Planning a garden? Here’s what you need to know about how to prepare raised bed gardens for vegetable growing. Hint: there’s yearly work to make them ready.
Long before it was trendy, I devised plans for raised bed gardens and built them in my backyard. They were about 3-foot-by-3-foot, anchored with posts buried in the ground and lined with garden fabric. I filled them with compost and soil from the yard.
In retrospect, there are a few things I would do differently in the future. First, I would make them larger. The 4-foot-by-8-foot beds we plant in at the community garden are more flexible for planting.
I would also be more judicious with what to fill them with. Although the compost I used was a good idea, a more nutritious soil mixture would have benefited the plants.
I’ve learned much from our community garden’s volunteer master gardener on how to prepare raised bed gardens for vegetable growing. Here’s what you should know too.
Clean out the boxes
You want to remove any forgotten plants from last season from the boxes. Larger plants can be pulled from the soil. But some plants are easier removed with a little agitating. Use a shovel to turn over the soil, and the roots of plants will become dislodged. Pull them out.
You can make this process easier by clearing our your boxes at the end of the season. But you will still need to turn over the soil and remove excess roots.
The plants you grow each year remove some nutrients from soil. Adding compost to the soil, returns nutrients to the soil. But don’t just top the bed with compost — work it into the soil but turning the soil over with a shovel. The compost needs to interact with plant roots to deliver nutrients to the vegetables you’re growing.
This is something that should be done at the start of every season.
This is an important thing to remember in how to prepare raised bed gardens: it’s not just about the soil or the cleaning. You don’t want to grow the same plants in the same spots year after year. Instead, move your crops around. As with adding compost to the soil, this will ensure optimal soil health.
Mark your plantings
It’s important that you keep track of what’s planted where. We grow most plants from seed, so this is doubly important since we can’t readily see our plantings until they begin to grow. You can buy specially made markers or even fancy ones, but we find that thick craft popsicle sticks work perfectly for a fraction of the cost.
Pay attention to the particulars
Plants need two important things to grow: Time and space. Pay close attention to how long seeds, for instance, need to mature. This will help alleviate some stress when, for instance, your broccoli isn’t ready after months of growing. But also pay close attention to the space needed between plants. Cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower, for instance, needs quite a bit of space to grow properly.
If you are short on space, be careful to limit the number of plants that need lots of space to grow.
There’s one final step in how to prepare raised bed gardens: watering! Seeds and seedlings also need both sunlight and water to grow. While you cannot control the sunlight needed, you can ensure that the plants get enough water. So be sure to water your gardens on the regular — every few days, for instance — so that the plants have the much-needed component for growth.
What’s in our garden this year?
We’re still in planting mode but many of our crops are in.
Lettuce, beets, carrots, romanesco, cauliflower, chard, Brussels sprouts and wax beans are in the ground already. So are zucchini and radishes — it’s the radish seedlings you’ll see growing at the top of this post.
Tomatoes will go in next weekend, along with basil, sugar snap peas and sweet peas. We have plans to get summer squash in too, though I might have been a little too ambitious with our seed ordering.
We’ve also been experimenting with new beds at our house. So far, they haven’t been successful (and there’s a weed issue that leads me to believe starting over is the best course of action). We’ll see.
What’s growing in your garden?