Talk about your fast learners. In February 2011, Ann Windham attended a class I taught on raised-bed gardening and another one on drip-irrigation systems.
A few months later, she sent me an enthusiastic email, saying she and husband Bill had “the best garden ever,” thanks to their new raised beds and the drip-irrigation system. She included several photos of their beautiful, productive vegetable garden.
For many years, I’ve been extolling the virtues of growing veggies in raised beds. I’ve been gardening in them since 1981 and am absolutely sold on them. It was gratifying to get such positive feedback from a new convert and even more gratifying to be invited to their garden to see the results firsthand.
The Windhams live in Colbert. They have a sunny backyard with a view of Mount Spokane and their raised-bed garden is certainly a focal point. They primarily deal with deer in the area so the garden is fenced.
Ann admits she’s the main gardener but is quick to say Bill has been a hardworking partner. After all, he helped with the construction of the raised beds, filled them with many yards of soil, and built trellises and a garden bench.
“The bench was particularly important,” Ann said recently, “because we love to sit out in the garden each evening and watch things grow.”
They have 14 beds: nine are 3-by-9-feet long, and five are 3-by-14-feet long.
“We made them out of 2-by-10 common lumber,” Bill said, “and we screwed the boards together with decking screws. I wouldn’t make the beds any wider than 3 feet because otherwise it’s really a stretch when you’re tending the plants.”
They chose untreated lumber for their beds because Ann had learned in class that the chemicals used to treat wood – to make it weather better – will leach into the soil. Once that happens, vegetable roots will take up those chemicals. Because of this, gardeners should avoid using pressure-treated lumber, railroad ties or any wood treated with chemicals or sealants.
The paths between the Windhams’ beds are 3 feet wide. To cut down on weeding, they placed weed block fabric down first, then covered it with a few inches of bark mulch.
“You definitely want enough space between the beds to be able to work easily in the garden,” Bill explained. “You need room to bend down or get on your hands and knees, or to bring equipment through the garden.”
They put together a drip-irrigation system for each bed. It runs run on a timer for 50 minutes each evening. Earlier in the season, the beds only needed to be watered every other day.
“The biggest challenge in our old garden was the hand-watering,” Bill said, “but we don’t have to do that now, thanks to our drip system. It’s made a huge difference for us.”
Each year before planting, Ann draws up a plan of the garden beds so she can rotate her crops. She also uses the plan to note the varieties she has planted and the planting dates.
This year, she is growing a wide variety of veggies: corn, potatoes, peas and pole beans, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, watermelon and cantaloupe, peppers, broccoli, beets, cucumbers, summer squash and pumpkins. Rhubarb, asparagus and strawberries are also productive plants in the garden.
“Everything has grown better in the raised beds,” Ann said. “Especially the corn because you can plant so much more of it in a raised bed. It has been spectacular. Last year, I picked 90 ears of corn.”
She has definitely become a big fan of her new method of gardening and has already taught her father, uncle, and son and daughter-in-law about gardening in raised beds. “You taught me how to do it,” she said to me. “Now I’m passing that knowledge along.”
She appreciates how much easier the beds are to work with, that they retain more heat than conventional vegetable gardens and how simple it is to harvest from them.
“The easiest thing in the world is raised-bed gardening,” she said. “I’d recommend it to anyone.”