There are many plants and vegetables that you can grow in a raised bed that you can't in a regular garden. The luxury of being able to pick and choose your optimum conditions allows you to grow plants that you otherwise couldn't such as ericaceous or lime-hating plants. This guide will explain the pros and cons of raised beds as well as giving you brief and concise instructions how to build your very own raised bed.
When your soil is raised it is less compact into the ground and more efficiently drained (if you want it to be). Having effective drainage is a key component to growing some vegetables and plants, as you can control the moisture of the soil on a much more specific scale.
When you grow your vegetables straight from the earth there are no guarantees that the soil will be optimal for growth, which could mean a frustrating period of time where you are conditioning the soil. This is involves testing, tweaking and then re-testing the soil which is valuable growing time that you don’t want to miss out on.
Image credit: AVS
What is even better than that is the ability to tailor your soil to the specific varieties of vegetable that you want to grow. You can even split your raised beds into sections for each vegetable similar to that of a square foot garden.
As a result of not having to test and re-test the soil you can actually put your raised bed anywhere in the garden. This is a big win for those of you that are keen to add a spot of design to your garden. There are many visual examples of picturesque gardens online where raised beds are the focal point.
Raised beds create a wall for ground dwelling pests such as weevils, beetles and grubs. Providing that you use a solid wooden wall with a good height this will be enough to minimize the risk of pests getting at your veg and plants.
Depending on the materials that you choose to use when you are building your raised beds, the cost can be rather high. Of course you can keep the cost down, but you greatly reduce the life span before having to repair or replace the bed. If you do want to do it on the cheap then you can use timber, however we would recommend using either railway sleepers or constructing a masonry bed.
Image credit: Susan Cohan
When you decide you are going to have raised beds there can be a lot of planning involved, especially if you opt for a more permanent structure such as a masonry raised bed. If that is the case then you must plan carefully about the design, size and accessibility of the bed. You need to know that it will fit in well with the look and feel of the garden, whilst ensuring that is practical for the growth of your plants and vegetables.
In the summer months, the added benefit of better water drainage can work against you. When the weather is hot, the soil can become very dry in a very short space of time. This can lead to a large increase in the time and effort it takes to produce the best crop possible as a result of dehydrated soil. There are ways to reduce the labour intensiveness but it will come at a cost. Solutions can come in the form of irrigation systems or perhaps just leaving your bed in range of your lawn sprinkler.
When it comes to the time where you need to start building you should have a clear idea of exactly what you want and how it needs to be done. Planning is everything. The first thing you should do is have a written plan and a scale drawing including measurements of where your raised bed will reside in your garden.
The bed should be accessible from every side and have paths to it, as well as around the outside. Be careful not to make it too wide as you will not be able to comfortably reach or plant the crops in the middle. When you are digging your paths, it is a good idea to keep the soil to use later in the bed.
Marking out your raised bed is a fairly simple exercise. We would recommend using some string and stakes to mark it out as this can stay whilst you are doing the construction as well to ensure you are not going wrong at any point. It would also help to use a spirit level to make sure the ground you are building on isn’t sloped, as it can be an issue for watering.
Image credit: Coppice and Cleave
Now is time to build the sides of you raised bed. At this point you need to drive stakes (about 12 to 18 inches) into the ground at each corner point. You don’t need to do this if you are building a masonry raised bed as it will be strong enough to retain on its own. These stakes are to support the walls in retaining the soil. If you are making a lengthy raised bed you should place additional stakes every 5ft from the corner. Once all the stakes are in place, attach the sides to them using either nails or screws. Use the latter to avoid splitting the wood, which can be a costly issue if the wood needs to be replaced.
You should now have your walls constructed and a space in the middle to be filled. Before you do that however, it is beneficial to dig up the current layer of topsoil and replace it with organic matter such as manure and compost. This is also a great point to fertilise the soil. Doing these things will help the root growth of your vegetables or plants. Once this is done you can use the aforementioned top soil from the paths you have created to pack out the raised bed and save costs for new top soil. After this you simply fill your raised bed to level off with your walls/ sides.
Do you have any impressive raised beds in your garden? Perhaps you have used different materials and methods to what we have discussed here? If that is the case then we would love to hear about it @LoveTheGarden.