Planning an organic raised bed garden takes a bit of research and time, so with winter coming, it’s the perfect time to sit back and draw up plans for next year. We just moved and one of the first things I wanted to accomplish after we got settled in South Carolina was to build the garden that I’ve been daydreaming about for a long time. It’s been 2 months since we moved in and my beds are built! In fact, my 3 year old daughter and I have already planted a few things. Our gardens will be a big part of our lives, and I believe that gardening is a great step for anyone striving to live a healthier lifestyle. Raised beds are new to me and I’m looking forward to sharing everything I learn here on my blog. Join me and learn with me, or if you’re an experienced raised bed gardener, please share your tips!
When we were looking for our new house, the most important requirement was that it had to have plenty of space for us to begin our own little backyard homestead. By homestead, I mean that we would love to produce as much of our own food as possible for us to live on. We’re starting with produce in our garden and down the road hopefully raising chickens and maybe even keeping bees. We’re starting small as we’ve been extremely busy with our big move and getting settled with two babies. There are only enough hours in the day, right? (I work on my blog after everyone goes to bed.) I’m thankful that we found a small house with just enough space inside for us to comfortably live, so it’s easier to keep up and allow for more time outside. After all, we moved from a colder climate so we’re going to take full advantage of every extra warm day that we can!
Why Raised Beds?
Okay, focusing on the raised beds…why choose raised beds? The main reasons I chose them for our yard are the heavy rock-hard clay soil and the sloped land that we have to work with. You can pretty much put a raised bed anywhere. Another reason is that raised beds save money and time. Plants produce more because of the high quality soil in the raised beds, and you can really pack them in close together. Weeds are easier to pull out and there are fewer of them if they have less space in between crops to grow.
Plan Your Space
Depending on where you want to grow and how much you want to grow, the easiest way to plan the size of your raised beds is to draw them and then flag out the area in your yard. Make a list of the types of veggies you would like to grow and research how much space is required to grow them. Location is also a big factor as you’ll want your garden to be near a convenient water source and receive at least 6 hours of sunlight. There are many free garden planning tools online, like this fabulous one at Mother Earth News. The best size for a raised bed is from 3′ to 5′ wide, to any length. This is because you want to keep them at a manageable width to access and maintain. To figure out how deep to make your garden beds, a good tip is to research depth requirements for the plants you’re planning on growing. Some root deeply as opposed to others that require a more shallow space. I ended up with six 4′x8′ beds and three 4′x4′ beds, with 3′ paths between all of them (I’m planning to use the smaller beds for herb gardens.) The beds are 8″ deep with 2″ thick boards. We’re hoping to eventually have a large crop yield for our family of 4 and would love to share with our nearby family and friends, as well as can like crazy! We know we’re going to be experimenting and learning for a while though, so no pressure yet, right?
Choose the Right Building Materials
For a chemical-free organic garden, you’ll want to choose the purest materials possible. The wood must be untreated to avoid the leaching of chemicals into the garden soil. Cedar or white oak are good choices since they are naturally rot-resistant (our beds are made with white oak.) Big home improvement stores will carry these types of wood, but most will be high grade cabinet-quality lumber which is very expensive. Check your smaller local lumber businesses for rough low grade wood which is less expensive and perfectly adequate for building raised beds. Lumber stores are usually more than happy to cut the boards to the lengths you need. You may need concrete blocks and steel stakes to terrace your beds if you’re building them into a sloped area. More about that in a minute…
How to Build a Raised Bed Box
There are lots of great tutorials online for building a raised bed box. It’s really pretty simple, especially if you’re putting your garden on top of a fairly level surface. Here’s an example of a good tutorial here. I did not build my beds on my own since I had the challenge of our sloped yard. We’re grateful to know a very talented tradesman (and new friend in our new town) who we were referred to by our local hardware store. He kindly searched the town for lumber and supplies for our garden, and worked from our drawings to build and terrace our beds. You can see in the picture how he raised them up with concrete blocks to fit into the slope, and anchored them into the ground on one side to keep them in place.
What Does it Mean to Have an Organic Raised Bed?
An organic raised bed is as chemical-free as possible, meaning any materials that you use to build the bed are as natural as possible. The same goes for the soil that fills the garden bed. If you have just one or a couple of smaller beds, there are many pre-bagged organic soil and compost options at local home and garden stores. We have quite a large space so having our soil delivered by truck was the most economical option. It’s really important to find a place that you can talk with and trust to find out where the soil comes from, because many landscapers have great looking topsoil which isn’t necessarily chemical-free. Our garden soil is a mix of half mushroom compost and half organic topsoil. The owner of the business that we purchased it from swears by this compost soil and recommends planting right into it. This is a great starter soil which we will add our own compost to eventually.
You can even take steps to make sure you’re watering your organic garden with the safest garden hose. Unfortunately, many garden hoses in stores contain toxic chemicals (read my post about toxic garden hoses here.) This is the non-toxic, drinking water safe hose that we chose for our garden.
Filling the Garden Beds with Soil
A tip to help with drainage and prevent erosion is to line the bottoms of the beds with a thin layer of natural washed gravel. When you add your compost/soil, be sure to not stand on it and compact it (another reason to make your garden bed a manageable width so you can access all of it without stepping into it.) The fluffy soil in a raised bed provides perfect planting conditions. If you have long winters where you live with lots of snow, I’ve heard that covering the beds may be beneficial to prevent water and weight from compacting the soil. Regardless, raking through the soil and loosening it while adding compost in the spring will prepare it well for planting.
Now that you have a few good tips about organic raised garden beds, you can spend the winter planning away and looking forward to what you’re going to plant next spring! Look for my next garden post about what we just planted this fall, and the awesome place that we found to purchase organic seeds online.