PART 3 of 4: Today is the 3rd part of our four-part series on how to plant a simple garden using raised row beds.  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 weeks (part 1&2) – 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 – Click Here For Part 2 
3. Maintaining The Garden Through The Season
4. Keeping Your Beds Productive

Maintaining The Garden Through The Season:

view-from-above-the-garden
Raised Row Beds can keep your garden looking neat and tidy throughout the season

So you have your raised row beds all built – and your ready to plant!  The sky really is the limit for what you want to grow. The real key is in how you plant and maintain your crops. At the bottom of this post, to help with some ideas, we have included 3 simple garden plans for a salsa, pasta sauce, and all-purpose garden.  Once your garden is planted – you will be amazed at how little you need to work in it each day to keep it looking great.   If you simply spend 5 to 10 minutes a day in the garden – walking the rows and pulling a few weeds here and there in the planting rows – it will stay amazingly clean with little effort. Your reward will be great tasting vegetables for you and your family.  But for now –  here are the real keys for success in planting and maintaining your raised row garden beds:

PLANTING:

Compost Bins
We use generous amounts of compost in our planting holes to get our new plants off to a great start

Plant spacing is critical for the overall success of whatever you plant.  As a general rule of thumb – I like to plant my main plants (tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc.) about 24″ on center between each plant.  That’s enough room to  easily work around the plants and to allow for good plant growth.  When you plant – spread the topsoil aside and plant the small plants directly into the straw below.  With a raised row bed – the straw and topsoil act as a great moisture retainer for the plant’s roots, and allow them to spread and grow quickly. As the roots grow into the straw – they will go even deeper in to the loosened soil and give great results!  As we plant into the hole – we will fill in with a little more topsoil, or even better, compost at the bottom of the hole, mixed into the straw layer.   Then fill in around the entire plant with the topsoil and gently press the soil – making sure to just easily depress the soil around the surface soil so the plant is in place.  One thing that Mary and I do at this point before we mulch the plant – is to create a little 1/2 to 1″ deep circular depression about 3 to 4″ around the plant.  Why?  it makes it easier when you are watering to allow the water to soak in around the root zone and not run off.  Once that is done –  we will mulch with about an 1″ of compost covering up right around the 3 to 4″ depression.  If you do not have compost – you can certainly use shredded leaves or straw – but use something to keep the soil covered around the plant.

Make sure to gently break apart root bound plants when you pull them out of the containers
Make sure to gently break apart root bound plants when you pull them out of the containers

For planting seed portions of the bed – such as lettuce, carrots, peas, etc. –  plant right into the topsoil that is above the straw.  Just use your finger or a hoe to make a small depression in the topsoil and spread the seeds according to the package,  and cover.  I do not mulch my seed crops,  allowing for them to germinate and come up through the soil.  Once our peas and green beans come up – I will  then put down a 1/2″ layer of mulch  around the plants.

Make sure you gently break apart the root ball when you pull a plant out of your container.  It allows the roots to expand more rapidly into the new soil.  Don’t break it completely apart – just gently loosen the tightly wound root ball to give it room to expand.  One final tip – it’s very important to provide some support for your tomatoes and for your peppers as they grow to keep them off the ground.  Whether you stake, use a cage, or use a combination like we do – (Stake-A-Cage)  get them supported early!

Once you have your garden planted – now comes the time to mulch and water.

MULCH YOUR PLANTS

We use compost around our plants as mulch - it helps retain moisture and adds nutrients to the plants
We use compost around our plants as mulch – it helps retain moisture and adds nutrients to the plants

It doesn’t matter if it’s a pepper, cucumber, or tomato plant.  Applying a healthy amount of mulch around the base of the plant really helps.  It helps the soil temperature around the plant stay regulated and helps keep out weeds that compete for nutrients.  It also helps hold in the water to the plants when it rains or when watering.

What to use as a mulch?  Old grass clippings, shredded leaves, finished compost or straw work great.  We have used all at one point or another – but have really settled on the compost.  Not only is it great at building your soil up and retaining moisture – it also serves as a bit of organic fertilizer to the plants every time it rains leaching the composted nutrients into the soil and into your plants.  If you are new to gardening and don’t yet have large amounts of compost on hand – don’t worry – the straw, grass or shredded leaves work great as a mulch.

MULCHING YOUR WALKING ROWS

Mulching your walking rows keeps the weeds down and the garden looking great
Mulching your walking rows keeps the weeds down and the garden looking great

Make sure you apply a healthy 3″ to 6″ of straw or shredded leaves to your walking rows.  It keeps the weeds suppressed – and by covering the bare dirt – you are preventing blowing weed seeds from getting a start in your garden.  This is a huge time saver and keeps weeding and the time you spend in your garden to a minimum.  When we do get a few weeds starting to pop through – we will run the weed-eater through the walking rows and cut them to the ground – then apply another heavy layer of mulch.  We do this about once a month through the season.

