Guide to Planting in a Raised Garden Bed


Raised garden bed

Raised garden beds are a great way to grow small pots of flowers or vegetables effectively. It allows you to grow myriads of plants in an organized and easily maintained fashion while also keeping away snails and slugs. Below we answer all your questions regarding the building and maintenance of a raised garden bed.

Which wood?

You can choose from a number of options like :

  • Pressure-treated wood – Less expensive than other alternatives and can last more than 40 years.
  • Cedar – Contains natural oils, which prevents rotting and has a long life span.
  • Concrete blocks or bricks – They tend to destroy the soil pH over time, so you need to revamp the soil occasionally.
  • The thickness of the wood ensures the longevity of the structure.

Which soil?

To make a quickly draining blend of compost you can :

  • Combine equal parts of Horticultural Coarse Vermiculite
  • Blended Compost
  • Peat Moss
  • Combine equal parts of topsoil and a mixture of peat & compost

Properly maintained raised bed soils can help garner 4 times the yield as compared to traditional gardening. Therefore, one should choose the right soil for gardening.

How to prepare the soil?

10-12” depth is preferable in raised beds, but depth is directly proportional to the amount of soil needed, so you should choose the depth according to your needs and limitations. If you’re looking for a good yield, you should have a minimum of 4-5 beds to accommodate everything.

A good soil for seed starting should be moist and rich. The compost you make at home is considerably richer in nutrients than the market bought composts. You can use the vegetable discards from your kitchen or compost provided by any pets or poultry (chicken, rabbits, goats), to make a rich and nourishing compost.

You should also separate your native soil with the raised bed by lining it with cardboard, newspapers, or landscaping fabric, to prevent the growth of weeds in your rich soil. Raised beds should also have drainage material laid in the base.

Where to plant?

As the plants require a minimum of 8 hours of sunlight per day, you need to set up your raised beds in the sunny parts of your garden so that the soil remains airy and doesn’t become damp and clammy. Plan out your complete garden before the execution. All the weeds should be cleared out from the area you plan to keep your raised beds on so that you reduce the chances of any future infestation.

How to amend?

When amending (preferably early in the spring), you can just add compost and mulch to the topmost layer. Mulch helps hold in moisture, protect the soil from weed infestation and damaging rays of the sun. While amending, you should keep in mind that your soil remains airy, soft, and light. You can check this by digging into the soil with your finger, and if you can’t submerge your topmost knuckle in the soil with ease, you need to till your soil and make it airy before adding new soil.

You can also use the following amendments :

  • Sawdust – Improves the structure of the soil.
  • Teabags and coffee grounds – Provides all NPK components.
  • Seaweed – Rich in potassium.
  • Dolomite lime – Increases alkalinity of the soil and adds magnesium and calcium.
  • Soybean meal – Provides nitrogen.

It’s advisable to replenish the soil with ¼ – to – ½ inch layer of compost before every replant.

How to plant?

Intercropping is most useful in raised beds. You should plant the crops close together so that their leaves touch each other and give shade to the soil when grown completely. That will help retain the moisture in the soil, and cease the need to mulch and weed. You can harvest the plants which mature early, leaving space for the remaining crops to nurture.

To save time, you can also start out with a transplant, rather than seed. Especially if you live in a cold place, you’ll need to begin with a plant to get a harvest before the frost sets in.

Another thing, while choosing crops for plantation is the compatibility of the crops. They should be chosen with care so that they promote each other’s growth (companion crops) rather than competing with each other for nutrients and space. For example, light feeders (carrots) should be paired with heavy feeders (cabbage); shallow-rooted (bush beans) with deeply rooted (beets), etc.

Instead of planting in rows or square patterns, plant your crops in a triangular pattern. It’ll help increase the number of plants per bed by 10-14%.

Useful tips

  1. Keep the width of the bed within 4 inches so that you can access every portion without hindrance.
  2. Plants grown in organic compost perform drastically well than bagged compost.
  3. Keep ample spacing between the beds to avoid cramping.
  4. Maintain your pathways too
  5. Mulching is extremely important as it reduces weeds, regulates soil temperature, and retains moisture.

What to plant?

The best crop combinations to plant in a raised bed :

Classic American combination of the “Three Sisters” – corn, beans, and squash – Corn provides a natural pole for bean vines to climb. Beans provide nitrogen and its vines help stabilize corn. Squash vines become mulch and help hold the moisture in the soil and keep predators away from the crop.

  • Tomato, basil, and onions/garlic – Onion/Garlic helps keep pests away from tomato, and basil improves its taste.
  • Leaf lettuce and peas/brassicas – Peas provide nitrogen to the soil which is needed by leaf lettuce.
  • Carrot, onion, and radish – Onions repel carrot flies.
  • Beets and celery/lettuce – These crops cross-pollinate with each other.
  • Cabbage, radish, and marigold – Radish and marigold help keep cabbage maggots away.
  • Kale, bush beans, and beets – Bush beans and kale have shallower roots and provide nutrients to the soil which are absorbed by beets.

You should always check the compatibility of plants before pairing them together to have a profitable result. Start out small and build from your successes. Replenish your soil nutrients by planting cover crops. They also help in aerating the soil, especially if you plant crops with deep root systems like alfalfa.

Lasagna gardening (No-Till gardening) can also be practiced by sheet composting and renovating your soil from the top down.


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