Raised Bed Gardening

Planting an edible garden in a raised bed allows you to maximize planting space in a small, contained area and still yield an abundant harvest. In contrast to traditional in-the-ground plots with plants organized in rows, raised beds allow roots to easily grow down rather than outward so more plants can thrive in a comparable amount of space. As a result, more herbs, vegetables and fruits can be cultivated per square foot of garden space. Our flexible plant-a-grams provide suggested plantings organized in 1-foot-square sections to fit any size bed.

Food gardening in raised beds helps create an optimum environment for growing herbs, vegetables and fruits: nutrient-rich soil, accessible and easy-to-maintain plants, and the ability to control pests in a contained area. An elevated bed also raises the plants to a comfortable level for the gardener, requiring less bending than with a plot that's flush with the ground.

Choose a site for your raised-bed garden that receives plenty of sun. A raised bed warms quickly in the spring and cools slowly in the fall, which is advantageous to most vegetable and herb plants. The extra warmth that a raised bed provides stimulates plants' growth and may hasten your harvest.

In a raised-bed garden, you have control over the quality of the soil. After you build the bed, fill it with a high-quality organic growing mix. Add either homemade compost, if you have it, or a commercial organic amendment and disperse it throughout the soil. The result will be optimum air, nutrition and water circulation throughout.

A major advantage to raised-bed gardening is that it requires less water than an in-ground garden: plants are closer together, moisture is applied only where it's needed and runoff is eliminated. Morning is the best time to water the garden, and a thorough soil soaking will keep things hydrated all day. (In general, you should avoid watering the foliage.) Pay attention to the weather and note how quickly the soil in your garden dries out. After a rainstorm, or as temperatures rise during the summer months, you may need to reduce or increase your watering. Typically, a little less water is better than too much. Most plants will communicate their moisture needs with a slight wilt of foliage.

Burrowing creatures crave plant roots. If gophers, chipmunks, groundhogs and similar animals are prevalent in your area, a few extra steps can help protect your harvest. Before filling your raised bed with soil, line the floor with landscape cloth or galvanized wire mesh and extend it several inches up the sides of the beds. This barrier will help keep animals out while still allowing water to permeate the soil and the garden to drain properly. Landscape fabric will also deter weed growth from underneath the bed. Over time, weeds may find their way into your garden, but pulling them will take little effort if their roots do not run deeply into the soil.

Because they are better aerated and have more organic material, raised beds require less supplemental plant food than standard in-ground garden plots. Fertilizer stays in concentrated areas and doesn't run off. Consider using only organic fertilizers, and apply them as recommended on the product labels.

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