By Debbie Roland and Emmy Ulmschneider, Master Gardeners
Raised beds are a great option for many reasons. They use less water, it’s easier to keep weeds at bay and they allow you to amend a smaller amount of soil than an in-ground garden.
A raised bed can take many forms from a simple frame with no bottom that sits on the ground to a waist high box with a bottom on legs. Raised beds can be made of wood, brick, cinder block or metal. Old stock tanks, large plastic containers or even old bathtubs can be repurposed! They are a great option if you have health issues or are feeling your age. We can relate to that. The advantage of a raised bed structure assures that you will not be compacting your soil by walking on it, and rotating crops every year is much easier.
So, whether you are purchasing a bed, repurposing, or making your own bed the next steps are the same:
Site your bed: Pick a level spot in your yard that gets full sun and is close to a water source.
Build your bed: Your bed should be at least 12” deep. My metal beds are 20” deep and I find that this is my favorite depth. You can shape your bed to fit your garden area. I have several separate beds instead of one large one so that I can easily reach my plants and rotate my crops from year to year.
Fill your bed: Lay down weed cloth or several layers of cardboard on the bottom. Fill with a mixture of potting soil and compost. Don’t worry too much about ratios or getting it perfect. Put it in and mix it up. If your bed is deeper like the cinder block bed below it is going to take more effort and filler. Bottom filler can be just about any organic material, old hay or potting soil, kitchen scraps, or composted farm waste. Whatever you put in should be herbicide and pesticide free. Don’t use anything that you wouldn’t want to eat later.
It took several years to completely fill the tallest beds, but I went ahead and planted the first year anyway. It took more bending over to access the plants, but I was still able to successfully grow crops.
Water your bed: Get the soil in each bed as saturated as you can before you plant. Mix it up and water it again; you want the soil mixture to absorb water.
Plant your bed: Follow the seed packet directions for planting closely because you don’t want your plants too close together. The wind needs to be able to get through and the sun needs to be able to reach each plant.
Maintain your bed: Add new compost annually since the soil will settle and adding compost minimizes the need for fertilizer. In winter, continually add kitchen waste, leaves, and farm waste (anything organic) to the top of the bedding. Let it sit there over the winter and dig it in when spring arrives.
If you have questions, call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700.
Additional information, and our blog for access to past articles, is available at westtexasgardening.org. Click on “Resources”.