WATERING – THE KEY TO IT ALL!

Proper watering can really help your plants stay healthy and strong
Proper watering can really help your plants stay healthy and strong

This may be the most important part of the equation for a garden’s success.  Just remember 3 things when it comes to watering that make it simple.  WHEN, HOW and HOW MUCH.

WHEN:

Watering in the early morning is best –  before the sun has a chance to really get hot.  Water at the base of the plants and let it soak in.  If you water in the afternoon – you not only run the risk of burning the leaves from the sun scorching the water that may hit the plant – but you lose a lot more to evaporation than watering in the early morning.  Besides your beer or favorite beverage gets so much warmer in the hot sun 🙂

HOW:

Water slowly and at the base of each plant.  Let it soak in and come back a few times and apply smaller amounts that soak right in where it’s needed most at the root level of the plant.  Spraying the whole garden with a big hose and spray nozzle can lead to a lot of problems besides just scorching plants .  Problems like  damaging plants, destroying the blooms that create the vegetables with too hard of a spray, or helping fungus and rot develop on wet moist leaves may occur.  We actually use old milk jugs when the plants are small to water our plants.  We can water our entire garden (over 125 plants) with about 6 to 8 gallons the first few weeks.  The first week is the most dangerous for your plants – if you have hot weather – you may need to water each day – but water slow and easy.

HOW MUCH:

Too little water and they shrivel up.  Too much water and they won’t develop the good and deep root structure needed for big plants.  A good rule of thumb is that a garden plant typically needs to receive about 1 inch of water a week.  If mother nature isn’t supplying that  – then you need to supplement.  What most don’t say is that the 1″ of water shouldn’t come all at once.  If you are experiencing a prolonged dry spell – water every two to three days with about a 1/2″ of water to the plant at a time.  This allows enough water to go deeper into the soil and build deeper roots – but gives the plants more consistent watering.  Why not every day you might ask?  If you water every day – the plants will never send their roots deeper looking for water – and you end up with much less hardy and developed plants.  Call it tough love watering  to develop stronger plants – but it works.

Stay Off Your Bed Rows!

Staying off the plant rows lets the roots develop and the plants grow big and strong
Staying off the plant rows lets the roots develop and the plants grow big and strong

Whether you have raised beds, raised rows, regular rows, or just a few simple garden plants tucked in to your flowerbed or small space – don’t walk near them.    When you compact the area around a plant with big soil clogging foot prints and heavy foot traffic  – it really does make it harder for the plant to grow bigger roots.  Less roots = less ways for the plant to soak up the valuable water and nutrients from the soil that benefit the plant.  It’s one reason raised beds and container gardens can be so effective – but even if you don’t have them – you can make a huge difference just by staying off the ground around your plants.

What about fertilizer?

Good soil makes for healthy plants without using synthetic fertilizers
Good soil makes for healthy plants without using synthetic fertilizers

This is such a touchy topic for many.   The simple answer  is this – if you have healthy soil – and you amend it each year with lots of compost and shredded leaves and organic matter or cover crops – you  really have no need for it.  If you want to keep your garden free of synthetic fertilizers but your plants need a boost – you can make a great natural liquid fertilizer by soaking fresh compost in water – and watering your plants with it.  Like with any fertilizer – you want to avoid hitting the leaves directly as it can burn them –  instead, water the soil around the roots of the plants.  It’s a great way to give a boost to your plants naturally.

Below you will find our 3 simple plans for some 10′ x 15′ garden layouts.  They can be used as is – or-make them your own and substitute plants that you want to grow and eat.  Next week, in the final segment called “Keeping The Beds Productive” – we will cover the final topics in raised row beds:  Amending your soil, rotating your crops, and planting cover crops over the winter to build super soil.

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

3 SIMPLE GARDEN PLANS

Protect your plants by planting after the recommended last frost date in your area – we usually get our plants in the ground here in Ohio around mid-May.  Seed crops like lettuce, cilantro, peas, radishes, carrots, and onion sets can be seeded earlier– they both prefer the cool weather and can handle a light frost as they emerge.  We usually will plant a second set of those crops in late summer / early fall – as many cool weather crops bolt and die off in the summer heat.

Salsa Garden Plan

Salsa Garden Plan

Salad Lovers Garden Plan

Salad Lovers Plan

All Purpose Garden Plan

All Purpose Garden

The All Purpose Garden Plan
The All Purpose Garden Plan

33 thoughts on “Planting And Maintaining A Simple Garden – Part 3

  • September 24, 2015 at 4:07 pm
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    Forgive me for reposting…wasn’t sure if it could be on the images or not, so I thought I would repost it here on the main thread…
    Quick question. This will be my first winter prior to Raised Row Gardening. Looking at your Salsa Garden I see you have your garlic listed here. Since garlic has to be planted the fall prior, what would you recommend I do to make sure I have garlic to harvest along with the rest of my garden next year? Plus, since the winter prep for the raised row is to cover the bed with straw and cover with black plastic how should I work with the garlic bulbs going forward? I appreciate all the work you put into this article.

