It was a long time coming, these raised beds. I first “built” my vegetable garden, with the help of my Dad, about 14 years ago. We created four “L” shaped beds out of soil that framed a center circle. There were no walls to these beds–they were entirely built out of soil. Surrounding the “L” beds in the shape of a large square, we created 3 ft wide beds. All beds were about 1 foot high.
Surprisingly these homemade beds worked–for a time. They give you the benefits of a raised bed, such as adding a high quality soil, and my vegetables grew well. Every spring I would re-rake the beds back into the correct shape, while also adding compost. But there are some downsides to not having hard sides to the beds. One major problem was weeds. The weeds grew faster than my ability to pull them, resulting in a mess.
By last season, I had enough. My garden had become a mess. I wanted raised beds with hard sides. Not having great carpentry skills myself, I didn’t think building them was an option. I intended to keep the design of my garden, with the “L” shaped beds in the center. But most companies do not offer beds in a shape other than a rectangle.
The Raised Beds
After some research online, I found NaturalYards. NaturalYards offers beds made from white cedar that can be made into many shapes and sizes.
We ordered “L” shape beds, in a 7 ft. length and 4 ft. width, with the trim package (the trim package is optional). By ordering “rustic” boards (which means they have knots), we saved 25% in costs. There are 3 heights available: 11″, 16.5″ and 22″. I chose the 16.5″ height and hoped it would slow down the critter traffic through my garden. A deeper bed also gives more room for the plants’ roots to grow in high-quality soil.
My husband was instrumental in leveling the bases for the beds, attaching the trim boards, filling the beds with soil and compost, and adding the new wood chip pathways. Thanks honey! I fit the notched boards together (a bit reminiscent of Lincoln Logs).
Here is a picture of one of the beds being assembled. Our chicken, Black Raspberry, loves the project.
What I Put In the Beds
Once the beds were built, it was time to fill them. But all soil is not the same. Good soil is the foundation to a great garden, so this step is really important. I added:
- a soil and manure mix This mixture came from a local farmer. His family raises cows, the “old-fashioned” way on grass. No feedlots, no cows pumped up with antibiotics and/or pesticides from grain feed. He offers a soil test for his soil products. The manure is composted.
- compost came from my compost pile.
- organic kelp fertilizer Seaweed fertilizer is a great fertilizer, because it provides some 70 trace minerals that are great for plants, esp. vegetables. (The NPK numbers (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium) are typically low.) I chose not to add a general fertilizer since I didn’t think it was necessary. And you don’t want to over-fertilize. (Though I did add a general organic fertilizer to individual plants that are heavy feeders, such as squash.) For reasons why organic fertilizer is a better choice than a synthetic fertilizer, see my post Are Organic Fertilizers Less Effective?
- earthworm cocoons In the last two years, I had noticed a significant reduction of earthworms. This is a problem since earthworms aerate the soil and their castings add fertility to the soil. So I looked into buying earthworms. I found my cocoons here.
Together these will produce a high quality soil, full of fertility and micronutrients.
And it took a lot of soil to fill them! To estimate how much soil you need to fill a container or bed, the formula is:
- Convert all dimensions of the container into feet
- Multiply length x width x height = cubic feet
- Divide the cubic feet by 27= cubic yards
When you order soil or buy it in bags, measurements are usually in cubic yards.
Tips for Adding Soil
- Seek out quality ingredients. Some scary stuff, like pesticides, chemicals, and sludge can end up in any of the soil products. If you are eating fruits or vegetables grown in these beds, you and your family can ingest anything that is in the soil. Look for organic. Ask for a soil test. Ask questions about what goes into the soil products. Be a soil detective.
- What is the ratio of soil-to compost-to manure? I use a general rule of equal parts soil to compost–unless the soil is sandy, then move the ratio closer to 1 part soil to 2 parts compost. Then I think of composted manure as a top dressing–add a layer several inches thick and mix in.
- Avoid buying lots of plastic bags filled with soil or manure in them–unless you need just a small amount (all those petrochemicals and then they hang around after you are done with the bags). Instead, buy from farmers or suppliers who can deliver soil products to you.
These raised beds are fabulous. They look great and perform great as well. I love the dimensions of the final beds. My plants are lush and full. Though the beds are only 16.5″ high, I was surprised to find how much more comfortable it is to garden. No bending all the way over for long periods of time.
Did it help with the critters? I thought the rabbits might stay away, though after a vacation I discovered that a mama rabbit had dug a nursery in one of the beds and there were four baby rabbits living there. But they grew quickly and didn’t eat my garden. (Amazing.) Once they were out, they have stayed away. Besides this incident, the beds do seem to see less critter traffic (except for the deer.) Now it is time to start thinking about a fence….