Given the option, I can’t imagine not utilizing raised garden beds. They offer a simple and effective way to create a healthy and productive garden by manipulating the growing environment. Ideal conditions can be created for soil structure and drainage; essential keys to success.
Design the soil for structure and drainage
Native soil that is either too sandy or compacted does not hinder the raised bed gardener. With raised beds, soil can be brought into the garden and mounded up in wide rows or added to a framed structure no matter what the condition of the existing soil.
Ideally, it is best to incorporate native soil along with plenty of organic material such as well-aged manure and compost, and even store bought soil amendments. However, there are times when blending native soil isn’t practical.
In either case, the goal is to create a deep, wide growing area that encourages roots to grow down and out. Soil that is just right is said to be loamy and have good structure or tilth. An easy test for knowing when you’ve achieved the perfect mix is when you squeeze the soil in your hand; it binds together, yet crumbles apart easily when disturbed.
An equally important benefit to just-right soils in raised garden beds is superb drainage. Thanks to gravity, water wants to always run somewhere. Saturated soil and rotted roots are rarely a problem because the water is moving through and out of the bed. Fortunately, raised beds allow you to easily create the optimal combination of drainage and moisture retention at the same time by adding lots of organic matter.
Options to Contain the Soil
The choices when constructing a raised bed are many. Three of the most popular options include pressure treated lumber, non-chemically treated wood such as cedar or redwood, and recycled composite material consisting of plastic and wood fibers.
Pressure treated lumber is a popular choice because of its resistance to rot (due to an injection of chemicals into the wood), availability, choice of sizes and low cost. However, due to health and environmental related concerns by some, there are growing efforts to reduce the use of treated wood, seek alternative options and change the way in which wood is treated.
Certain woods are naturally rot resistant and do not need to be treated. Popular options include Eastern Red Cedar, Redwood and Black Locust. These varieties can last 20 years or more.
One of the newest wood alternatives on the market is composite timber, typically made of recycled plastic and wood fiber. They are designed to look like wood, built for strength and come in several sizes. The best part is they will never rot. Although the cost can seem expensive initially, when you consider they may never need to be replaced, this choice becomes a cost effective option. Look for a system that allows the plastic timbers to be stacked for any height desired such as Scenery Solution’s Frame-It-All System.
Whether you choose to contain your bed within a raised border, or simply mound the soil up; raised garden beds provide a significant advantage in creating a productive and healthy garden. Gardens that have great soil and drainage are a sure way to get your plants off to the best start. Raise beds are a quick and easy way to make that possible.