Tight on space? Have a weak back or pesky pests? Short on time? Stuck with bad soil or a short growing season? A raised garden bed addresses all those problems. And studies show gardeners can produce almost two times more veggies and flowers in a raised bed than in the same amount of regular yard space.
A raised garden bed can have sides of any height. Six inches is plenty, but 1 to 2 feet is ideal, especially if you put in deep-rooted plants such as carrots. If you have a bad back or marauding bunnies, you might build higher. The taller the sides, the less bending -- and the fewer pests. Walls at 4 feet means pests are a thing of the past. Waist-high means you can perch on the walls while you work your garden. But that is a lot of soil to add!
Try combining different heights as pictured in this staggered design.
Keep the width 4 feet or less so you can reach the center without stepping in: You don't want to compact the soil. If you include a trellis or other structure along one side, keep the bed narrow enough that you can reach everything--2 to 3 feet.
Fill the bed with quality topsoil and eliminate stressing over sand or clay soils. Using good soil encourages roots to go down instead of out, so you can plant veggies closer together, which means weeds are less of a factor. Mulch further reduces weeds.
Another bonus: Soil in a raised bed warms up fast, so you can plant earlier in spring. It also drains faster for healthy root systems.
Tucking a bed alongside or behind a shed (pictured) or garage is fairly typical. But make sure the plants will get all the sunshine they need--eight hours a day. Veggies catch more rays with east-west rows because the veggies aren't shielded from morning and afternoon sun by slightly taller neighbors.
And selecting a flat, level site means less digging for level walls.
Almost any material works for a raised bed (even a log as pictured!), but for ease stick with rot-resistant lumber such as cedar or redwood and a nice stain job. Wood-look composite materials, brick, stone and concrete might last longer.
Attaching PVC hoops to the sides of the bed means you can throw clear polyethylene film over the bed to raise soil and air temps to start plants earlier in the season or extend the season into fall. Bonus: The hoops also support netting that protects your harvest from birds and flying pests.
Anything you like to eat. And don't worry, a raised bed can hold a lot--you just have to organize it. For instance, plant cool-weather plants, such as lettuce, radishes and green onions, around the base of tomato seedlings; those spring plants will be long gone by the time the tomato spreads out.
You don't have to be purely practical. No one ever said veggies and flowers can't mingle. Tomatoes and coreopsis share the bed pictured here.
And some plants do double duty: Swiss chard is as lovely as a flower, and nasturtiums are pretty in a salad. Marigold borders add pest-deterring color.
Pick veggies often. Beans, cucumbers and peppers will stop producing if the fruit is allowed to mature and set seeds. Lettuces can be snipped from the top to get a longer harvest. So keep up on the harvest and your garden will produce even more. Stagger planting times for longer harvests; for instance, plant a row of beans at two-week intervals.
When the bed is done for the season, top dress it with mulch or compost to amend soil for the next season.
You don't have to stop at one bed. But if you do build more, make sure you leave enough room between them for a wheelbarrow for adding soil, mulch, etc. And if the beds are on lawn, leave a mowing strip between them.