Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Raised bed gardens

Raised garden beds are great for small plots of veggies and flowers. They keep pathway weeds from your garden soil, prevent soil compaction, provide good drainage and serve as a barrier to pests such as slugs and snails.
By raising the soil level, raised beds also reduce back strain when bending over to tend the bed. Raised beds are available in a variety of different materials, or they can be made with relative ease.
Double-dig the bed area. Turn over the soil to a depth of 16”. Leave soil piled up in the center, away from the sides.
Set bed in place and tap down corners. If the bed has built-in stakes, as in the 'build-your-own' model described above, drive one corner down a few inches, then go on to the others and do the same. Repeat this process until bed is at ground level. If you try to drive one corner all the way down before going on to the others, you put too much twist on the structure and may split out one of the stakes
Level the bed. Use a level for this task. This may seem overly meticulous, but after several waterings the soil will settle to level, and you’ll want the bed to be the same. Set a stiff board (2x4) on top of the bed sides, across the span, and set your level on this board. Tap down the sides as needed till you get a level reading. Be sure to check for level both along the length and across the width of your bed.
Burrowing pests? If your garden has burrowing pests such as moles, a layer of 1" poultry netting (chicken wire) can be laid across the bottom, before soil is added. The mesh should continue at least 3" up along the insides of the bed and be stapled in place. If you plan to grow root crops, such as potatoes or carrots, you may want to set the chicken wire lower in the ground by digging deeper when you are setting up the bed
Spread soil out evenly. Add any planned soil amendments, such as peat, compost or lime, and spread the soil evenly across the bed. Water the bed with an even, fine spray. This will settle the soil; add more soil to "top off". (Over time the soil will settle an inch or two more.) Rake the bed once more to even out the soil and you’re ready to plant.
Avoid stepping on the bed. Once the soil is added and the bed is planted, make it a policy to never step on the bed. Stepping on the bed will compact the soil, reduce aeration and impact root growth. Pets should also be trained to stay off the raised beds.
Pathway width. It helps when pathways between raised beds are wide enough for a small wheelbarrow. For grass pathways, make sure they are at least wide enough for a weedeater or a small mower. (In our raised bed garden the pathways are 21" wide.)

Mulch the pathways between beds. Weeding pathways is a nuisance which you can avoid by putting a double layer of perforated landscape cloth over the pathway, and cover this with a 2- 3" layer of bark mulch. When laying down the landscape cloth, allow it to come up 1" against the bottom board of the bed, and staple this to the bed. This will not be visible because the mulch will cover it.

Some weeds will still appear on your pathways regardless of the mulch. Wait until it rains before pulling them out, or you may rip the landscape cloth. The weeds will come out easily if the ground is wet.