Raised Bed Gardens Help Produce Tasty Nutritious Food


With the current interest in healthy living, sustainability and the issue of contamination of food in the last few years, home vegetable gardening is enjoying a comeback. Those of us living in the country frequently have vegetable gardens, but city folks don’t often think of putting a vegetable garden in their urban yard.

For anyone considering a new garden this year, here is an easy method of building and maintaining a garden in a small amount of space. It involves no digging or tilling. Create your garden in a wooden frame placed on top of the ground. This raises your garden up so it is easier to work, gets better drainage, and because you plant your flowers, herbs and vegetables close together, it inhibits weeds.

Construct your box from cedar or pressure-treated wood that will not rot. Using 2x6 inch boards produces a box that will last for years. Make your frame no wider than 4 feet so you can reach all the way into it from the outside. It can be as long as you want, but I like to make mine in 4 foot squares. Connect the corners with angle iron, brackets, or attach a wooden block to the inside of each corner, screwing your boards into the block.

Here is what you need to fill one 4 foot by 4 foot box:

A big pile of newspaper (with black ink only) or a large cardboard box

2 pounds of blood and bone meal

A quarter of a bale of alfalfa (or Bermuda) hay

2 pounds cow, chicken or rabbit manure or a granular organic fertilizer

2 large bags of fallen tree leaves

One 2 cubic foot bag of compost

Place your frame on a level piece of ground. Layer the bottom with a single layer of cardboard or 10 to 15 sheets of newspaper. This creates a barrier that keeps grass and weeds out but eventually breaks down to allow the roots of your plants to grow through to the soil below. Sprinkle with blood meal and bone meal and water it thoroughly.

Pull pads 2 to 3 inches thick from the bale of hay. Place them in a single layer on top of the wet newspaper. Sprinkle with blood/bone meal and manure or fertilizer. Water this layer until it is all damp.

Add 4 inches of dried leaves. These compress quite a bit so mound them up in the box. Dust the leaves with the remaining blood/bone meal and manure.

Top it all with a layer of compost and water the whole thing well. The mixture will start to decompose and compress right away so it should mound above the tops of your box by several inches in the center.

If you don’t want to go all this trouble you can fill the box with garden soil, potting soil or specialty raised bed mix, but that can be expensive.

It is best to let your new garden sit for a couple of weeks before you plant in it, but if you are ready to get going you can plant directly into the layers right away. By the end of the first season you will be amazed to find that all of your layers have incorporated and become nice, loose soil. You will need to add more organic matter as all the materials decompose. Add more compost, grass clippings (if they don’t have weed seeds), shredded paper or more hay or leaves. Apply more manure or fertilizer with each addition to help start the breakdown.

These raised, boxed gardens are perfect for growing vegetables, but you can also plant herbs or flowers in them as well. Or do what we do at Blue Moon Gardens, and combine them all.

After March 15th, our usual last frost date, you can start beans, broccoli, corn, cucumbers and squash. Wait until April to put out tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil and southern peas like black-eyes, because they need warm soil temperatures to grow.

Keep your bed mulched with bark mulch, shredded leaves or pine needles to discourage weeds and keep moisture in the soil. Water regularly and fertilize once a month for best production from your vegetables. Once your vegetables start to ripen, harvest every few days to keep them going. If you quit picking, they quit producing.

Three or four of these 4 x 4 gardens will hold enough vegetables for a family of four during the season. If you have been considering growing your own vegetables, this is a great way to get started. Join the increasing number of people who are raising their own tasty, nutritious food.

Mary Wilhite is co-owner of Blue Moon Gardens, a garden center located east of Edom. They would be happy to help you learn to garden, or provide you with starts for your garden. They have a wide variety of vegetable plants for sale, many of them heirlooms. 

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