March 21, 2013 in Washington Voices

Raised beds can reduce garden work

Pat Munts
 

Cleanup in my vegetable garden took me just a few hours last weekend. The secret? Raised bed garden boxes kept the work to a minimum.

Raised bed boxes have many advantages. The beds are up off the ground making it easier to reach and care for them. A few passes with a hoe made quick work of the shot weed that was up and a light mulch of straw will keep more weeds from returning. Raised beds also warm up faster in the spring, meaning you can plant a little earlier. My boxes were close to 50 degrees – perfect for cabbage, kale, broccoli and cauliflower – while the ground temperature was still in the low 40 degree range. Lastly, raised beds are easier to water especially if they are outfitted with a drip irrigation system.

Raised beds are not hard to build. They can be made out of new or salvaged untreated dimension lumber, concrete blocks, broken chunks of concrete or large watering troughs; basically anything that will hold the weight of the soil and survive the weather. The most rot-resistant woods are redwood and cedar but they are expensive. The new composite plastic lumber will last forever but because it is flexible, it will need more support. Don’t use pressure-treated wood or old railroad ties unless you line the inside of the box with heavy plastic to keep chemicals in the wood from leaching into the soil.

Raised beds can be built to fit any space you have available and that makes them perfect for small gardens where space is at a premium. Most raised beds shouldn’t be more than 4 feet wide because that width is easy to reach across without walking on the soil. Keep in mind the size of the plants you want to grow. It’s tough to squeeze a zucchini, a tomato, a couple of peppers and bush beans in one 4-foot square box. Boxes should be oriented north to south so the sun reaches all sides of the box during the day. If you have gophers, attach quarter inch hardware cloth to the bottom of the box so they can’t tunnel into it.

Don’t use regular garden soil in your boxes. It is too heavy and contains a lot of weed seed. Instead use a quality commercial mix of compost and sandy loam. My favorite is a 50/50 mix of compost and three-way mix. This mix drains readily but still holds a good amount of water for the plants. A 4-by-8-foot box 8 inches tall will hold a little less than a half a yard of soil. Most pick-up trucks will handle a yard easily. If you don’t have access to a truck, commercial delivery of small quantities is expensive.

Raised beds are much easier to water. Several sections of soaker hose, strips of drip tape or a line of micro sprinklers will water just the box, reducing wasted water thrown onto unplanted areas. Hook these to a battery powered timer and your garden gets watered even when you are on vacation.

Master Gardener Pat Muntscan be reached at pat@inlandnwgardening.com.


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