This season’s step in my ongoing garden planning saga was to build raised beds. Ever since we bought our new place three years ago, we’ve gone through several iterations of garden design.
Getting to know your property
Our first garden during our first gardening season was hastily put together. We bought our place in early spring which meant two things: 1) we didn’t know much about the land, having never farmed there before and 2) we didn’t have time to figure it out if I wanted to feed my family! We opted for a straw bale garden that year. You can read a little about that adventure right here.
We were able to get a decent harvest that season, but certainly had a few trials and errors along the way. I was bound and determined to figure out how to grow directly in the ground without the use of bales. The following year was a total bust. We planted in the ground but because of the fact that our land has a great deal of clay, it was a huge undertaking. We amended the soil… a lot! However, it simply wasn’t enough.
We’ve had more time now to learn the land; what it needs and how to work it. There are many steps that a gardener can take to understand the soil content and what it needs, such as soil testing and adding the necessary components to create a fertile area in which to grow your produce. But I believe that time and watching your land is your best tool. Besides knowing the content of the soil, it helps to know how much sun exposure your garden receives throughout the season as well as its capacity to drain efficiently. I like to also study the wind in the garden area. Does it live under constant straight line winds or are there areas where wind protection is an asset. (So much learning!!)
Building Raised Beds
Raised beds are an asset for a variety of reasons. If you have soil that has drainage problems, raised beds are a definite plus! They allow for more efficient draining of water. We don’t get a ton of rain in our area, but every now and then, we get a gully washer! With my raised beds, I no longer worry about drowning my plants. Huge plus for me!
After designing and constructing our greenhouse, I decided to put in a raised bed garden around it for efficiency’s sake. You can read about the greenhouse project here and here. Adding the main garden directly around my greenhouse was a time saver for me (Lord knows I need all the time saving I can get!) and it made for a pretty design as well…I like pretty.
Determining the Style of your Raised Beds
There are so many ways that a person could put together a raised bed. You don’t even have to have construction skills, because you can purchase raised bed kits that make it so easy!
We, however, are builders and I always have stacks of excess lumber laying around so I went the building it myself route. After determining where my beds would be and what the best layout would be, I jumped in, marking the area for each bed and making my measurements. I opted for very basic construction for each bed. I used 2×6’s and 2×8’s for the walls of my beds and just screwed them together.
You can certainly make them as tall as you need. I know gardeners with back problems that build raised beds that are quite tall. I’m not quite there yet, plus I have lots of kids running around the place that love to help momma! Therefore the short beds were a good option. In the areas where I had to splice two boards together, I just used splice blocks. A good tip for keeping your beds specifically in place is to drive wooden steaks (strong ones) into the ground at all the corners as well as down long straight areas and then screw the side boards directly.
Once I had the basic layout in place, I did some additional leveling and voila, I was ready to line and fill! The kids and I lined the bottoms of the beds with a weed blocker material and then filled them all with compost infused topsoil that I had trucked in. (I mentioned that my local soil is not awesome!) However, if you do have great soil, (I’m jealous!) you could simply excavate and add that to save a little money.
Enclosing the Garden…with more Raised Beds
Since we are a working farmstead and we have lots of various animals roaming the place, I wanted to construct a garden fence, which gave me the ability to add more raised beds…much to my husband’s dismay, bless his heart. Luckily, he is a good man and helps soooo much!
In constructing the garden fence, we cemented posts at eight foot intervals and just used 2x4s to tie them together. I built raised beds all along the inner perimeter, using 2x6s attached to the fencing. We added a gate and then even an arbor ….and I’m certain that there will be more additions as time goes by (because I’m a construction addict and I can’t stop myself).
There are so many terrific ways to create a garden area. There is not one ‘right’ way. It is best to use the method that works best for your own needs and that of your environment. I advocate constant and careful observation of your surroundings and tailor your garden to fit those needs. The result will be well worth it!