I don’t want to sound set in my ways, but I’ve been gardening in raised beds for almost 40 years and don’t intend to change to another method any time soon.
It began innocently enough with a magazine article showing the most beautiful and productive vegetable garden I’d ever seen. It belonged to Peter Chan, who lived near Portland at the time. I instantly knew this method would be ideal for our garden.
While Chan created his raised beds by mounding soil, my husband and I discovered the soil eroded over the course of a growing season and required re-mounding each year. Framing our beds with untreated wood was the perfect solution. Our garden now holds 26 beds which overflow with healthy produce every year.
One of the key features of this method is that the soil stays loose all season long because you walk around the beds, rather than on the soil right next to the plants. Because of this, root crops such as carrots, parsnips and potatoes grow especially well.
Another plus of raised beds is that the soil warms up earlier in the spring since the sun hits the top and sides of each bed. That often allows a gardener to plant a bit earlier.
I frequently recommend raised beds to gardeners who have poorly-draining soil or too many rocks for in-ground planting. All they have to do is build a bed, fill it with a mix of soil and organic amendments such as compost and shredded leaves, and the problem is solved.
To cut down on weeding, we covered the paths between the beds with weed-block fabric and a few inches of bark mulch. That way, we only have to weed the tops of the beds, which is a tremendous time-saver.
Most of our beds are 3 feet wide by 8 feet long, but there are a few 16-feet-long beds as well.
While the length isn’t so important, the beds shouldn’t be so wide that a gardener can’t tend them without having to kneel or stand on the soil; don’t make them any wider than 4 feet.
I think the best building material for the beds is untreated lumber – pine, fir, larch, cedar or redwood – because chemicals used to treat wood might leach into the soil. Our untreated beds last more than 10 years. We use 2-inch-thick boards since they are sturdy and less likely to warp, and 3-inch-long decking screws to fasten the end boards to the sides.
The most efficient watering methods involve either drip irrigation systems or soaker hoses because they deliver water to the base of the plants where the roots can easily take it up. Avoid overhead watering since the amount of evaporation that takes place wastes water.
What I most love about raised beds is that it’s possible to intensively plant them, thus getting a higher yield in a smaller space. As you plan your garden for this season, consider switching to this efficient method. You’ll be hooked before you know it.
Watch this week’s “Everyone Can Grow A Garden” video at youtube.com/c/susansinthegarden.
Susan Mulvihill is co-author, with Pat Munts, of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook.” Contact her at Susan@susansinthegarden.com.
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