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Gardening Q&A

Get answers to your gardening questions at the Gardeners' Community which includes a Vegetables forum, Herbs forum and Growing Vegetables & Herbs blog.  Search, ask or answer. Use the Gardening Events calendar, view/post photos and blog too.

Books

Growing Vegetable Gardens - Store

The Vegetable Gardener's Book of Building Projects
The Vegetable Gardener's Book of Building Projects

39 simple-to-make projects, including:

Raised Beds

W. Atlee Burpee Company
Burpee.com
Gardener's Supply Company
Gardeners.com





Soil Testing

W. Atlee Burpee Company
Burpee.com
Gardens Alive
GardensAlive.com
Gardener's Supply Company
Gardeners.com

Raised Beds

Raised Beds on Slope

Raised Beds provide the ideal growing environment: control over soil quality, good drainage, deeper planting beds, protection from soil compaction (since they aren't walked on), improved pest control, protection from invasive roots, and easier accommodation of season-extension tools such as row covers and cold-frames. Studies have shown that most raised bed gardens beat row-crop gardens hands down.


Higher Yields - The deep soil allows maximum root growth (and, therefore maximum fruit production). Yields are further increased by using high-quality planting mediums that are a mixture of soil, compost and organics. Plants are planted more closely together than with an old-fashioned garden plot. Soil compaction is avoided since the beds are not walked upon. Pests are deterred by the walls and it's easier to add additional defenses.

Good Drainage - Very important to all vegetables and herbs.

Extended Growing Season - Soil warms more quickly in the spring and stays warm longer in the fall. Easy to add row covers and cold-frames for even more protection.

Frugal - Water and fertilizer can be concentrated where they are needed.

Easier - Easier to plant, weed, harvest and tend.

Keeps Out Invasives - Invasive growers and weeds in the surrounding area are kept out of the vegetable beds. If this is an issue you are battling, be sure to line the bottom of the bed with a good 1/2 inch of newspaper and/or cardboard ensuring there are no gaps and the ground is completely covered.

Buy or Build

Many raised bed kits are available for purchase (see the Resources box at right) or you can easily build your own.

Build Your Own Raised Beds

Raised beds can be any shape or size but the most practical are no more than 4 feet wide, so that the contents are easily reached without stepping into the bed. Typically, they are a box with an open top and bottom placed on the ground. Great tip: line the bottom with 1/4 - 1/2 inch of newspaper or cardboard before adding the soil mixture. This will smother any weeds lurking below. Eventually, the paper will rot and allow roots from plants to penetrate for deep root growth. If gophers are a problem in your yard, staple heavy-weight chicken wire to the underside.

Instructions To Build a Basic Raised Bed - 4 foot wide x 8 foot long x 1 foot deep

Gardener's Supply offers nifty raised bed corners that simplify construction. The corners are pictured at right in the Resources box.

For step-by-step instructions on building your raised beds from scratch, get the book The Vegetable Gardener's Book of Building Projects. It's currently on sale for only $13.27. In addition to instructions on building raised bed there another 38 simple-to-make projects - including cold frames, compost bins, planters, raised beds, potting benches, gates, trellises, storage containers and outdoor furniture.

A variety of non-toxic materials can be used to build a contained raised bed, including stone, brick, concrete blocks and untreated wood that is naturally rot-resistant, such as cedar or redwood. DO NOT use pressure-treated lumber — it can leach toxins into the soil and contaminate your food. Most commonly, raised beds are made from wood or wood-like materials. If cedar and redwood are too pricey for you, use this recipe from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to preserve less expensive untreated wood.

Nontoxic* Preservative
for Untreated Wood

Ingredients:
1 ounce paraffin wax

Enough solvent (mineral spirits, paint thinner, or turpentine at room temperature) to make a total volume of 1 full gallon

3 cups exterior varnish or 1 1/2 cups boiled linseed oil

 

Directions:
1. In a double boiler, melt the paraffin. (NEVER heat paraffin over a direct flame!)
2. Away from the heat, vigorously stir the solvent, then slowly pour in the melted paraffin.
3. Add the varnish or linseed oil and continue to stir vigorously.
 

Apply by dipping the untreated lumber into the mixture for 3 minutes or by applying a heavy coat. The wood can be painted when thoroughly dry.


Reportedly, lasts up to 20 years!
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*WARNING: Although this recipe was published by the USDA and reprinted in organic gardening books, the individual ingredients are toxic and potentially dangerous. The safest and easiest approach is to use natural untreated wood.

Planting Soil

The ideal soil mixture for vegetable gardens (and just about any other plants) is half good-quality top soil and half good-quality compost with some coarse sand or grit mixed throughout. If you are happier with percentages adding up to 100%, then approximately 45% top soil, 45% compost and 10% grit. The quality of top soil and compost can vary widely. You should check out the product firsthand before purchasing. Some suppliers offer a 50/50 Mix of top-soil and compost which is great when you can find it. The coarse sand and grit improve drainage. Do not substitute "play sand" which is something completely different.

More Information

Visit the Vegetables Forum at GreatLakesGardeners.com to get answers to your growing vegetables questions. To ask a new question, Register if you haven't already done so(it's free and helps protect the forum from spam), click on Start New Topic, enter your question and click on Post New Topic.

Come join us at our Vegetables forum, Herbs forum and Growing Vegetables & Herbs blog.

You may also appreciate these books on growing vegetable gardens.