Raised Beds, Yes Ma'am You Sure Can
Late winter and early spring is a great time to repair and build new raised beds. The past few years I have been able to add 1-2 raised beds each spring. It's great to get this type of prep work done before planting. The ideal planting time for late spring and summer crops is after April 15th. This is the frost date for our area, or rather it is the date that we cross our fingers and hope that the late frost does not wipe out the eager beaver plants that we set out too early. “Ahem” ….in other words those of us who put the tomatoes out in February. For shame. The older beds in my garden are mended and tended while housing all of the cold hardy plants. Spinach, onions, lettuce and any broccoli left over from the fall all live together in the older beds and this provides a great transitional situation for the garden. While building the new raised beds for summer veggies, the cold weather plants are still busy doing their thing without being disturbed. Speaking of great transitions, I actually found this year that if I let the broccoli “ go to seed “ and flower without picking it or pulling it, this provided some much needed food for the early bees and butterflies that woke up to a world before the flowers had opened.
Meanwhile, back in the garden, old containers such as wash tubs and pickle buckets can be prepped and used for potatoes. In fact buckets are ideal for potatoes. Simply turn them upside down and drill a few drainage holes. Fill with some fresh soil and place in 2-4 starter potatoes, depending on the size of the bucket. This takes the digging out of the early summer potato harvest. When the potato leaves start turning brown ( usually around June), this is a great sign that the bucket is ready to be dumped. Of course digging a few dinner potatoes out of the bucket here and there is a great way to see the progress they have made. Any containers in the garden work great as long as they have drainage holes and are watered often. You can get funky and creative with old lamp bases , ceramics and industrial metal parts or you can keep it vanilla with a good old plain bucket. Large pottery in the garden can add great aesthetic quality. Barnes always has a great selection of pottery. Setting up containers in the garden specifically for flowers is a great way to invite pollinators to your garden. At Barnes we have bulbs and wildflower seeds that are ideal for this. My co-worker Christine maintains our Garden Center and has recently added a great “Pop Up” raised bed to our inventory. It is called the Big Bag Bed Mini. I have added two of these between vegetable beds in the garden and have filled them with bulbs and wildflower seeds. Seedlings are already poking through and I cant wait to see the pollinators bed hopping in a few months. You always want to see pollinators in your garden and this is one way to make it happen!
Building a raised bed is not as simple a pop up bag but they are easily constructed with the help of a friend. I have made several on my own and though they have lasted a few years, they are falling apart in the areas where I could have used an extra hand, or arm. Not to mention the rusty nails protruding from the sides present a bit of a hazard. Raised beds can be made using brick, wood and almost anything you can use that can weather the elements and hold the weight of wet soil and heavy vegetation. Some folks use reclaimed wood or old pallets. There are many methods to making raised beds and several great online tutorials. From trial and error I can say several things for certain. Using screws rather than nails is so much easier. Investing in a drill will save you hours of time and possibly a few fingernails. Do not underestimate the benefit of small support boards added in the corners of a bed and in the middle of longer edges. These support boards help hold the weight of the soil over time. Most importantly, you really do get what you pay for in regards to purchasing new wood. Beds made o cheaper picket fence panels will not hold up as well as a good solid cut of wood. Lining the beds with landscape fabric is a great idea. Once the soil is in the bed there is no going back. At least, not without undoing a lot of work. I failed to line my earlier beds and I find that I am constantly battling weeds. My newer beds are lined and are growing beautifully without weed issues. All and all the cost of a raised bed lands somewhere between $30-$50. Soil and amendments considered. This is not cheap but it is important to remember that these will be used for several years and hopefully provide you with a healthy bounty of produce that you can take pride in growing at home.
Generally speaking, the soil base for a raised bed is plain old topsoil. Topsoil is available here at Barnes in 50# bags. For a fair to large size raised bed, you may need to call in the big guns and purchase a truckload of topsoil. A truckload of soil usually costs around $45 and is the most efficient way to purchase soil for multiple projects or just one large project. Along with topsoil it very important to add nutrient rich composts to the topsoil. The ratio that I have often heard is 80/20. That is 80% base (topsoil) and 20% nutrient rich compost and amendments.
For demonstrative purposes (and so I can show off the merchandise and my garden!) I have included a couple of photos of this years new beds and exactly what we are putting in them. As you can see, we have two handsome new beds. I will be filling them with several things other than topsoil. As previously mentioned, I love Fox Farm's Ocean Forrest Potting soil. This is a rich blend made with peat moss, fish emulsion, crab and shrimp meal, sandy loam, Norwegian kelp meal, granite dust, earthworm casting and dare I say fossilized bat guano? Say what?! Really though, this stuff smells like running through the forest after a heavy rain. It adds a great consistency to the beds and with such great ingredients there is little need for constant fertilizing during growing time. As long as this is around, I will never use another potting soil. To complete the potion, I also add a bag or two of compost. We carry mushroom compost as well as Black Kow manure.
So, get on out there people! Raise your beds! Build your gardens! Then come in to the store and get us to help you fill er' up!