I, for one, am going to build my first raised bed this year and try my luck in growing some of my favorite vegetables.
I have done my research and feel pretty confident with all of the information I have found, so I am ready to begin.
First, carefully plan the layout of the bed. Place it in a well-drained site that receives a minimum of six hours of sunlight per day, preferably near a water source. Beds are generally 3 to 4 feet wide and can be as long as desired. The width is the most important thing because you want to be able to work from both sides comfortably, reducing the incidence of compaction caused by walking on the soil in the bed. You can use cross ties, concrete blocks or any similar rot-resistant material.
Preparation of the beds is essential. Use soil high in organic material; humus-rich soil will add extra nutrients to provide you with "life-filled soil" ready for your plants. Organic material includes compost, ground bark, leaves and manures. Work this into the topsoil at least 12 to 24 inches, and always have a source high in nitrogen to break down the organic material.
Plan for a path at least 1 to 2 feet wide between the beds if you have more than one. All cultivation, planting and harvesting is done on the path between the beds. The finished raised beds should be 4 to 12 inches above the paths. You can add sawdust or bark to the paths to improve the walking area.
Plant vegetables close together in blocks instead of rows to make the most of the space available. Close plantings will reduce moisture loss from surrounding soil.
Interplant crops that mature at different times or plant successive plantings of the same crop for different harvest times. Fertilize and water as needed. Remember raised beds dry out more quickly and will require more moisture. Replenish the beds once or twice with organic material because it is constantly decomposing during the growing period.
The goal when using a raised bed is to space plants at equal distances from each other on all sides so leaves will touch at maturity.
I am going to use transplants (the easier and faster way), but this type of gardening can be started by seeds. Also, the raised beds warm up faster in the spring, so the growing season begins earlier. They are easy to take care of and produce better-quality vegetables. The beds break the work into units, which in my hectic world means I can do that in half an hour and be on to other gardening ventures.
Good luck, to you and me! Always have fun in the process.
Wanda Cannon is a Master Gardener trained through the Hall County program and also serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the Hall County Extension office. Phone: 770-535-8293.