Using Raised Garden Beds The increasing widespread adoption of raised garden beds by amateur and professional gardeners is gaining widespread attention as other gardeners are asking, “Why should I use a raised garden bed?” First, above ground beds help growers sidestep a long list of gardening challenges. Planting, weeding, watering, and harvesting are much easier with a properly constructed raised growing bed. In fact using these beds with the right soil mixture is so easy that gardening novices who haven’t picked up a shovel before are experiencing tremendous success. How do you build a Raised Garden Bed? A raised garden bed is most productive and attractive as a bottomless frame set into a shallow trench. The sides can be almost any durable building material, including rock, brick, concrete, and interlocking blocks. By far the most common material for raised garden beds is lumber. The major caveat, since raised beds are often used to grow edibles, is to avoid wood preserved with toxins. Do not use creosote-treated railroad ties; opt instead for naturally rot-resistant cedar or redwood. The Environmental Protection Agency considers wood infused with alkaline copper quaternary (ACQ) to be safe for food crops, but if you use this pressure-treated wood you may want to line the bed interior with landscape fabric—an air-and-water-permeable screen—to avoid contact with soil. Again your best bet is to use a simple composite, cedar, or redwood material. It’s also important that you assemble the bed using galvanized or stainless steel fasteners or brackets to ensure your fasteners don’t rust and deteriorate. Raised garden bed kits are also available in a number of predetermined shapes, materials, and sizes at a surprisingly inexpensive cost. At a minimum you want your bed to be at least six inches deep and no wider than four feet. It is encouraged that your bed be at least 12 inches high so that planting, watering and weeding is much easier. Beyond that, you can design and build you raised garden bed in any shape you would like. What material should you use in a Raised Garden Bed? One of the most important steps in preparing a raised garden bed is using the right planting material. Using regular top soil will not help your garden grow like it should. Instead, use an even mixture of compost, vermiculite, and peat moss. Using this mixture will help reduce the amount of weeds you have to pull and the amount of water you need to use. It will also allow plant roots to grow quicker and stronger, resulting in a better harvest. You can also opt for potting soil, but it requires extensive fertilizing throughout the growing season. It’s also important to put an inch or two of gravel at the bottom of your raised garden bed to ensure proper drainage. A 4 foot wide growing bed is sufficiently wide enough to support a good amount of crops, but narrow enough to reach easily from both sides. The ideal height is 1 to 2 ft tall. You can choose to build taller but you need to take into consideration how much soil and pressure a three foot high bed places on your garden bed frame. At 1 to 2 fee in height managing your garden is really easy. Although bed width should not exceed four feet, the length of you growing bed can be as long as you would like. If you need more than one bed, ensure to align it with other rows and provide enough space between each bed for a nice walkway. Finding a flat spot spares a lot of digging—you want the walls to be level. In general, a north- south orientation takes full advantage of available light. Stay close to the kitchen, but avoid sites shaded by the house or beneath messy trees. Leave at least 18 in. between beds for walkways, or 2 ft if you need room for a wheelbarrow or lawnmower. Preparing and building a Raised Garden Bed It’s important to find a flat spot where your grow bed walls can be level. Bed that is built on sloping ground will lose soil after heavy watering or during rainstorms. A north to south orientation of the site will allow you to take full advantage of the sunlight get rid of turf and weeds. Once you’ve determined a grow area, outline the bed dimensions with chalk or with string. Next, remove any weeds or grass in the area of the grow bed and then dig down about three to four inches. Once in place, the first course of lumber should be half-way out of the ground. This will provide stability to your raised garden bed and also keep outside weeds from growing underneath the bed. Drainage is another factor that should be taken into consideration when building your grow bed. By design, raised garden beds are well designed to handle drainage. However, if you are forced to build your bed in a marshy or swampy patch of ground, you can prevent the “bathtub effect” by digging down a few extra inches and putting a layer of pea gravel or crushed rock in the excavated area. In some cases you may also want to use French drains to drive water out from underneath the garden bed. Regardless of the underlying soil conditions, you should put down a layer of landscape barrier or weed blocking material to ensure you growth medium doesn’t leach into your gravel and to prevent weeds from growing up underneath the bed. If you live in an area with gophers or voles you will also want to put down a wire mesh below you growing bed to keep those pests from destroying you planting bed. When laying gravel at the base of your raised garden bed you should also consider spreading a generous layer of pea gravel or crushed rock outside the garden bed. You will constantly be walking around the bed and no one enjoys working in the mud while tending to a garden. This little extra effort will pay dividends on rainy days. Why a Raised Garden Bed Kit Makes Sense For most applications, a ready-to-assemble raised garden bed kit makes sense. It allows you to focus on the important steps of site and soil preparation instead of building a grow box. Assembly of these kits often require nothing more than a screwdriver and a hammer. Most come with a 5 to 20 year warranty that allows you to focus on gardening, not ongoing maintenance and reconstruction of your raised growing bed. Most kits are constructed with powder coated metal parts, that prevent rust and use natural or composite lumber that let you rest assure that your garden bed is free of dangerous chemicals. With kits starting at less than $100.00 it makes sense to use a ready to assemble raised garden bed.