A Raised Row Garden is just what the doctor ordered if you are looking for a simple way to garden without investing a fortune in time, tools and materials!
The advantages of a raised row garden are many. They are inexpensive to create, even easier to maintain, and extremely productive! In fact – we harvest over 3000 lbs of vegetables every single year from our 40′ x 60′ raised row garden bed area each year. Not bad for a garden that takes us less than 5 to 10 minutes a day to maintain – or without the use of expensive sprays, soil additives, or a rototiller! (see: How to Garden Successfully Without a Rototiller)
We will take you through the basic steps of setting up a Raised Row Garden. However, if you want further detailed information about the steps of Raised Row Gardening all year long, check out our complete guide here: Raised Row Gardening Book
Raised Row Garden Setup:
Raised row garden beds are 6 to 10″ high x 18″ wide growing rows created by using a combination of organic materials and top soil. Raised row beds utilize the same concept as raised beds – without all of the hassle and expense of building walls to contain the soil. In place of the rock, wood or metal sides used on raised beds – the soil on the edges of raised row garden beds are simply gently tapered and sloped at the sides, using only the soil.
Much like raised beds – soil in raised rows help to regulate the soil temperature and moisture levels – keeping much-needed moisture levels in the root zones – while shedding excess rainfall away from the plants during heavy rains. Their added height also allows for less weed seeds to be blown into the growing area, creating less weeds for you to eliminate.
Finally – with the growing rows at a different level than your walking space – your plants develop deeper and stronger roots by not being crushed by heavy foot traffic around root zones that can occur in a traditional garden set-ups. In addition – unlike raised beds with their confined sides – raised row beds are easier to work in and dig under cover crops and green manure crops in the spring and fall.
Building A Raised Row Bed
Whether creating your rows in an existing garden, or a grass filled corner of your yard – the process is simple. The best part – no matter how or where you start – there is no need for an expensive tiller!
Start by marking out the location of your rows. We keep our garden’s raised rows at about 18″ wide x 20′ long, with about 24 to 30″ between rows for a walking path The 18″ width allows proper root structure development for most plantings – while conserving the overall space of the garden and allowing enough room for the walking rows.
If you are starting in an existing garden – lay down a thick 4 to 6″ layer of organic material in the middle portion of each future raised row (shredded leaves, straw and compost or a combination of all 3 are perfect). Then use the existing soil in the garden and rake up over top of each row to create your 18″ growing rows. The final height of each row should be about 6 to 10″ with a slight taper on each side of the row.
If you are starting from a grassy, never before gardened area this Spring – the process is much the same. First – mow down the area as close to the ground as possible. Some people like to till their area once to get a good base of soil to use – which is fine – but tilling beyond that is never needed – and actually creates more harm than good.
Once your area is marked off, you can spade up the future row area with a shovel. There is no need to go deep with the shovel or to chop up the soil as you turn it over – just a few inches of depth is more than enough to loosen the area. You only need to do this to your future raised row bed space – not the walking rows – which will save you a lot of time and effort compared to those tilling up or digging up an entire garden!
Next – lay down a thick 4 to 6″ layer of organic material in the middle portion of each future raised row (again – shredded leaves, straw and compost or a combination of all 3 are perfect). Finally, top off the planting rows with a few inches of top soil to create your tapered rows.
For your walking rows – you will want to put down a thick layer of straw or leaves. This will help to eliminate weeds in the spring and summer months, and make for clean and clear walking paths. As an extra step for extra weed control – you can also put down landscape fabric or plastic in the walking rows and then cover with the leaves or straw.
Once your beds are built – planting is a simple process. We use a post hole digger to create our planting holes in each row – a shovel will work as well – we just find the post hold digger works wonders for creating planting holes. We then mix in healthy amounts of compost to each planting hole as we drop in the plant.
The straw/leaf/compost mix and topsoil act 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 mix – they will go even deeper into the soil below that has been softened and enriched by all of the organic matter placed on top.
For seed portions of the bed (lettuce, carrots, onions, etc) – plant right into the topsoil that is above the straw and organic material. 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!
Once built – your raised row beds are simple to maintain each year with minimal effort – while providing maximum yields!
In addition – they can easily be planted with cover crops in the fall to recharge your soil and maintain healthy and weed-free organic beds for the life of your garden. (see: All About Cover Crops)
Give raised row gardening a try this year – you might just surprise yourself at how easy gardening can be!
Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary!