Raised bed gardening is a method that uses a variety of materials to frame an area, elevating the garden soil from 12" to 36” above the surrounding soil. Raised beds tend to be more productive and easier to manage. One exciting new example of raised beds is keyhole gardens.
Benefits of raised bed gardening
Raised beds in the garden make it easier to control soil structure, irrigation, and pests. Raised beds also allow you to plant earlier because the soil warms up more quickly. Generally, plants in raised beds are planted more closely together, creating a beneficial microclimate that suppresses weed growth and retains moisture. Since gardeners do not walk on raised beds, soil compaction is avoided, and they make reaching plants (and weeds) much easier! Raised beds are an excellent choice in limited spaces, or if you are a renter and not allowed to alter the landscape. Another added benefit of using raised beds is that it is very easy to add trellising, row covers and protective wire to keep birds away from seedlings.
How to build raised beds
Raised beds can be practically any size or shape. A raised bed can be nothing more than a walled area on the ground or it can be an elaborate artistic structure that showcases garden gems, or anything in between! You can see an excellent sampling of different types of raised beds at instructables.com. The steps below can help you get started creating your very own raised bed.
1. Select a location
2. Select building materials
3. Clear the area
4. Measure twice, cut once
5. Add soil
Plants for raised bed gardening
Raised beds are a great tool for productive foodscaping, since the root systems of most vegetable crops are relatively shallow. If your raised bed is on the ground, however, it won’t matter. Even the worst soil is bound to improve over time, with a raised bed above it, to allow deeper-rooted plants to perform well. If ground squirrels and voles are a problem in your area, attached hardware cloth, not chicken wire, to the bottom of your raised bed. This will protect your plants' roots.
The first rule of vegetable gardening is to plant what you will actually use. Check out this excellent vegetable planting chart to see what to plant and when (in California).
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!