Hows and Whys of Raised Bed Gardening

Building raised beds to grow flowers and vegetables may mean a little more work in the beginning, but the payoff is improved soil and lower maintenance on down the line. Raised bed gardening offers several advantages, including the following:

  • Improves soil drainage.
  • Virtually eliminates problems of compaction because once the beds are created, they are never walked on.
  • Allows soil to warm up faster because more surface area is exposed to the sun, allowing a head start on spring planting and extending the growing season well into fall.
  • Gives more planting room because rows for walking aren’t necessary.
  • Saves time and money because, once created, weeding, watering and fertilizing is confined to the beds themselves, not the paths.

You can frame raised beds with stone, used railroad ties (new ones can contain fresh creosote that could contaminate your bed), pressure-treated landscape timbers or rot-resistant woods such as redwood, cypress or cedar.

How to Build a Raised Bed

Although there’s really no such thing as an ideal size for raised beds, it’s a good idea to make the total square footage of the bed easily divisible by 100. That’s because the application rates for most granular fertilizer and store-bought products are ordinarily stated for 100 square feet.

Paul prefers to make his beds about 4 feet wide by 10 feet long. That way he can work the bed easily from either side, and he doesn’t waste time walking down the length of each bed just to get to the other side. He also keeps the paths narrow – about a foot wide – because he’d rather devote more space to growing beds than paths. You may want them wider, especially if you want to wheel a garden cart between the paths.

Step 1: To build a raised bed, excavate the soil around the perimeter of the growing area to a depth of 6 to 8 inches below grade.
Step 2: As you dig, throw the soil into the area you want to be raised – the process of constructing the paths creates the raised beds.
Step 3: Level off the tops of the mounded soil.
Step 4: Use a hoe to neaten up paths and the sides of the raised beds.
Step 5: Do a final leveling of the soil, and leave the beds as is or frame them.