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Five Steps for Successful Raised Bed Gardening

Benefits of Raised Beds

First, you might be wondering why not just stick plants in the ground; why bother with raised beds? Raised beds are an excellent design for a number of reasons.

  • Raised beds improve drainage. In general, while plants need moisture, they don’t appreciate “wet feet”. Raised beds ensure good flow and drainage.
  • Raised beds improve aeration. An important component of good soil structure is air. Indeed, air comprises 25% of an ideal soil composition (25% air, 25% mineral soil, 45% mineral soil, and 5% organic matter). A raised bed allows you to fluff up the soil each season.
  • Raised beds add a sense of containment and order. Whether or not you have a raised bed within a structure, or with a natural border, they add a sense of order and organization to your landscape.

Raised Bed Inspiration

Next, let’s get some raised bed inspiration. As you can see, you can create a raised bed out of many materials and in a wide variety of shapes and sizes depending on your space and needs.

raised bed_0822

These raised beds, in the center of a community space, are thigh-high to keep animals out and ease harvesting of vegetables.

raised bed_1966

These raised beds, along the Fraser River in British Columbia, have benches around them to sit and enjoy the scenery.

raised beds within lawn

Not all raised beds have a border; these backyard beds were mounded up within the existing lawn.

This raised bed full of tasty herbs is located just off of a kitchen, making it easier to grab a fresh sprig of rosemary, thyme, sage, or whatever flavor is required.

This raised bed full of tasty herbs is located just off of a kitchen, making it easier to grab a fresh sprig of rosemary, thyme, sage, or whatever flavor is desired.

5 Steps for Creating a Raised Bed

Now that you recognize the benefits and are inspired, how do you go about creating a raised bed garden?

1. Pick a spot.

Full sun, or a mix of sun and shade, typically works best.

2. Pick your design / material. 

Use materials that are locally available to you. Wood (cedar typically lasts the longest), bricks, pots, and poured concrete are some ideas; the material should make sense for your space (and wallet!).

3. Fill the Space with Top Quality Soil

Generally speaking, a raised bed is at least 6”-10” higher than the existing soils. Also, you’ll want a soil blend that has both mineral soil (the existing soil) mixed with organic matter (e.g. compost or some other form of soil amendment). Harvest offers pre-blended mixes, such as Garden Soil in Connecticut, Garden Blend in British Columbia, and a range of bagged soil products (Potting Soil, Potting Mix, Soil Amendments, Peat Moss, and compost-based products) available from our retail partners.

4. Plant

Seeds or starts, veggies or flowers, plant what makes sense for you! Your local garden center will have tips. Our advice:

  • Start out small and build from your successes.
  • Have fun! Grow what you know. Also feel free to experiment! Gardening is a forgiving activity that provides an endless opportunity for exploring and learning.

5. Maintain

ON THE SIDE: It can be nice to maintain the border of your raised bed by applying a 2-3” layer of mulch, or rock, gravel, or pavers to keep down weeds.

SEASON TO SEASON: Your soil will get depleted over time. We suggest adding a 2-4” layer of soil amendment, such as compost or a potting mix, and mixing it into the top 6” of the bed every couple years. Of course, as with everything, remember to water.

NOTE: With watering, plants typically prefer a few long drinks (a couple deep water sessions per week) over short sips (many short sprays of water per week).

Let’s get back to some raised bed inspiration.

This raised bed is outside of a school: each class gets one plot. Also, check out the easy-to-maintain mulch that keeps the weeds at bay.

These raised beds are outside of a school: each class gets one plot. Also, check out the easy-to-maintain mulch that keeps down weeds.

Looks like the garlic (with a light mulch of straw) and kale (background) overwintered in these beds.

The garlic (in the foreground with a light mulch of straw) and kale (in the background) overwintered in these beds.

Yum: Strawberries, a great, simple snack on the way to class.

Yum! Strawberries, a great, simple snack on the way to class.

Ahoy! Who says raised beds need to be square.

Ahoy! Who says raised beds need to be square.

Looks like this gardener is going to try out square foot gardening.

Looks like this gardener is going to try out square foot gardening.

A raised bed at a Harvest site in Connecticut.  It's like a blank canvas waiting for gardening art.

A raised bed at a Harvest site in Connecticut. It’s like a blank canvas waiting for gardening art.

Note the weed deterrent strategy: cleared ground, covered with cloth, covered with a layer of mulch.

Note the weed deterrent strategy: cleared ground, covered with cloth, covered with a layer of mulch.

Simple, productive, orderly, and beautiful raised beds. What fun!

Simple, productive, orderly, and beautiful raised beds. What fun!

Do you have a raised bed?  If so, what style worked for you? What have you grown?

Slotting in a Side-Yard Garden of Bounty and Beauty

Continuing to share garden inspiration, it’s nice to know that you don’t need a lot of space to create a welcoming, bountiful, beautiful spot.  The garden featured today was tucked into a side yard of an apartment building measuring approximately 20′ x 30′.

A raised bed draws your eye in and holds most of the edibles in this landscape.

A raised bed hosts most of the edibles, with tomatoes, lettuce, and basil. The cucumbers are trained to go up small trellis pitched at an angle towards the fence line to maximize space.

It's okay to mix and match different styles and sizes of raised beds and potted plants.

A lot of the rest of plot has potted plants ranging in sizes from barrels to buckets. A bush variety of raspberry in a container provides light snacking in the middle of the space. The raspberries are complimented by a bright flower.

A cute flower provides an accent on the side.

A perched outdoor fire pit creates a nice spot for communing in the evening, and roasting the occasional marshmallow.

A raised fire pit provides a place to gather in the evening.

 

Landscape Inspiration: Mixing Gardens, Raised Beds, and Whimsical Features

In this post we add a new dose of landscaping inspiration presenting a backyard garden that mixes a berry patch, gardens, raised beds and whimsy. What we really liked about this backyard garden is the mixing and blending of function, fashion, chaos, order, whimsy, and practical. Here is a virtual tour.

On the south side of the garden, in the late spring/early summer, the raspberries produce a bumper crop of berries, perfect for a morning bowl of granola or evening fruity dessert.

rasberries

The heart of the garden features an abundance of greenery with plants every which way that create a wild feel. Bursts of flowers provide colorful accents amidst the tomatoes, peppers, kale, lettuce, squash, and other veggie plants. Yet just when it feels too wild, a clear pathway of bricks and stepping stones allow access and create a sense of order.wild garden with veggies and flowers

pathways through veggies and flowers

In addition, throughout the garden, veggies planted directly in the ground grow alongside potted plants and container plants, such as this chard next to a barrel of cosmos and dahlias.

mixing raised beds veggies with potted plants

On the outskirts of the foliage where the garden transitions to a bit of lawn lies a sweet retired wagon that serves as a mini raised garden bed. The 3-inch layer of quality potting mix, plus a blend of flowers and herbs, creates the perfect accent to a small space.wagon with potted plants

dahlia

This garden also integrates a bit of whimsy, illustrated here with a ceramic chicken nestled in the greens. (A nice juxtaposition to the real chickens hanging out in their coop in the corner.)

ceramic chicken

Curious: Which of these garden features appeal to you?