If you're looking for an easier way to grow vegetables, consider adding raised beds to your garden. You can enjoy nature's bounty with far less work once your beds are established.
Make a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden
Creating a raised bed takes some planning and work, but it's well worth the effort. You can definitely make the most out of the space you have, whether you live in the country or the city.
Choosing Your Location
As with any garden, the location you choose is crucial to your garden's success. Choose an area that:
- Receives good sunlight
- Has good drainage
- Is large enough for the number and size of bed you want to create
- Is away from trees whose roots will compete with your plants for water and nutrients
Selecting Your Frame Material
There are a number of materials you can use to create your raised bed frames. Some gardeners like to use wood, but you can use plastic or metal as well. While you can make your own frames using materials you already have or purchase, one of the easiest ways to create a raised bed is to purchase a frame kit sold at many garden supply stores, such as this one from HomeDepot. See Raised Garden Kits for more examples. Most basic kits can be used to create individual beds that measure 4 x 4 feet square and 6 inches deep. These beds are very easy to set up, and you can stack additional kits on top of one another to make your bed as deep as you want. This size is also perfect for square foot gardening.
Building and Filling Your Frame
The following directions for creating your bed are based on using the 4 x 4 foot frame kit, but you can choose any size frame you want.
- Mark out a 4 x 4 foot square in your chosen location, and either loosen the sod with a garden fork or remove it completely.
- Open your kit and assemble the frame around your prepared spot, according to the package directions.
- When the frame is assembled, fill it with your chosen soil mix.
If you prefer not to use a kit, see Building Plans for a Raised Bed Garden for instructions.
Calculating How Much Soil Mix You Need
You can easily use a calculator to determine how much soil you need. Measure the length, width and height of your bed in inches. Multiply all three of those numbers together, and then divide that product by 1,728. The result is the number of cubic feet of soil mix you need to fill the bed, which is what you really need to know because soil is sold in cubic feet.
This example calculates how much soil mix is need for the 4 x 4 foot frame:
- 48 x 48 x 6 = 13,824 cubic inches
- 13,824 ÷ 1,728 = 8 cubic feet
Planting Your Vegetables
Once your frame is built and filled, it's time to plant. You might be surprised at how much you can plant in a raised bed. It's really a more efficient use of space because you don't have to leave room for walkways.
General Soil Depths
A minimum depth of 6 inches is sufficient for many vegetables and fruits that grow above ground, including tomatoes, cucumbers, a variety of peppers and leafy greens like spinach and Swiss chard. Root vegetables like carrots, beets, parsnips and radishes will actually grow better with about 10-12 inches of soil.
You can plant your vegetables in rows just as you would with an in-ground garden. However, you might choose to make the most of your space by employing square foot gardening.
To do this:
- Mark the bed off in 12-inch square sections.
- Plant your seeds, devoting one square to each type of plant. You'll need to thin the seedlings later.
- Or, plant seedlings at the recommended spacing.
- Keep a simple diagram of your beds and note what you plant in each square.
Tips for Maintaining Your Beds
Maintaining your beds is relatively easy.
- Inspect your beds each year before planting. Replace any worn parts of the frames.
- Test your soil each spring, add more soil and amend as needed.
- Once your beds are planted, water, weed and feed as needed.
Benefits of Raised Bed Gardening
Raised beds are a wonderful choice for vegetable gardening for a lot of reasons.
- Access: It's easier to reach plants in the garden if it is raised, making it possible for people in wheelchairs to access the garden and for seniors to garden without bending over.
- Visibility: It's easier to see your produce, weeds and pests.
- Soil: Creating a raised bed means that you'll be importing quality soil in order to raise the bed, along with the right fertilizers and compost.
- No soil compaction: No one will be walking in your raised bed, so soil won't become compacted and will remain healthy.
- Fewer weeds: Raised beds tend to hold more plants in less space than a traditional vegetable garden layout, which means there's less room for weeds.
An Effort That Really Pays Off
Once you've tried a raised bed vegetable garden, chances are you'll never want to go back to regular gardening again. It does take some work to make the beds, but once they're set up, you'll never have to work that hard again. That is, unless you can't resist adding more beds to your garden.