Raised bed gardening means growing plants in soil that’s higher than the ground. Most commonly, this is done with some type of enclosure or frame made of wood, stone, or even bales of hay or re-purposed material like old dressers. Raised beds can be as humble or creative as you like. The initial cost in getting your raised bed set up will depend on how elaborate you make it, but once in place, raised beds are no more expensive to maintain than traditional gardens.
1. Basic Box Bed
The most common raised bed going around is a simple box pattern (four feet by eight feet is pretty standard), typically using lumber (re-purposed wood is best) fastened into a rectangle. These can be anywhere from about a foot or two high, and they are filled with a mixture of organic soil and compost. It’s always a great idea to mulch soil with something like straw or wood shavings, as this will reduce the need for watering because it prevents evaporation that would dry the soil out.
2. Sheet-Mulched Garden Bed
This version is great for creating raised beds around existing lawn features like trees. Sheet mulching is done right on top of grass or earth. It begins with a layer of nitrogen-rich material, such as manure, compost, fresh grass clippings, food scraps or a healthy mix. Next, everything is covered with a layer of cardboard boxes or several layers of old newspaper, which will prevent weeds and attract earthworms. Then, a good layer of compost or top soil should be used to weigh the boxes down. After that, wood chips, more cardboard (if weeds might be an issue from the compost/topsoil), and straw should pile up to about four or five inches.
3. Weed-Free Straw Bales
Straw bale gardens are sort of a mix between container gardens and raised beds. Rather than carting in loads of soil or building boxes, straw bales are simply arranged in wherever a grower wants a garden. Straw bales are positioned cut side up then soaked with water to get them decomposing. In a couple of weeks, plants can be added by creating a little bowl within the bale and adding some soil and the seedling.
4. Work With What You’ve Got
The cheapest way to go about making raised beds is using what materials are around. In the late fall, when gardening materials are falling from the sky, and early spring, when winter has left piles of fallen branches and such behind, are great for this. Rather than lumber, sticks, branches, and tree trunks can be used to form the sides of the raised bed. Then, it can be filled with organic materials like leaves, kitchen scraps, grass clippings, paper, and anything else that’s around.
5. Double Reach Raised Row
For bigger gardens in a more farm-like setting, double-reach raised rows are a great route to go. Measure contour rows to be about three or four feet wide and dig trenches about a shovel deep and wide around the rows, piling the top soil from the trench to create a wide raised row. This will make a doubly thick layer of quality soil for the plants.