Patsy Bell Hobson is a freelance writer who blogs at Oh Grow Up! Which is where to find the Tomato Pages and links to Hubs and Active Aging.

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Build A Raised Bed – Fast!
by Patsy Bell Hobson    

Have at least four raised beds to set up a schedule for crop rotation. A very helpful step in eliminating soil-borne diseases.

Now that is it time to plant tomatoes, peppers, squash and other warm-season vegetables, you should think about adding a new raised bed. Start a new bed now and have all season to create healthy garden soil at little or no cost.

The best advantage of raised beds is that they drain quickly, giving you earlier access than in-ground traditional gardens. Raised beds warm up sooner in spring and will eventually extend the garden season in the fall. Plus, you will never compact soil by walking in the bed; you can take advantage of the easy access from every side.

You will produce more food in less space with less work and weeding. As one crop is replaced with another, you can work the surrounding mulch into the soil. Replant the space and apply more mulch.

Wood-Framed Raised Beds

To build a 4-by-8-foot raised bed, start with three pieces of lumber 2-by-8 inches by 8 feet long. Choose pine (the least expensive) or cedar (the longest lasting).

To build a 4-by-4-foot raised bed, start with two pieces of 2-by-8-inch boards that are 8 feet long.

For the corners, use 4-by-4-inch post pieces cut to the same depth as the raised bed. Or, use ready-made raised bed corners.

Buy about 30 2 ½-inch exterior screws or decking screws.

Prefabricated corners last forever and can be reused when it's time to replace the lumber frame. Buy the corners once and continue to use them for years. When the wooden borders of the bed show signs of rot, reuse the same corners and replace the wooden frame. Find garden corners online or make your own.

To make your own corners, use a sturdy 4-by-4-inch post to reinforce the corners. Don't skimp on the corners. A big, rectangle or square of heavy, moist garden soil will always be pushing against the frame. Nailed together corners without the 4-by-4-inch post reinforcement will soon pull away from each other.

Add a finished look to beds with these copper toppers found where fencing and decking supplies are in the hardware store.

Ready-made corners are study, dependable, and add a bit of whimsy to the garden. These can be used and reused for many years.

Concrete Block Beds

For a longer-lasting, more rugged raised bed, use concrete building blocks. Use the same guidelines to fill the bed or enrich the garden soil. Starting a new raised bed or replacing an old one is a good time to recharge or amend the soil.

This 4-by-4 foot raised bed built of concrete blocks will certainly outlast a wooden frame. (However, remember that concrete is unforgiving if you trip or stumble.)

To make this 4-foot square raised bed, buy 12 concrete blocks. Make the bed level. It will neaten the appearance, but also contain the soil and keep opportunistic weeds out of the cracks.

If you use concrete blocks, the “tops” are hollow, and you will end up with what amounts to 24 “5-inch mini gardens” along the perimeter. These can be planted up as well as the center of the bed.

Water the squares, and then fill them with potting mix and coir. There will be 24 5-inch square mini gardens. Fill these squares with herbs, or small flowers. Enrich the soil by growing legumes such as beans, peas or clover in the squares. Grow the straightest baby carrots ever – just don't over crowd them.

A friend built one bed every weekend until his design was complete. It was easier on the pocketbook to do a little every week.

Build a longer-lasting raised bed with a dozen concrete blocks. You also get a border of two-dozen 5-inch squares for planting.

For All Raised Beds

When the raised bed is in place, follow the same process to fill all raised beds. If gophers or moles are a problem, line the bottom of the frame with hardware cloth.

On the bottom, before you fill the bed with soil, layer five or six sheets of newspaper in the bed. Overlap paper, making sure no soil remains uncovered. Flattened cardboard boxes can also be used in addition or instead of newspaper. This will kill the grass and reduce the future weeds.

Instant Garden Bed

Garden Tip:

Be vigilant about weeds! Weeding is not just an exercise to make your garden more attractive. Weeds rob the soil of water and nutrients meant for your plants. Planting intensively and mulching regularly will reduce weeds in your raised beds.

If you just can't stand the idea of the slow soil building process, assemble and fill the raised bed in one day. Start by assembling the frame. It is easiest to construct the raised bed frame on a hard flat surface and then place it in the chosen garden spot.

Orient the garden bed with the longest sides facing east and west for maximum sun exposure. Think about access to water or how to irrigate.

Water this work-in-progress as often as the rest of the garden gets watered.

Fill the raised beds with a mix of garden soil, compost, bagged sand, vermiculite, cow manure, grass clippings and shredded leaves. Bringing in topsoil from another site will probably result in additional weeding for some time. Build the water holding capacity by adding coir, peat or compost.

Or Slowly Fill the Beds

Mix in the usual compost pile building materials: depleted garden soil from containers and old root-bound hanging baskets, grass clippings, shredded leaves, kitchen scraps (no meat products.)

Continue to layer organic materials, as you would if you were sheet composting the entire bed. For faster decomposition, chop plant materials into smaller pieces. Top with garden soil and water in each contribution to accelerate the process.

Bury food scraps in the bed. Don't overlook corn husks and cobs, apple cores and peels, nut shells, retired Jack O' Lanterns, food waste from juicers and watermelon rinds.

A carrot box is thriving with carrots and leeks. The leeks will be pulled before the carrots need the space.

Make sure the carrot boxes get plenty of fertilizer and water. There are no nutrients in the light fluffy peat or coir.

Carrot Boxes – The Raised Bed for Raised Beds

While you are in the garden building mode, let’s build some carrot boxes. These wooden boxes are 1 foot square. There are four sides with no top or bottom to the box.

Choose a 2-inch thick board, as opposed to a 1-inch thick board. You will need one 2-by-10-inch board that is 8-feet long. Cut it into four 2-by-10-by-12-inch pieces.

The box doesn't have to be 10 inches deep. You can make the carrot box 8, 10 or 12 inches deep, it is your choice.

The heavier 2-inch thickness of this carrot box adds weight and sturdiness. Plus, it provides more room for drilling and securing the sides together with screws.

To plant your carrot box, loosen the soil in the raised bed and work in a couple of handfuls of organic matter. Set the carrot-growing box down where you worked the soil.

Fill with the light seed starting mix or potting soil available. With all the advantages of a raised bed filled with super light soil, the carrots will grow as pretty as the picture in the seed catalog.

Place the carrot boxes where they will have full sun and access to water. Placing carrot boxes about 8-inches apart creates a protected alley ideal for growing and blanching celery.

Thin carrots, space dwarf baby carrots to at least 1 inch apart and full-sized carrots require at least 2 inches apart. Proper thinning will create the right conditions for the heaviest yields. Since the box sits on top of the soil and can stored indoors, dry and empty in winter, is will last for years.

Carrots do not get their deep orange color and snap until just before harvest time. The carrots you thin will not be bright orange and their taste is mild.

Put the Beds to Bed in the Fall

In the fall, you can plant a cover crop or cover the whole bed with a layer of shredded leaf mulch. You will be way ahead of the crowd next spring. You can expect to see that the soil level will drop over the winter. Work in the top layer of leaf mulch and you are now ready to plant in the new bed.


A version of this article appeared in a May 2014 eNewsletter.
Photography courtesy of Patsy Bell Hobson.


Posted: 04/30/18   RSS | Print


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