Raised bed gardening is one of the best ways to get healthy, high-quality vegetables with less work and space than traditional row gardening. Raised beds have the advantage of superior drainage, control over the soil, and often sport a longer growing season due to their higher heat absorption.
The keys are that superior drainage and better soil. Soil can be mixed (or purchased) to be perfect from Day 1, and can be easily controlled year-to-year to keep it in top shape. Leeching and other problems are minimized in raised beds, helping the gardener to build the soil year after year.
This higher soil quality and better drainage (two things that go hand-in-hand) mean fewer pests and diseases, better plants, and higher yields per square foot.
Creating a Good Soil Mix for Raised Beds
As with any garden soil, content is key. Any soil you use that isn’t your own (or purchased) organic compost should be of high quality. If mixing, use a quality loam mixed in equal parts with well-rounded topsoil.
Another soil option is to mix topsoil and cow or horse manure in equal quantities, adding sand if the soil is too compact. Take care that the manure is weed-free, if at all possible, and never use manure from dairies or operations where the animals are confined regularly. This manure will be of poor quality and likely contain high salt and disease concentrations.
Watering Raised Beds
Unlike row or similar forms of gardening in the ground, raised beds have excellent drainage all the time. They are also similar to containers in that they can contain water more easily and allow you to be more frugal with your water usage. The best way to water raised beds is early in the morning with a soaker hose or simple flood irrigation system that sits right on the soil of the garden.
Some gardeners build their raised beds on a slight incline and have set up PVC or other piping systems with holes drilled into them to allow a garden hose to be hooked to one end. This allows the water to evenly run from along the pipe’s length, flooding the garden at the soil level.
Watering right on the soil prevents many types of mold and disease that would otherwise grow on the plant leaves and stems when watered from above.
Organic Pest and Disease Control Methods for Raised Bed Gardens
There are many methods to organic pest and disease control. What you use will depend on what you’re battling, how much area you have to cover, and your own preference. Dish soap sprays, tobacco leeching, coffee grinds, apple cider vinegar, and many other methods are used to keep pests at bay. Another common method is to grow pest-deterring plants around a raised bed in either pots or directly in the ground adjacent to the beds themselves.
When the Season Ends
During the off-season, you can protect your raised beds in several ways. Planting a cover crop, such as clover, is a great way to keep the soil from blowing away and protect it from the elements. This crop can be turned over in the very early spring for instant in-garden composting.
A layer of compost or mulch can also be put on top of the soil and since the beds are raised, tarps or other protection can be stretched over the top for protection.
Raised bed gardening is a great way to get into gardening without a lot of know-how, since most of the problems of traditional gardening are not present in raised beds.
Resources for gardening organic in a raised bed: