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Former Extension Educator, Horticulture
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Friday, May 22, 2015
What is a raised bed?
Raised beds essentially are very large above ground growing containers often used as vegetable gardens. Raised beds have many benefits including more control over your soil mix, protection form some of the larger vermin (if it is fences) and the relief associated with not having to worry about the safety issues surrounding growing food in contaminated soil.
Where do I get one?
Raised beds can be acquired in a variety of ways. Various materials can be used to construct them such as cinder blocks or wood. Many different building plans can be found for free online by doing simple searches. If you choose to build your own, please remember to include a barrier under the frame to prevent the new and old soil from mixing. This helps prevent both weed growth and contamination on the new soil.
Raised beds can be built as a do it yourself project, contracted out to a landscaping company, or purchased as a kit.
What do I fill it with?
The medium used within a raised bed should be tailored to the plants you plan to grow. For example, if I plan to grow acid loving plants, than I will amend my soil mixture accordingly. Personally, for a general mix, I use %50 top soil, %50 compost, sprinkle in some slow release fertilizer, churn it well for a homogenous mixture and good aeration. Then I plant and top it all off with mulch to maintain moisture and prevent weed growth. Always consider good drainage when using soil mixes in raised beds. You may choose to mix in vermiculite or perlite to increase drainage.
Again, placement strategy depends on what you are growing. For example, lettuce prefers some shade and cool temps while most fruiting plants prefer full sun. Unless you are growing all shade loving plants, I suggest placing your raised bed in full sun.
From there, you can map your crops strategically. Picture a row of a tall crop running east to west along with the arc of the sun. The plants on the east will shade the plants on the west in the mornings, and vice versa in the afternoons .Therefore, if you are building a long raised bed, I suggest orienting the bed from North to South. Perhaps you may grow tomato or squash on a trellis at the end of the bed (the trellis should also run north to south). The trellis will create shade that will suit shade loving crops. I would then arrange the rows with the shortest crop running north to south as well.
If your yard is not suited to this type of orientation and you are forced to run your bed from east to west, you can orient your rows north to south and have the tallest crops on the west side of the bed.
What about the plants?
Plants can be purchased as plugs or even as mature plants. One may also choose to direct seed into raised beds. Be sure the last frost date in your region has passed before direct seeding. In Cook County, the frost date was about mid-May.