There’s a growing interest in using raised beds in vegetable gardens, and if that’s your interest, read on. It’s always a good idea to plan a project before jumping in and consider the many variables. Let’s explore some of these.
Why you’re considering raised beds. Many people are interested in raised beds as a way to eliminate as much bending and stooping over in the garden as possible; the higher the beds, the less bending required as you tend your plants. This, in turn, will impact the type of material your beds are made of and the amount of soil your beds will have in them. If you’re interested in portable raised beds (perhaps to be able to move your beds during the day to get the maximum amount of sunlight), that will limit the size each bed will be and what they’re made from.
Space needs and sizes of beds. If you’re a patio-gardener, and have limited space, your beds will need to be smaller than if you set beds within a larger garden area. What you want to grow can also determine the size of your beds. For example, herb gardens fit nicely in smaller beds, while tomatoes, root vegetables, and many other crops need beds that are deeper and larger. If you want to use raised beds with walls, a bed that is wider than four feet will be more difficult to tend; a length of more than eight feet will require more movement to get around the bed itself. The layout of raised beds that are simply mounded soil hills, without structured walls, can much more easily be changed than structured beds with walls.
Materials for raised beds. Raised bed kits are readily available, especially online, and made from a variety of materials, including wood and plastic. Will you buy raised bed kits, which can be expensive, or create your own? If you create your own raised beds, will they be very simply made from highly-mounded soil in your garden, or will they have a solid, box-like structure? If they’re structured, what will they be made from…. wood, concrete block, brick, or plastic? Some materials are more readily available than others, some will last longer outside than others, some are more decorative and easier to disassemble and move, and prices will vary, depending on what you choose.
Irrigation needs of plants in raised beds. Soil in raised beds generally dries out more quickly, since air circulation around the perimeter of the bed contributes to drying, so your garden may need to be watered more frequently. Whether you water by hand, sprinkler, or soaker hoses, it’s important to check the amount of moisture in the soil when setting a watering schedule. As with a ground-level garden, mulching will help retain soil moisture. If you decide to use soaker hoses, it’s helpful to draw a layout of your garden and how the hoses will be laid out to assure that you can water each bed when necessary, especially if some plants need more water than others. Hose layout is also important to plan so that you don’t end up with raised hoses draping from one bed to another, making it more difficult to move among the beds.
Overall, gardening in raised beds can be very rewarding, and much easier if you take the time to plan before you build. If you’re unsure if using raised beds is the right choice for you, start with one or two small raised beds, learn as you go along, and determine what best meets your gardening needs for the future. If you have further questions, you can contact the UConn Extension Master Gardeners at https://mastergardener.uconn.edu/ask-us-a-question/
Article by Linette Branham, 2019 UConn Extension Master Gardener