How to Maximize Your Organic Gardening With Raised Beds

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Raised beds are an essential tool to anyone who wants to be an organic gardener. They give you better soil to grow in, let you grow more plants on less space, and even let you grow a whole garden in places that you normally couldn’t!

But, what is a raised bed? Well, essentially a raised bed is an extra layer of nutrient-rich soil about 12 inches deep (more for plants with deeper root systems) that is typically framed with a simple wood or concrete block box. They can be placed anywhere where the plants inside can get the appropriate amounts of sun and rain, including concrete patios and rooftops, or on top of soil that isn’t normally good for planting.

Why is a Raised Bed Better Than a Standard Row?

When you add compost and other helpful fertilizers to the soil, you’re trying to add nutrients, keep the soil loose with good drainage and plenty of holes for roots and helpful insects, and keep weeds and pests down by promoting healthy crops. A raised bed starts you off with nutrient-rich soil that hasn’t been compacted by time and people stomping all over it and is full of plenty of organic material to ensure good drainage. Pests and weeds aren’t present in large numbers in proper compost and other components of raised bed soil, and proper planting will ensure that it stays that way.

Companion Planting Made Easy

All of these features make it extremely easy to companion plant, and you’ll want to. Since the soil is so rich in nutrients and loose for larger root systems, you’ll be able to plant fruits and vegetables closer to each other than you can in standard rows. Ideally you’ll pick a grouping of plants that can grow close enough so that all of their leaves are just touching and form a giant umbrella over the whole row. This will create a microclimate that keeps smaller plants (like those weeds that never stop growing back!) from getting access to sunlight, which lets your plants keep their hard-won soil without you having to pick a thousand little sprouts every day. This is the ideal way for plants to grow naturally, and it’s one of the main reasons I personally love using raised beds.

Better for Your Back

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These beds are the perfect height for easy weeding and picking

Not only is a raised bed better for your plants, but it can give you a lot of help too. With a normal bed you have to bend over to weed, plant, and sometimes to pick the fruits of your labor, but a raised bed can be any height you want. Although the soil itself only needs to be roughly 12 inches deep for most plants in a raised bed, the frame can be built up to waist or chest height for easy access, which reduces stress on your back and can even allow someone in a wheelchair to weed and plant easily.

 

How to Build a Raised Bed: The Essential Components

Gardening is all about variety: there are literally hundreds of ways to build a raised bed depending on what you need and what plants you plan on growing in the bed. Here are the basics that every bed has:

 

  1. 12 inches of nutrient rich soil, largely rotted compost and other fertilizers depending on the PH that the plants in the bed will need.
  2. A frame, if you want one. Although technically the bed can hold together on its own if properly maintained year to year with new soil, many people find it easier to control erosion by building a frame that can last for a least a couple of years. Wood, concrete blocks, and even specially made non-toxic polyethylene bed frames are common, although there is controversy surrounding the use of pressure-treated wood*. If you want to get creative, you can even use old tractor tires, large metal tubs, or any other solid material that can stand being outside for at least a couple years.
  3. A plan for your beds. A raised bed can be as long as you’re willing to make it, but it should only be so wide that you can easily reach the middle of the row from each side of the bed. If you can avoid ever walking on the bed, it will keep that soil nice and loose, perfect for drainage and huge root systems. A common recommendation is to make your bed about 3-4 feet wide if you want to plant double rows of plants, but so long as your plants can fit and still have room to grow make them as large or small as they need to be!

You can simply assemble the frame with a few weather-resistant screws or nails, then fill the bed with your nutrient-rich soil. Add the plants when their season comes in, and enjoy the ease of growing in soil that is perfect for your plants!

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Once you’ve assembled the frame and filled it with soil, you’re ready to begin planting!

*A Little Side Note On Pressure Treated Wood

Pressure-treated timber is protected against rotting outside, which makes it great for a long-term raised bed frame, but some gardeners worry that the protective coatings that preserve the wood can leach out of the frame and be drawn up into the plants.  On the other hand, a 2003 verdict from the EPA removing CCA (A common wood preservative that leached arsenic) from treated wood for most regular home uses has encouraged some to return to treated wood for their frames.

Those who want to have a durable wooden frame without chemical preservatives should use untreated redwood, cypress or red cedar, since those woods are particularly durable and make excellent bed material though they are expensive and can be hard to find.

 

Share Your Stories

Have you ever used a raised bed, or maybe this is the year you wanted to get a garden started and would like to ask for some tips making your own? Do you think that there is a better method than raised bed gardening? Let us know in the comments!

 

 

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Comments

  1. Hey great article. Great in depth explanation of the benefits of raised beds. Thanks for the notes on the treated wood. Very informative.

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