Raised Beds with Mike Darcy

April 30, 2018

It was not many years ago that it would have been unusual to see raised vegetable gardens in the front of a house or as a focal feature in a garden. They would likely have been in the back garden area with roses and perennials in the front. Not so in many of the gardens of today! Now, I often see raised beds in the front of a house or in a side yard and sometimes as an integral part of a garden. Whereas in years past, raised beds were primarily for vegetables, that too, is changing. While the majority of raised beds that I see are used for vegetables, there are others that are planted with perennial flowers and often a combination of vegetables and flowers.

There are some very valid reasons for growing plants in a raised bed, especially if the soil beneath it is difficult to work. With a raised bed, a gardener can create an environment that is very favorable for plants to grow in. The soil can be amended and appropriate nutrients added, all to make the space very desirable for optimum plant growth.

Traditionally, I think most raised beds were made of cedar and today, many still are. But gardeners, being innovative as they are, have devised many other materials for raised beds, so don’t limit yourself. If a traditional wood raised bed is your choice, here are some things to consider. Lay down a wire fencing on the soil so that moles, voles, gophers, etc, cannot get into the bed. Make certain that the wire openings are small enough so that small critters cannot get through it and then build your frame around this fencing. Make the maximum width of the bed as wide as your arm can comfortably reach the middle. If you can reach the middle from one side, you can walk around and do the same on the opposite side. Then you can plant seeds and/or plants in the middle and they will be within reach, whether you are planting or harvesting.

The physical location of the raised bed is very important. If it is going to be a vegetable bed, remember that most vegetables need sun and so select a space that will receive a minimum of six hours of sunlight a day. More is better. The woodland garden of Salem gardeners John and Kathy Palmer was too shady for a much-desired vegetable garden, so they build raised beds out of a sunny space along the road. They put a fence around it and this is now the first thing visitors see as they pull into the driveway.

Livestock watering troughs have recently become popular for raised beds and I am seeing these often used. One of my favorite gardens with a watering trough is the Portland garden of Craig Quirk and Larry Neill. They had an empty space along one side of their house and wanted to create something that would be attractive and useful. Luckily the area did receive adequate sun but the existing soil was terrible and so they used troughs. The results have been outstanding and they created a space that is both attractive and productive. When using a trough, be sure to make drainage holes in the bottom.

Raised beds can provide an opportunity for gardening that might otherwise not be feasible. Forget about tradition and let your imagination soar!

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