.

Constructing raised beds

Until recently this was a costly endeavor due to the use of redwood or toxic railroad ties. But today, the new recycled plastic lumber effective for no-decay decks makes perfect raised-bed side walls. And with specially made corner brackets, you can fit it all together in any configuration you want. So big yard or small, wide or skinny, or so tiny you need to stack them, this is the perfect choice for first timers.

Choosing the right soil

The second part of this equation is what fills the planters. This soil will remain in the planters for many years to come, so buying the best quality is cost-effective. You can improvise with bagged materials using combinations of topsoil, compost and sterilized steer manure to create an organic bioactive soil. It will be free of roots and rocks as well as weed seeds, so you can easily turn it with a spading fork.

Another alternative for larger raised beds is to buy a truckload of topsoil. It will probably be delivered in bulk to your driveway unless there is truck access to the backyard. You'll have to wheelbarrow it back to the planters. This is topsoil, which can contain weed seeds and will need fortification with compost and manure to increase fertility.

Planting your garden

Organization-wise, you may want some individual raised beds for permanent plants such as strawberries, asparagus, artichokes and perennial herbs. These can be planted in fall or spring and remain as they are for many years to come.

A fall garden planted in August will vary, depending on where you live. It is the perfect time to plant kale, broccoli and other greens that will mature during autumn and become even sweeter after the first frost. Root crops, including carrots, exotic radishes, turnips and green onions, are also good seasonal crops. Lettuce and spinach that suffer in spring tend to do better at season's end in these areas. Protect plants later in the fall with row crops, and you'll be eating fresh well into winter.

When times change so rapidly, it's frightening. We always seem to come back to basics in the garden. Whether it's the Great Depression, world wars or an oil crisis, this is one green place we can hunker down and wait out hard times victoriously.

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