Raised beds are becoming more and more common in personal and community gardens everywhere, and for good reason. Raised beds provide ideal growing conditions because they drain better than ground plots, they’re easy to fill with good soil, and they warm up quickly.
Raised beds also create an infrastructure that promotes gardening because they provide a physical barrier that makes pathways more defined for walking and mowing. Accessibility is also an advantage because after rain, you are usually walking on a mulched path, grass, or stones instead of mud.
Some other advantages of raised beds:
- Can be built on a slope that would otherwise make gardening difficult.
- The garden is elevated- you don’t have to reach down quite so far.
- Create a compact, yet highly productive, growing area.
- Can be placed on pavement if no “green space” is available.
Planning Your Raised Bed
The first step in the planning process is to find a location for your raised bed. The location should consider the following logistics:
- Level area (preferred, but not required)
- Full sun
- Access to water
- Avoid perennial weeds if possible
The next step is to determine the right size of your bed. The size of your bed should be:
- No wider than 4’ across (so you can reach to the middle from both sides)
- Any length (but usually no more than 12’ long)
- At least 8” deep
Choosing the Right Materials
Depending on how much you can spend, there many effective materials you can use to construct your raised bed.
- Rough Cut Cedar Wood
- Pre-Made Beds
- Landscape Bricks
- Cinder Blocks
- Raised Bed With No Walls
NOTE: If you choose a raised beds without walls, you will need to reform edges periodically and use
a slightly concave shape for top so water won’t run off.
Choosing the Right Soil
The easiest way to ensure the right soil is to order garden soil mix, half of it being top soil and the other half compost. If you already have good top soil, simply add in compost.
Do you need to get a mower in between your beds? Can you work comfortably back to back?
The paths in between your beds should be measured at 4 feet or wider to ensure that you can both walk and mow between the beds without issue.
Some path options include:
The price of your raised bed will depends on materials used. Pre-made beds will usually cost the most while raised beds with no walls obviously will cost you the least.
The initial cost will ultimately be higher than ground plots, but it’s well worth the investment.
Constructing Your Raised Bed Garden
The first step in constructing your raised bed is to remove the sod and till the soil where you’ll be putting your bed. After you’ve determined the length and width of your bed, hammer the walls together with nails to make a rectangular bed. Once you’ve constructed the walls, fill your bed with soil mix and level it.
Raised beds allow you to grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Some vegetables, like corn, pumpkins and watermelon, may take up too much space for the amount of food produced.
Raised Bed Planting Plan
It is a good idea to make a plan before you plant so that you use your space efficiently.
It’s easier, and more space efficient, to plant across your bed then to plant the length of the bed.
Use multi-cropping technique to make full use of your beds during multiple seasons. Multi-cropping is the practice of growing two or more crops in the same spot during a single growing season (i.e. an area that is radishes and spinach in the spring can be planted with tomatoes in early summer).
KCCG has created a Planting Planning tool to help you plan your garden!
Raised Bed Spacing Guide
Spacing your plants and seeds in raised beds is different than in a ground plot. Since you don’t need to walk in the bed, you do not need wide rows to walk through in the actual bed.
A good rule of thumb is to plant tallest vegetables on north side of bed, shorter vegetables on the south side so they don’t shade each other.
To help you plant our seeds, we’ve created a Raised Bed Spacing Guide that shows you the proper distance between rows to plant your seeds. Make sure to use half of the recommended plant spacing distance for the edge of the bed.
Maintaining your Raised Bed Garden
For starters, prepare soil for planting by using a small lightweight tiller or use hand tools to turn the soil and mix in the compost.
Make sure to mulch your mature plants well (we recommend straw or cotton burr compost). Raised beds drain well so the soil tends to dry out quicker.
You may need to add in more soil or compost after 2-3 years, as soil lowers in bed.
Some common mistakes to avoid include:
- Using treated lumber
- Not notching the joints when constructing
- Using a bad soil mix
- Walking in the beds
- Improper plant spacing
- Not watering long enough
- Not rotating crops
- Putting landscape fabric under the beds
So there you have it! Everything you need to know to build your very own raised garden!