How Are Raised Garden Beds Different than Ground-Level Gardens?
There are several reasons as to why a raised garden bed is preferable to a normal, ground-level garden. For one, it is accessible. Instead of leaning on your knees to plant the garden, weed, and all of those other related activities, the garden will be raised a foot or two, allowing you to sit comfortably while weeding, tending, and doing other tasks. Another plus is that the environment is overall more conducive to larger harvests. The soil will be better aerated, you will have much better control over the composition of the soil, the box has good drainage, and it is better protected against both weeds and pests. It is also a great space-saving option for people with less property, which is a common problem in Flagstaff.
Building Your Own Raised Garden Bed
There are several ways to go about making a raised garden bed. One is to buy a kit from either a retail store or online. Another way is to completely DIY the bed and buy the desired materials yourself. However, there are some guidelines that you should follow when selecting the materials. One is the type of wood or other related material that you will use to make the container. Regular wood and upcycled wood treated with creosote or pentachlorophenol is dangerous for gardens, as these chemicals can leach into the soil. Avoid those. If you wish to stain your wood for your garden, make sure to use a stain that is non-toxic for the same reason. Some sites may state that you can use anything for a raised garden, but that is not true. Make sure to ascertain the safety of your materials before you use them in gardening. You’re growing food to eat, after all!
Now for the more fun part. Wood is the most common material, but stone and other similar materials are common options for raised garden beds. Cedar is the most common choice because of its durability, but redwood is also popular. If you aren’t sure about the safety of your wood, you can also line the bed with plastic sheeting. Just make sure not to rip or tear it. Newer lumber is recommended due to some safety protocol adjustments, and wood that is too old may not be up to the current standard for gardening.
As for getting the box ready itself, you can put it just about anywhere. It can be raised, set on the ground, laid in the yard. Just make sure not to put it on a porch, as the weight can compromise its integrity. The location you choose should get at least six hours of sun a day. The place should also be level. If it is on a hill, you can level it yourself! If you choose to put the bed directly on soil, consider placing hardware cloth or chicken wire to deter digging creatures, like moles and rabbits. You can also put a net over the box for the same reason. Choose a location that best suits your needs while also accurately providing for your new garden.
As for putting it together, we have a useful video that demonstrates putting a raised garden bed together from wood!
One thing to consider is your arm length. The ideal width for a raised garden bed is about three to four feet. You want to be able to reach all parts of the box, and if it is much wider than that, you may have difficulties. If your bed is against a wall, the width should be shorter to compensate. The box should generally be one foot deep minimum, deeper if you will be having plants that require more depth. As for the soil you’ll be adding, compost is recommended, but the specific composition is up to you. Check out some guidelines for what plants you will be cultivating.
Many people prefer tending to annual vegetables in their raised garden beds, like tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans. Most annual vegetables are referred to as ‘top plants’ because they grow above ground, but there are some exceptions like potatoes and root crops. Choose the combination that is right for you, and make sure that your vegetable neighbors will play together nicely. Some get along well, and some do not.
In Flagstaff, the growing period is shorter than in other locations due to late frosts. Flagstaff stands in a zone 6 area for growing time, though this can vary year to year. Read up on guidelines for your desired plant and make sure that you plant it at the right time. Raised garden beds have some leeway for growing time, but the cold snaps in Flagstaff may be too much for them to handle. Protect them with coverings if you are concerned.
Maintaining Your Garden
Maintaining a raised garden bed is overall not too difficult, but there are some steps that you should take to ensure the longevity of your now-completed project. One is to lay compost and other soils on your garden bed during the late fall and winter. Letting it sit for a few months will allow the nutrients to soak into the soil and will improve its condition for the next planting period. There is no need for heavy tilling like in a regular garden. Each year the soil will settle bit by bit, so adding some on will ensure a healthy mixture for your plants. The more organic the soil that you use, the better and healthier for your plants.
During the growing period, you may need to do more weeding during the spring and early summer, as this is when weeds are most common due to the rains. When summer springs into full force, the weeds should slow down, but still stay on top of it to ensure that your plants are receiving as many nutrients as possible. If your crops are not growing as well as expected, you can apply some more mulch or compost to help it along.
Most recommend a drip irrigation system for raised garden beds due to the drainage. Drainage for plants is good, but it may be difficult to keep up with the watering, so having a system to do it for you is quick and painless. A raised garden bed doesn’t dry out as quickly as typical gardens, so make sure that your raised garden bed isn’t getting too much water. If you need to check the moisture level, press your finger into the soil about three inches. If it’s damp, your plants are getting enough water. If it is soaking wet, hold back on the water and turn down the amount going through your irrigation system. Plants breathe through their roots as well, and too much water can cause them to drown.
Are You Ready to Build Your Own Raised Garden Bed?
Whether you want to grow a few crops for a nice salad, or whip up something to feed a village, a raised garden bed is a viable solution for any sort of lifestyle. Not only is it relatively easy to put one together, but the crop number is higher, the soil is healthier, and maintenance is less exhausting. If you are hesitant about taking the first step with gardening, consider making a raised garden bed. After the construction, it is easy to maintain and you will be able to enjoy it for years to come. Check out HomCo Lumber and Hardware for the necessary materials, and talk with the Lawn and Garden department, and we can get you the materials you need for your plants.
About the Author
Rhianne is one of HomCo's valued experts. When she's not writing a DIY blog or sharing more about hardware with our customers, you can find her in the Carhartt department. Stop by to say hi!