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You’ve built your raised beds, or upcycled an old item into the perfect veggie garden. Now comes the fun part: filling it—and then enjoying your bountiful harvest later in the season, of course. We’ve teamed up with Eartheasy, a company that provides info and products for sustainable living, including natural cedar raised garden beds, to offer some tips on planting a raised bed.
One of the benefits of gardening in raised beds is you can reach in to them to plant and weed. You’re not walking through the garden, compacting the soil. This means your garden soil remains nice and loose and friable.
Choose the best soil you can afford to fill your raised beds. I ordered a truckload of good-quality triple mix formulated for vegetables when I built all my raised beds. You can also mix your own special soil for veggies, too.
I top-dressed all my filled raised beds with about two inches of organic compost. I’ll add compost back into my raised bed mid-season, too, when I pull out some of my spring crops, to add nutrients back into the soil.
Planting raised bed vegetable gardens
Before you dig in, be mindful of which direction the sun is coming from—you don’t want your taller plants to shade out anything behind them. I once planted zinnias at the front of my raised beds without reading the seed packet. The flowers grew to be about three to four feet high! They were obviously not a nice, low mounding variety. You want to make sure the heat-loving fruit and vegetables that you plant—tomatoes, melons, cucumbers, squash, etc.—are going to get at least six to eight hours of sunlight a day (preferably closer to eight).
Whether you’re sowing seeds or planting seedlings, be sure to read the seed packet or plant tag carefully, so that you know what conditions the plants need to thrive. When sowing root veggies, for example, you’ll want to follow the directions for thinning once the sprouts start poking through the soil. While it might seem like a waste when you’re pulling them out, beet sprouts, for example, can be saved and tossed in a salad. Carrot seedlings, on the other hand, should be buried, as explained in this article about thinning carrots. Thinning beets, carrots, radishes, turnips, and other root veggies, will encourage healthy root growth and bigger vegetables.
For some plants, like tomatoes, you want to give them enough space so that air can circulate between the plants. This helps prevent diseases. You also want light to reach the plants and fruit. However, you don’t want to space tomatoes too far apart, which can allow weeds to creep in. Keep these tips in mind for other nightshade veggies, like peppers, eggplant, and tomatillos.
Be sure to set up a regular watering schedule so that you don’t forget to hydrate your tender young plants. Cloches or row cover can be used to protect them from a late-spring frost.
Why plant intensively in raised beds?
Intensive planting is a technique that reduces empty space in the garden where weeds can find a space to grow. Planting seedlings closer together means the plants themselves act as a living mulch over the soil, keeping it cool and reducing evaporation.
Plants that do well when planted intensively include greens, like arugula, mustard greens, lettuce, and spinach. Our edibles expert, Niki Jabbour, plants her veggies in mini rows or bands. And she only plants a little of each crop at a time to reduce food waste—you don’t need a 100 heads of lettuce ready at the same time!
Succession planting in raised beds
This brings us to succession planting. If you’re pulling out your spring crops, like peas and root veggies, or your garlic harvest in the summer, there’s no reason why you can’t add more veggies to that empty space. You might want to give seeds a head start under your grow lights. When planting, remember the compost tip: amend the soil to add some nutrients back in and encourage a fruitful harvest. Good soil health is the key to a thriving garden.
Add plant supports so you have room for more plants
When planting a raised bed, be sure to give some of your plants something to climb—trellises, an old piece of lattice, cattle panels, etc. If you’ve ever planted a squash seedling in a raised bed, you know that as it grows, the plant will take over half, if not the whole garden! Adding vertical structures will support the climbers, like cucumbers, squash, beans, peas, and melons.
Plant a mix of veggies and flowers in your raised beds
There are lots of mutual benefits to planting edibles in your ornamental gardens and vice versa (on Savvy Gardening, we call these #GardenBFFs!). I like to plant flowers, like zinnias, nasturtiums, and cosmos in my raised beds. They attract pollinators that will in turn pollinate my tomato flowers, squash blossoms, and cucumber blooms (It’s win win!). Often when I’m in the garden on a summer day, hummingbirds flit around me, looking to land on my zinnias. Plant a few extra flowers, so you can leave some for the pollinators and snip the rest to put together summer bouquets for vases.
You can also use flowers as natural pest control when planting a raised bed. I base some of my plantings on the pests that have invaded my garden in previous seasons, and others as preventive measures.
Here are a few examples:
- Alyssum attracts parasitic wasps, which take care of a vast amount of bad insects, like cabbage worms, cucumber beetles, squash vine borers, tomato hornworm, cutworms, gypsy moth caterpillars, and more.
- Hyssop attracts the two-spotted stink bug, which feasts on the larvae of the Colorado potato beetle—a nemesis that likes to wreak havoc on my tomatillos.
- Marigolds are planted to repel nematodes under the soil. I’ve also read a recent study that says they repel whitefly from tomato plants.
- If you don’t mind sacrificing a few, nasturtiums can be used as a trap crop for aphids