If you are planning a garden this year and wondering where to put it, raised beds just might be the answer for you. I talked to president of the Campbell River Garden Club, Susan McEwen, about why raised bed gardening is gaining popularity and has so many advantages over digging it all up.
What is a raised bed? Essentially, it is just what it sounds like. Instead of digging into the ground and turning over the dirt, the gardening area lies on the surface of the ground. The raised bed, for example, can be placed on top of any area on a lawn, under a tree, against the house – in other words, wherever you want it. And this is only one advantage – the flexibility of location.
Susan has been gardening for many years, but this year decided to invest in the raised beds for several reasons:
- You can plant sooner because the soil is warm – soil below the surface stays colder longer in the spring.
- Plants can be place close together as the roots will go straight down
- There is little or no weeding, since you are starting with fresh soil free from invasive plants
- Not likely to get slugs
- If they are built high enough, there is less bending over
- As mentioned above, they can be placed wherever you like, even in the middle of your lawn
- The superior soil will help production
- Eliminates the need for strenuous digging and/or rock removal
Sound wonderful? How do you get started? Once you have chosen where to put your bed or beds, the next step is to figure out how many you want and how large to make them. Susan decided on two 8X4 beds for her backyard, and wanted to make them two feet deep, so that the roots would go straight down, instead of spreading – which they do in shallower earth.
The next step was to lay down landscape fabric over the grass, as in her case, or whatever the current surface might be. The fabric will eventually kill the grass, and keep any unwanted plant life like weeds from growing up into the bed. Once the fabric is down, the boxes to contain the soil (see photo) can be placed on top. In this case they are made of cedar, and Susan used a sealant on the wood to protect it. Attractive, and functional too! The soil used was order from Brymix – located on Woodburn road. They will deliver soil, which in this case is composed of their recommended one third seasoil and two thirds topsoil, and it is sold by the cubic yard. In this case, six cubic yards was sufficient to fill the boxes with some left over for other gardening areas.
Susan recommends adding worms to the soil to aerate it, and especially when the growing season is over, to add compost and seaweed. This will prolong the life of the soil, which will probably stay productive for at least five years. She suggests testing the soil to see what nutrients it may be lacking and if you treat it properly, like anything else it could continue to work for even longer.
We had covered quite a large area of our backyard with fabric last year so decided on six beds, but went just one foot deep. Instead of cedar, we used fir for the boxes, but lined them with waterproof fabric so that the wood lasts longer. Where we live, we have to protect our garden from deer, so as you can see by the photo, we have prepared them so that netting or chicken wire can be wrapped around the beds.
No matter what you decide to do, the investment is well worth it for many years of low maintenance vegetable production. I know we are looking forward to a great growing season, and yes, it is only April and the seeds have already been planted!