  • September 1, 2015 at 9:46 pm
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    I have an overgrown lot we are getting ready to prepare for a garden next spring. Your raised row method is intriguing to me and we are considering your advice in getting started. I have a concern about heavy rains. Has that created any problems with wash outs for you? Enjoying your site and thank you for all you put into it.

    • September 3, 2015 at 11:39 am
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      Thanks Nancy – good luck with your garden project in the future. Our raised rows have presented no difficulties when we have a heavy rain – in fact, our garden actually sits on a slight slope downward, and the heavy rains haven’t caused any damage to the soil. We weren’t so lucky with the heavily fruited green peppers that we didn’t have tied up in the past though 🙂

  • August 25, 2015 at 7:55 pm
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    Thanks for the great article! In Part 3 here you mention that “as the roots grow into the straw – they will go even deeper in to the loosened soil.” By loosened soil, do you mean the base soil that’s under the initial straw layer? If so, do you do anything special to loosen it beforehand? Thanks!

    • August 28, 2015 at 12:09 pm
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      Hi Jen. You don’t have to loosen the soil under the staw – However, if you do, the roots will have better luck anchoring into the ground. Either way has been successful for us!

  • August 17, 2015 at 10:04 pm
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    Do you use soaker hoses to water the garden? How long do you water at a time?

  • April 12, 2015 at 11:44 pm
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    I forgot to mention that I use timers to turn the water on.

  • April 12, 2015 at 11:41 pm
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    One of my struggles with gardening is: I work 11 hour days and I’m the primary care taker. So I use soaker hoses to water — what do you think of watering in this way.

  • April 4, 2015 at 1:16 pm
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    When you guys use old milk jugs, do you drill holes in the top to help disperse water, or use just as it? We are going to have a garden on our property this year that we will share with several other families to help spread out the labor. I was thinking this might be a great way for the kids to be able to water without having to buy them all watering cans. Just drill some small holes in milk jug caps, maybe half gallon for the littler ones, and let them water. Love the articles and can’t wait for the book. Any chance I could have my reference in the book to my blog instead of my name? Thanks and keep up the good work! P.S. Have you guys thought about a YouTube channel? Your video for the book funding was great.

  • February 15, 2015 at 1:01 pm
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    Hello and thank you! This is a wealth of information, especially for a new gardener like me. I have just won a lottery for a much-desired 10’x20′ community garden plot in Arlington VA, and it looks like any of your plans will for me. Is there any reason I can’t plant okra and/or eggplants in the place of green peppers or potatoes?

    • February 15, 2015 at 4:49 pm
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      Congrats on the community garden plot! That sounds like a great opportunity to garden! There would be no problem at all substituting those plants – happy gardening!

  • November 4, 2014 at 11:35 am
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    I love the concept. My main concern is whether or not having the straw there year round will harbor pests and allow them a safe place to winter over. For example, we have a terrible problem with squash bugs. My fear would be that the straw would be a safe place to stay and hide during the winter. Ideas or suggestions?

  • May 24, 2014 at 11:23 am
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    Thank you so much for the informative website. If anyone could help me with this question thank you. It says when planting to spread the topsoil aside and plant directly into the straw. Do I need to make a hole in the straw or place the plant right into the thick layer of straw and then fill in around it? It says to make a hole, but I’m not sure what it means. Thank you

    • February 3, 2015 at 3:27 pm
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      Also have these questions! Ever get this clarified? How did your garden go last year?

      • February 3, 2015 at 6:31 pm
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        Stephanie – You will want to dig down in to the soil you have made into your raised row and plant into the straw that is underneath the top layer of soil. Hope that helps and good luck with your garden! Jim

  • May 10, 2014 at 9:16 am
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    Thank you for providing us with such wonderful gardening info. I am so inspired and confident to begin my own garden! Great plans for row gardens, watering tips, and recipes too! Thanks!

  • March 30, 2014 at 11:52 pm
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    You refer to “shredded” leaves…. what do you mean by that?

    • March 31, 2014 at 5:57 am
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      We take a pile of leaves and will shred them with either our push mower or if the pile is big enough – with our bush hog. It helps them to break down quicker into the soil or compost.

  • March 28, 2014 at 10:40 pm
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    I just found your site through an article in the Zanesville paper. One question I have is when using straw in starting a raised bed garden, is there any problem with weed seed being in the straw? Your website is very informative. I would love to raise a few chickens but unfortunately I live in the middle of town!

