Raised praise

Raised beds are a smart choice for gardeners

Story by Meredith S. Jensen

Garden season is in full swing, but if you’ve been unsuccessful in the past, it may be time to consider a raised bed.

A raised garden bed is a great solution for those who live in an area with clay-rich or otherwise poor soil. Raised beds offer better drainage and structure, which allows the dirt to warm up quicker in the spring, and weeds are less of a problem. Plus, taller raised beds can bring plants up to your level, decreasing your need to bend or kneel.

According to Ohio State University Extension Educator for Agriculture and Natural Resources Tim McDermott, there’s no one way to build a raised bed.

The thing to remember about making raised beds is that it is a technique,” he said. “You don’t have to buy an expensive kit; you don’t have to use wood or cinder blocks. A mound of good soil will do.”

To that end, think about cost, location, and labor when you decide what materials you want to use for your garden beds. There are three common styles, all created using additional soil:

  • Raised ground— flat-topped mounds, usually six to eight inches high, which require no materials other than the soil.
  • Supported—framed beds six inches high, built from lumber or other materials
  • Container—framed beds 10 to 27 inches high, built from lumber or other materials (ideal for gardeners in wheelchairs or who have other mobility issues)

 

Location will help you determine how large to make your bed. While length is determined by how much room you have, width depends on how long your arms are. If you can only access one side (eg. the bed is up against a fence) don’t make your bed any wider than two and a half feet wide. A freestanding bed can be a little wider, but not by much. McDermott advised keeping them smaller than five feet, despite what the Internet tells you.

Build your beds four feet wide for adults or three feet wide for children,” he said. “Anything wider and you won’t be able to reach anything without stepping inside the bed and compacting the soil,” he said. “Shaquille O’Neal can have a five-foot wide raised bed at his house, but not the average person.”

When choosing frame materials, consider what is available locally, the type of bed you want, and your budget. While pine is inexpensive, cedar has a natural resistance to rot. Just be sure to use untreated wood. Cinder blocks may also be a viable alternative, but avoid going larger taller than two blocks high without applying mortar.

Detailed instructions to assemble your raised bed, are available on many major home improvement store websites. Use them as a resource, for projects like this there are usually full tutorials and supply lists available. Now, get growing!