PART 2 :Today is the 2nd part of our four-part series on how to plant a simple garden using raised row beds. We call it Growing Simple. Over the course of the four weeks, we will take you through the process of how we plan, plant, care and maintain our raised row garden – and how to create your own simple garden in your yard. If you missed the previous week (part 1) – you can click on the highlighted text below to view.
1. Growing Simple – Raised Row Gardening – Click Here For Part 1
2. Preparing And Planting The Garden
3. Maintaining The Garden Through The Season
4. Keeping Your Beds Productive
Part 2: Preparing And Planting The Garden:
If you live in most parts of the country, winter is just around the corner. Believe it or not – now is actually a great time to get started with building your raised row beds for next year – and with little effort!
Wherever I have lived, one of the first requirements was to stake out the best place to put a garden. The old adage of location-location-location certainly applies to this task! Start by finding the sunniest location possible in your yard. Full sun is best – but if your limited to spaces with a lot of morning or afternoon sun – choose the afternoon. Tomatoes, peppers and most vegetables like it sunny and warm– and that afternoon sun is the better choice of the two.
Setting Up Your Garden:
For this post – we’ll guide you through setting up a 10′ x 15′ raised row bed garden area. Obviously, you can make your beds any size you want by following the same principles and methods; however, a 10′ x 15′ set up will give the average family plenty of fresh vegetables throughout the growing season. One final assumption we make here is starting your raised row beds with a pick up load or two of additional pulverized topsoil or growers soil. You certainly don’t have to take this step – especially if you have access to your own topsoil or compost mix at your disposal. However, one method we discourage is tilling up the existing space and using the soil at ground level. When you utilize the existing soil to make raised row beds – the ground around the garden area tends to end up lower and reduces the effect of the raised row approach. Not to mention using a tiller is a lot of work, and usually does more harm than good to the soil. (can you tell I am not a big fan of the rototiller?)
When we started our raised row garden at the farm – we used some of the topsoil that had been scraped away to level out an area for the barn – and we mixed it in with a load of growers compost/topsoil mix we purchased from a local feed mill. I think the total one-time cost for us was about $60 – which pales in comparison to the cost of buying the 5 tons of vegetables we have pulled from the earth the last two seasons.
How To Build Your Raised Row Beds Gardens:
Once you have found the best available area – you can do a little work now that will help you come spring. Here is all you need to get started:
1 to 2 bales of straw (or if you have them available for free – a few big bags of shredded leaves)
1 sheet of black plastic big enough to cover an area 10′ x 15′
4 or 5 rocks, cement blocks or spare 2 x 4’s to hold down the plastic
Step 1 – Preparing The Space
Start by spreading out the straw or shredded leaves over the entire 10′ x 15′ area. It should be at least a 3 to 5″ thick layer. Now take your black plastic sheet, lay it on top of your layer of straw or leaves to completely cover the area. This will serve to eliminate almost all of the grass that now occupies the area – and keeps you from having to dig at all. After you have covered it – secure the plastic down with your rocks, bricks, or whatever you can use to ensure it won’t fly up during the winter and early spring. When complete, head inside and enjoy the winter! You can also use this method in the early spring, just make sure to give the plastic a few weeks at minimum to kill off most of the grass underneath.
Step 2 – Building Your First Beds In The Spring
Here is all you need:
2 to 3 Bales Of Straw
2 Cubic Yards Of Topsoil Or Growers Mix
This is the most work you will ever put into your garden – and saying that – I can tell you that you can probably complete this in less than a half a day. In early spring, a few weeks before your ready to set in the first of your plants or seeds – it’s time to build the beds. Take off the rocks and plastic, and what you should find is some slightly decomposed leaves or straw. Most, if not all of the grass or growth that was underneath will have died off. Don’t rake or move any of it – it’s the start of your raised row beds.
We use the 10′ length of the garden for the length of the rows, and the 15′ side for the width. Start out by taking the straw (you can use shredded leaves if you have available), and spread out a pile about 18″ wide x 6″ high the entire length on the edge of the 10′ run. If you use straw – make sure to break it apart as you loosely spread it out – being careful not to leave it in matted clumps. If you use leaves – make sure they are shredded. Measure off about 22 to 24″ of space for your walking row – and make another pile 18″ wide x 6″ high x 10′ long just like your first row. Continue doing so until you have made 5 rows, 18″ wide – each the length of the 10′ row. You will have two rows on the outer edge – and three rows in between. The 22 to 24″ space in between will become your walking and picking rows.
Step 3 – Adding Soil To Your Beds
If you don’t have access to your own topsoil – you can purchase a couple of yards of pulverized topsoil or growers soil mix from a local supplier. In our area, you can usually find it for about $30 to $40 a cubic yard. Two yards should be all you need for a 10 x 15 garden – and can fit easily in the back of a pick up truck. If you don’t have access to a truck – they will usually deliver for an additional fee. Yes, it will cost a little here to get the garden up and running – but remember, this is a ONE-TIME only expense. Trust me that the vegetables you grow will easily pay for themselves in year 1! A couple of things to make sure of if you purchase: 1) Make sure your buying a good garden soil – and not fill dirt – and 2) Make sure its pulverized – it will make spreading out your soil a snap.
Spread about 6 to 8″ of soil over the top of each 18″ wide straw planting rows. The goal here is not to make huge mounds – just to cover the straw or leaves. It will just slightly raise the soil in the working beds from your walking rows. Don’t worry if you see some straw peeking through – its okay! Just scallop your beds slightly down from the center height of 6 to 8″ in the middle. If you have a little soil left over – hold onto it – you can use it when you plant.
Once your raised rows are built – take more of the straw and spread out a thick layer (about 6″) in between the raised row beds. This will help choke out any weeds, as well as not allowing any bare ground to be exposed for weed seeds to be blown into your walking spaces. It will mat down after a few times of walking on it – so be generous – the more you apply to the rows – the less weeds you will have to deal with later.
NOW YOUR READY TO PLANT!
Although we will get into specifics of the actual plants, planting and spacing next week – planting is a breeze! In a nutshell – planting is accomplished in minutes by simply spreading the topsoil aside using a small shovel and planting directly into the straw/soil mix below. When we dig our holes – we will add in healthy amounts of compost (or that extra topsoil) to the hole. For seed portions of the bed (lettuces, beans, etc) – plant right into the topsoil that is above the straw. Just use your finger or a small hoe to make a shallow row in the topsoil and spread the seeds according to the package – cover up with topsoil and your done! The straw and topsoil acts as a great moisture retainer for the plant’s roots, allowing them to spread and grow quickly down into the soil. As the roots grow into the straw – they will go even deeper into the soil below that has been softened by the organic matter you put down earlier. I know it sounds crazy – but Mary and I planted last years garden – all 34 rows at 20′ long each – in under an hour and half.
Some Raised Row Guidelines…
One thing you never want to do is to step in your raised row beds. Make sure to stay in your straw walking and picking rows. By allowing the straw and dirt to be untouched and untrampled in the growing area – you truly get amazing root growth – which leads to amazing top growth and production! We are always amazed each year when we pull the plants in the fall how big the roots have grown in the undisturbed rows.
In next week’s 3rd segment, we’ll talk specifically about how and what to plant in your raised row garden beds – as well as how to maintain it in just 10 minutes a day. Included will be 3 separate complete 10′ x 15′ garden plans for a garden to fit your needs – A Salsa Garden, A Salad Lovers Garden, And An All-Purpose Garden.
If you would like to follow along with the series and receive our DIY and Gardening Post each week – be sure to sign up to follow our blog via email, Twitter or Facebook in the right column.
Jim and Mary