I am a big fan of using raised beds for gardening. We have built and used them in the past and each time we do I feel like we get better and better at it. I like using raised beds for a number of reasons, but the two reasons that top that list are:
~They help the garden look very orderly and neat.
~They are easy to get to and to keep weeded.
When building raised garden beds you also get the advantage of creating and perfecting the soil right from the start. Since it won’t get walked on it, it remains loose and airy at all times, something plants and their developing roots need to grow, and comes along with the advantages of having excellent drainage. But perhaps I am forgetting my absolute favorite reason to using raised garden beds…and that would be that:
You can extend your gardening season and harvests well into the fall, start harvesting much earlier in the spring, and even overwinter some vegetables and create yourself a harvest the whole year through. Yumm.
For more details on four season gardening I highly suggest (even though I know I sound like a broken record), Elliot Coleman’s Four-Season Harvest or The Winter Harvest Handbook. However, some of the vegetables we have had luck with growing year round and plan on working with this winter in our raised gardens are:
And there are others too, which definitely opens up a whole new world of gardening.
We used some really nice and thick pine boards that were in the basement when we moved here to make the two beds pictured in this post with. However, when we build more we will most likely get the same thick cut wood except use cedar, which is naturally rot and insect resistant. Of course, depending on what one has lying around, you can always re-purpose or reuse some materials as long as they haven’t been treated with harsh chemicals that could leach into your healthy growing food.
Jason also took a 2×4 and braced the bottom center of each bed just to help it from bowing out after adding the soil and fill to them. In the past we haven’t done that and after a couple years the beds get a little misshapen. Although I doubt that would happen with these beds since the wood is so thick, we decided to do it anyways as a precautionary measure.
Then I layered. I started cutting down cardboard and covered the ground inside each garden bed. I was happy to preserve some of those boxes in some way. They are riddled with drawings and writings of my children and for some reason this way, vs. burning them, seems like a happier solution for some reason. I mean, they will still just decompose and break down into the Earth, but I like that better than the thought of fire, which seems like destruction to me. I don’t know how I can be sentimental about things like this but sometimes I just am.
At this point children came out and thought these boxes must be for them to play in right? Nope, move over…time for some old chicken barn hay. Jason brought a truck load of old hay from the farm’s chicken barn. Chicken poop has a really high nitrogen content and typically should be fully composted before using it in the garden. Although I do not think that the chicken poop mixed in the hay was completely decomposed and was definitely not composted, we did not add a concentrated amount, it was old, and with putting a layer of the hay on the bottom of the soil, I do not think it will cause a problem. By the time the plants roots grow down to that level, if they do at all…it should be well decomposed.
After the layers of cardboard and hay Jason shoveled in a screened topsoil/composted manure mix. I think next time we will add some peat in as well just for girth as well. Since raised garden beds typically stay put where you initially place them, it is a good idea to make sure the soil within them is packed full of organic healthy stuff. This creates less work down the road in following years.
After the beds were filled came the exciting part…putting on the hoops! We moved all of our pvc hoops from our old gardens and just reused them. Basically, if you build a raised garden bed approximately 12×4…you will need five 8 foot lengths of 1/2″ pvc piping to arch correctly across each of the beds.
In the past we just stuck pieces of re-bar or garden staking that fit into the pipes right on the insides of our garden beds and slipped the piping over it, however, with little ones who sometimes think these pvc arches might be good to swing on…we decided to go a different and sturdier route this time. Jason picked up some of these little metal brackets (they probably have a name, but if they do I don’t know what it is) at the hardware store and evenly attached them alongside of the beds. The pvc piping easily slips into them and stays put, and also makes it easy to remove when we need to.
Since we live in a valley, and the winds seem to be pretty strong at time, Jason wanted to stabilize the pvc framing just a little bit more. He cut another length of pvc piping and screwed it into each of the pvc arches. Now it is very secure.
We got right to planting in these little mini greenhouses. The first bed is entirely Lacianto Dinosaur Kale. The second bed consists of Ripbor F1 Kale and Improved Rainbow Mix Chard. That is a lot of greens. But I say, the more the merrier! We got some greenhouse plastic from the farm to cover the hoops and if it gets cold enough, we can also put some frost blankets right on top of the beds as well, but I’m hoping it won’t! I’m thinking springtime!