It’s getting close to Spring and warmer temperatures are right around the corner. Do you have a garden plan in the works? Here in the Midwest we still have a few more weeks before cool weather vegetables can be planted directly out of doors. It is certainly time though to start your indoor seedlings. By April 1st you should have flats of tomatoes, peppers and other warm season plant seeds ready and sitting in a warm window or under grow lights. This way by our last frost date, May 30th, you’ll have decently sized seedlings ready for transplant or at least for hardening off.
All of my gardens are in raised beds. The native soil in my county and in my yard is mostly clay. Any topsoil or loamy soil has to be brought in by the truckload to make planting easier. I decided many years ago that I didn’t just want to dig this into the clay hardened ground. So, I opted to build raised beds. As a mom of a toddler at the time I didn’t have much time to go shopping around for nice wood planks to build my ideal garden beds. I wasn’t working either so I didn’t have money for it to boot. There were discarded rail ties, fence posts and other planks of wood in the buildings adjacent to the house so I decided to put them to use. In between loads of laundry, poopy diapers and feedings I scoped out a place in my yard to build my raised beds.
Most of them were 4’x8′ or pretty close to it. This made them the ideal size for arms reach to the center of the garden and to walk around with the wheelbarrow. I made sure the paths stayed 4 feet wide to accomodate me, a wheelbarrow and any other tools I may have when in the garden. It makes it spread out a little but there wasn’t anything else in the way. I tried to make sure the southern end of my garden was parallel to the back side of my outbuilding so my husband wouldn’t give me more of a hard time about how the darn thing looked. It took some time, but I built and filled each bed one by one. Today I have six in all and would love to add more.
Why Raised Garden Beds?
All plants need three basic things to grow and thrive in a garden – rich soil, plenty of water and the right amount of sunlight. Though there are some people who can provide this without much effort there are others of us plagued by various obstacles. These can take the form of clay or sandy soil, weed riddled yards, or even personal obstacles like arthritis or other pain disorders which make bending and kneeling a problem.
How can a raised garden bed alleviate these problems?
Let’s look first at soil quality. Ideally, you should have loamy soil. This provides the right amount of air, water and nutrients with good drainage. You can build loamy soil with compost, purchased or made, along with double digging or mounding this on top of our existing ground. That’s OK, but it’s a lot of work and mounding the soil on top just allows for it to be washed away.
If you have too sandy soil then you have the problem of little nutrients and excessive drainage. Your little seedlings will go down as far as they can to find water only to starve and dehydrate in the process while you break your back trying to water constantly.
In heavy clay soils your plants will drown. They have plenty of nutrients, but without enough space between the particles to allow water to flow through and roots to burrow your plants essentially drown in shallow ground. Not to mention if the ground dries out it will turn into a rock hard plank that only the most tenacious weeds can grow through.
Building a raised bed in your chosen garden location will allow you to control the soil quality and drainage. If your site is in a low lying area you can build it up to prevent it from becoming a puddle. Nice thing is you don’t have to FILL it up with good loamy soil. The deepest a garden really needs to be is 12″ to allow for the roots of your plants to spread and thrive. So even if you make the raised bed 3 feet tall on legs the portion that holds the dirt need only be the top 12″ of that.
Raised to Another Level
This last part leads me to how this could help individuals with pain disorders to enjoy outdoor gardening. A raised platform garden on legs allows for gardening without the extra effort of bending or kneeling. Even people in a wheelchair can benefit from this kind of garden set up. These platform gardens can be set up on a deck or a patio and made to be large or small depending on your space and needs. There is no need to resign yourself to indoor potted plants when you could be enjoying fresh air, sunlight and the gardening you love.