When it comes to gardening in raised beds, just a few simple tips can ensure success while having fun.
1. Size & Planning
How much room do the plants you’ll be growing need? An example 4’ wide by 8’ long bed in which you’ll plant tomatoes(the type- determinate or indeterminate- does matter). A determinate tomato (typical bushy variety that stops growing once the top fruit sets) will require 18” to 24” per plant. So you could plant 2 rows of 4 plants of this type. If you want more in the same bed, you’ll need a bigger bed or better yet, more beds of the same size. This allows for easy weeding and plant care during the growing season rather than a large bed area.
Decide how much light the plants will need and where the sun comes up and goes down across your yard. Will there be outbuildings or your house that will block mid-day sun? Again, tomatoes love the sun, so you’ll plan to have as much full day heat as possible. Note: something to be aware of is that because raised beds are “raised”, you can typically plant sooner than normal because the soil temperature remains higher and warms quicker. Garden plants like that!
What’s the pH like in your soil? Most garden veggies like a “sweet” soil, or pH around 7.0. You can purchase an inexpensive soil test kit at Wilco anywhere from $150 to just over $20. Some veggies and flowers (Broccoli and Azaleas, for instance, like more acidic soils). Adjusting your pH level and nutrients can be fairly easy to do and should be done early in the spring to allow the time it takes for levels to change before planting.
Because you can build or place a raised bed just about anywhere depending upon what you want to grow, you can adjust how much room is between beds and even what material forms the footbed between planting areas (mulch, rock, dirt, hazelnut shells, etc.). You have the freedom to design and place beds in different areas of your yard- for example, one bed that gets full sun all day, and another near a fence line that is shaded after 3 pm.
How to water and how much water will affect how your plants grow. Many people don’t know that most garden plants prefer water at the roots rather than showered on- especially if the leaves are warm or as the sun is going down. The best time to water is early in the morning when sunlight is the weakest, the ground is cool and the plants will have plenty of time to dry before nightfall. Watering in the evening when soil is warm can attract insects, fungus and disease. Have you ever reused your bathroom towel more than a couple of times and noticed it starts having an aroma that isn’t “dryer fresh”? Soil and plants that don’t get a chance to properly dry out make great places for bacteria to grow.
Watering should be done deeply and in fewer intervals. One of the worst things gardeners can do is to water frequently and lightly. This promotes shallow root growth and weak plants. One of the best ways to control water application and volume is by installing a drip watering system. They are extremely adjustable (drip, soaker, spray, etc.), easy to put together and can also be a fun project to work on with kids. They also have the benefit of being the most efficient method.