    • March 29, 2014 at 7:04 am
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      Hi Jackie – So glad to hear from someone nearby! To answer your question – unlike hay – straw contains no seeds – so it should not add any weeds at all. We also use quite a bit of shredded leaves too when we have them available. Hope that helps! Jim and Mary

  • February 13, 2013 at 7:13 pm
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    I notice you don’t plant corn. I love corn and the last 2 yrs they have been so sweet, the best I have ever had. And Love melons also so I use a bigger space for the melons and never step on the bed. I use my finger tips if I have to reach in for a weed or melon. I do like your ideas and will incorporate them in this yr garden. Thanks.

    • May 17, 2013 at 5:43 pm
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      I’d love to know a little about growing corn as I am going to try some this year! I have a very small patch of ground (about 8×9) and I am also planning on putting tomatoes and peppers in…

  • January 17, 2013 at 3:45 pm
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    I am wondering how this works for corn and spreading plants like pumpkins and water melons? I assuming that the tomato cages would work for cukes as well.

    • September 30, 2013 at 11:09 pm
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      cukes do well with horse wire leaning on metal posts at about 75 degrees. early on help them climb. they will be self shading and your cukes will hang well to develope good quality fruit. just plant seeds at the base. You can make it as long as you want. Mine is about 4′ tall and 5′ long and we have more fruit than we can handle. also putting white fly /aphid sticky strips out every 2 ‘ or so in the early part of your garden keeps the insects from getting going and overcoming the plants. good luck

      • December 3, 2013 at 9:06 am
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        Thankyou! Cukes are difficult for me to grow. Maybe the white fly paper will help! I keep trying every year and the bugs just wear the plants down and we get no yields.

    • December 3, 2013 at 9:04 am
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      I love growing onions in S. Calif., and also watermelon and squashes. I plant them in succession. This is what works for me:
      I grow short day varieties of onions through the Winter and harvest in June. It’s not too late to plant if you order plants. In April, I thin the smaller onions out. I make a few larger gaps as I thin, and insert either watermelon transplants or seeds at that time. Or, you could put in pumpkin or butternut squash instead (though I usually put those with the pole beans as I pull the lettuce plants). Then, when I harvest in June, I fill the bed with more of the same. That way I get a few watermelon earlier, and the major crop of melons in late Summer and early Fall.
      Here is where I garden a bit different than this article, though much the same.
      My raised onion beds are 3 to 4 feet wide and run 10 to 15 feet long. My plot has a varied shape, so the bed sizes vary. In one raised bed, I plant 3 or 4 rows down the length, with about 300 onions total. I’ve tried companion planting and not been impressed. Though, an herb like rosemary or summer savory at the end of the rows has worked fine.
      Also, I don’t suggest straw for these, though leaves fully composted would work. Both onions and watermelon love a more alkaline soil, and these desert soils need amendment to hold water (compost just like suggested). I have trouble growing tomatoes and will try the authors method; but onions are different and like only enough organic matter to hold water between irrigation. Then I top with a compost mulch just like this article says; since in the desert I must conserve water. I’ve had success using bone meal and blood meal when planting; but have grown fine without them too. I think what it really does is help keep away the gophers. I’ve also tried Plant Success with mycor…. (? fungus). It worked well. The fungus remains in the soil and then benefits the squash later too.
      If you don’t get rainfall, use drip line 1/2″OC and .5gph, watering as article suggests at least once a week.

  • December 12, 2012 at 5:39 am
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    Hi Mary! I really love your post! It’s really inspirational and informative. I think our readers would really enjoy reading this. I would love for you to come share it at Seasonal Celebration I really hope that you will put Seasonal Celebration on your list of carnivals to visit and link to us every Wednesday!
    http://naturalmothersnetwork.com/
    Rebecca x

  • December 10, 2012 at 11:21 pm
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    I have spent quite a lot of time on your site and am loving it. I do have a couple of questions that I haven’t seen addressed, although I may have missed them. 1) Is your garden pesticide-free and if so, any issues with pests? 2) Do you mind me asking where you purchase your seeds? I know you save many from year to year but am guessing you are still purchasing some. I have been looking at Park Seed Co. and Johnny Seeds. Thanks!

  • December 10, 2012 at 1:06 am
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    How do you determine what 1″ of water means? I don’t know how to measure that. I water with the hose and I just give everything a good soaking. When I water my lawn I have no idea if I’m watering too long. Help!

  • December 4, 2012 at 11:12 pm
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    Great post on planning your garden! We mulch a LOT because I can’t stand weeding. Thanks for all the useful tips and tricks for low maintenance gardening!

  • December 4, 2012 at 1:15 pm
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    You’ve answered my question about irrigation. It seems to be the most time consuming part, especially as plants are first established. I agree with you about not needing fertilizer if you employ healthy compost. Thanks for this series!

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