If you lay out your garden with the traditional rows and paths of our grandparents you are limiting your garden productivity simply by using that old design. Raised beds offer more square feet of growing area than a row and path layout .
The key to the raised bed approach is that the bed is just wide enough so you can comfortably reach the middle from each side and therefore you avoid ever walking on the bed itself once it is established. You can now plant vegetables throughout the entire bed placing them so when mature, their leaves are just touching the leaves of adjacent plants.
Why Raised Beds?
The French used raised beds in their market gardens around Paris 200 years ago because they work. Raised beds are the best way to build a vegetable garden because:
1. They are neater, easier to work with, and you don't have to bend over so far to work in the garden.
2. You do not waste fertilizer, water, organic mulch, and time working on the paths; the paths are permanent.
3. Soil in a raised bed warms up sooner in the spring. After the first year you no longer need to roto-till the garden if you have raised beds.
4. You can plant them more intensively giving you higher productivity per square foot of garden.
You can buy raised bed systems that are easy to set up and last for years and years. Go to the Yardener's Tool Shed; click here
Make Your Own Raised Beds
To make a raised bed garden from scratch, you will likely need to roto-till the entire garden area to loosen what is probably fairly compacted soil. Any tool rental agency will have tillers to rent.
When you are roto tilling the garden area, that is the very best time to add some very important organic matter to the soil. Whole leaves, straw, compost, finely shredded bark, Canadian sphagnum peat moss or even shredded newspapder are all good candidates. It is hard to put too much organic matter in the garden's soil. An inch of leaves or straw, a half inch of peat moss or compost gives you a good start.
Lay out The Garden Beds and Permanent Paths
With stakes and string you lay out the beds and paths. The beds should be 3 to 4 feet wide. You should be able to reach the middle of the bed comfortably. If possible the beds should be oriented on a north - south axis.
Wide Paths - If possible make at least some of your permanent paths a little wider than your garden cart, allowing you to get anywhere in the garden with a cart.
Dig Soil Out Of Paths
Now you simlply dig all the top soil out of the paths and place it on the beds; usually down eight or ten inches. Then lay 3 or 4 inches of wood chips over all the paths and even out the surface of the beds with a rake. Viola! You have a raised bed garden.
To Box Or Not To Box???
Pressure treated lumber is now safe for vegetable gardens. The arsenic that was previously in pressure treated lumber has been banned and that old fashioned version is no longer available. Use the new pressure treated lumber with safety!!1
You can have a productive raised bed garden without boxing in the beds with planks. You have to dress the sides of each bed every spring which is a little extra work. We suggest that if you can afford the lumber, boxing your raised beds has many benefits: