Are you planning to build and/or install a raised bed? I like to emphasize that raised beds can go anywhere that gets six to eight hours of sunlight a day. And they can be any size you like. However, for the purpose of this article, I’m going to talk about the standard rectangular raised beds that are generally built from untreated, rot-resistant wood (like Niki’s amazing raised bed setup) or concrete blocks, as well as what you might want to think about when preparing a raised bed garden.
When I made my first raised beds, these are a few tips I gathered, as well as things I wish I had thought about beforehand.
Things to think about when preparing a raised bed garden
1. What size will it be?
Raised beds are generally three to four feet wide by about six to eight feet long. This allows you to easily reach into the raised bed from the side to plant and dig and weed, without having to step into the garden where you risk compacting the soil.
The height can also be important. If you are putting your raised bed on a hard surface, like a driveway, or over hard-packed soil, you want to make sure it’s deep enough for plants (especially root vegetables like beets and carrots) to root. If it’s too shallow those roots will reach down into that subsoil (or hard surface) and hit a brick wall. I usually recommend at least 10 to 12 inches.
2. How do you pick the perfect spot?
Location is everything, but it doesn’t have to be your backyard. Your raised bed could go in a sunny side yard, your front yard, or even your driveway.
You’ll want to make modifications if you have a slope and assess whether the area drains well. Here are some tips for planning where to put your raised bed.
3. How will you get rid of grass?
Good question because this is a common concern. If you’ve ever tried to cut out and lift sod, you know what an enormous task it is. An easier way to get rid of grass is to outline the space and cover it with a layer of cardboard and cover that with a layer of soil. The grass will break down and voilà! A new garden site. Doing this in the fall will allow everything to break down over the winter.
4. Do you want to install irrigation?
If you want to set up a whole drip irrigation system with a line running from your tap or rain barrel, you might want to do this before your raised bed areas are finished and filled. That way you can run hoses under pathways or layers of mulch, and adapt the bed around where the hose attaches to the irrigation system.
5. How much soil will you need and what kind?
There are some handy soil calculators out there that will help you determine how much you need to fill your raised bed, like this one from Gardener’s Supply Company.
As far as type of soil, I like to emphasize buying the best quality that you can afford. When I had multiple raised beds to fill, I ordered triple mix from a local supplier (after chatting with them on the phone about my options) and top-dressed it with organic vegetable compost. I like to recommend leaving some in reserve to replenish your raised beds throughout the season.
6. Should you stake the sides?
One thing I wish that I had done when I built my first two raised beds is install a couple of midpoint stakes to prevent the beds from shifting over time. This is one of my number one raised bed tips!
photography by Donna Griffith for Raised Bed Revolution