Raised Bed Gardening: Plan Your Vegetables and Herbs in Fall
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When you need to add more organic matter, you can dig it in by hand. However, if you have a small tiller you love to use, you could use it in this type of bed. Just reshape the beds and smooth things out when you finish tilling soil.
To contain a raised bed, it is better to use only untreated lumber. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t use railroad ties that are covered in creosote, but you can use cinderblock, man-made lumber, bricks, rocks, or vinyl. After digging out grass, you may choose to put down a weed barrier, then build the raised bed on top. Next, fill the raised bed with good organic soil.
That weed barrier can be as simple as laying down a large piece of cardboard. The cardboard will eventually disintegrate, but will first choke out any weeds that try to grow. Make sure the barrier extends beyond the edge of the box and growing soil for at least six inches. Otherwise, the grass will sneak right into the box and try to reclaim its territory. I think the best weed barrier really is cardboard, but before you put it down, mix in the good organic matter with your existing soil. That way, when the cardboard disintegrates, the plant roots can keep right on growing.
Raised-bed boxes can be any height you want them to be from only 8 inches to 3 feet or more. They can also be the height of two cinder blocks stacked one on top of the other, creating a garden where you can sit on the edge saving your knees. Some of us can still kneel in the garden, but that’s not the problem—the problem is getting back up! And if your back dictates that your bending days are over, another great advantage of raised beds is that they can also be constructed high enough so you can enjoy gardening while standing up. It can also be made the right height so that it is wheelchair accessible. In extra tall gardens, fill the bottom with whatever you want that allows good drainage such as rocks, gravel, or road base—even packing peanuts can be used in a small garden! On top of this filler, add a weed barrier and a few inches of sand topped with 8–10 inches of good organic growing soil.
Watering a Raised-Bed Garden
Confining your watering to just the raised beds and not the paths (simplifying watering and conserving water in the process) also reduces disease by keeping the water on the soil instead of leaf surfaces. There are several methods of watering to choose from—soaker hoses, drip irrigation, or even by hand using a nozzle on a hose. If push comes to shove, you can use an overhead sprinkler, but it will negate some of the advantages of your raised bed garden. Keep the soil moist and don’t allow it to dry out. Check below the surface to see how much water is needed. This will vary according to the age of the plants, temperature, and the weather.