There are many good reasons to build a raised garden bed. You can grow high-quality organic vegetables even in corners with poor soil quality. Slugs, bunnies and other pests have a harder time attacking the young plants. Gardening is easy on the back. Plants get more light in a tightly cultivated area because they are higher. And if you also buy a cold frame, you can harvest almost all year round.
The ideal time to start a raised bed is in autumn. You start in October with a base of cut branches and twigs, grass clippings and fallen leaves piled on top, half-finished compost, and again twigs and leaves. The bed is then left alone until spring before moving on.
The advantage to starting in autumn is that fall provides lots of twigs and fallen leaves, and the bed can start to sink down in the winter. Then in spring, you know how much fill needs to be added.
If you didn’t plan ahead, don’t worry. You can still start a raised bed in the spring. Collect the leaves left behind from the fall and use them. Just realize that the raised bed will sink quite a bit over the course of the year. Fill it abundantly and tamp down the individual layers with your feet. Come fall, you will have to add more filling.
How big should my raised bed be?
The ideal size depends of course on the space available. A handy raised bed, but one that already has plenty of room for a variety of vegetables, is about two yards (6 feet) long and one yard (3 feet) wide.
The working height depends on the plants that will thrive in it. If you want to plant tomatoes, the bed should be no more than 2 feet high. A general vegetable bed has a comfortable working height of up to 3 feet. If smaller children are going join in and work on plants in the bed, it should of course be lower to the ground.
How do I lay out the raised bed?
First, you need the frame. You can build it yourself from old pallets, wood from the hardware store, or purchase ready-made raised beds. The following accessories are also important:
- A suitable vole grid to prevent the mice from entering from below.
- Dimpled foil for use as inner lining to protect the wood (Attention: dimples go towards the wood to prevent moisture accumulation)
- A copper tape to prevent slugs, if there are a lot of slugs in your area. Alternatively, use a snail guard edge that you place under the handrail.
- Wire fencing to prevent rabbits and other animals. This will be necessary for raised beds that are still low to the ground. The higher up the bed sits, the less likely you will need fencing.
Before you build your raised bed, you’ll need to prepare the site. The best way to do this is to remove the top layer of grass in the area where your frame will stand. Then, surround the edges with gravel.
When the frame is in place, line it with bubble wrap and place the vole screen at the bottom.
On top of this, spread shrub and tree cuttings until your bed is almost half full. Next comes a layer of grass clippings, garden waste and compost mixed together. This layer should make up about ¼ of your raised bed. Top it off with about another ¼ of leaves and let the bed sit over the winter.
Once the fill has settled in the spring, add manure or leaves, then grass clippings, compost and finally purchased organic soil. (Attention: Do not take soil from your garden. It might contain slug eggs and you don’t want to transport these into your raised bed.)
The fun begins – planting
Now your raised bed is ready for planting. Some vegetables tolerate cold well and can be sown directly into the bed early. These are primarily cabbage varieties and some pick or winter lettuces, as well as cress and radishes. Tomatoes, zucchini, peppers and the like can only be sown outdoors when it is frost-free. However, you can grow them on a windowsill or indoors in a bright place. (Click here for tips to when to start specific vegetables.)
If you additionally equip your raised bed with a cold frame, you can of course plant and harvest earlier and longer. For single sensitive plants you can also use an individual recycled greenhouse with an old jam jar.
Who goes with whom?
You should also pay attention to this. Peas and kohlrabi don’t like onions, and radishes don’t like zucchini. But this will be a separate article, which you can read here soon.
The article picture shows (from bottom to top):
- sweet peas
- small radish