With the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having lately, folks are getting a head start on the gardening season. I’ve seen quite a few newly tilled garden plots in the last several weeks.
It makes me cringe. Not only is tilling bad for the soil (something for another post), but it has to be done year in and year out. Even worse, weeds will pop up as soon as you turn your back, and weeding will become your full-time job and your worst enemy.
Now that I’ve experienced raised beds, I couldn’t bear going back to in-ground gardening. I hardly ever have weeds. When I do, they slip out with ease. To be sure, building raised beds can take time and can be expensive, but neither has to be the case. (And even if you go the time-consuming and/or expensive route, it’s a one-time—or at least an occasional—thing.)
Making your own raised bed can be as easy as laying several layers of newsprint or some heavy-duty cardboard right on top of the grass; edging with field stones, twigs and branches, concrete blocks, or whatever else you have on hand; then filling the interior with gardening soil (not potting mix). With this method, the soil is your
biggest only expense.
If you’re going small (always a good idea if you’re a rookie), simple pots or flower boxes are the easiest possible way to build your garden. And you need no more space than a patio or deck. You may already be doing this without even realizing it makes you a raised-bed gardener.
There are inexpensive but sturdy lightweight fabric beds like this one (no assembly required) or this one. If you have a drill, you can even use galvanized steel tubs, anything from a washtub to a cattle trough. There are lots of possibilities out there.
If you’re in a position to spring for it, there are some terrific-looking, easy-to-assemble boxes that should last for years, like this cedar one or this composite one. You can also find elevated raised beds and vertical ones. With either of these, you can garden without bending a single vertebra, an especially good option for older or disabled gardeners. Raised bed kits come in many shapes and sizes. To be clear, I’ve used none of these, because . . . we build our own. (Of course!)
You can, too, if you have the tools and the inclination. Cedar, redwood, and hemlock all stand up well to the weather, but will cost you, and they still need to be replaced after a few years. We chose, instead, to use treated lumber. Lots of gardening gurus say this is a very bad idea. Their concern is usually about leaching from the chromium and arsenic that used to be used to treat lumber.
That hasn’t been true for almost fifteen years, though. Reliable sources say today’s chemicals and the process used to inject them into lumber make them safe around food, animals, and humans. We made an informed decision that was right for us. If you don’t want to take that chance but still like the idea of treated lumber’s longevity, you could line your beds with heavy duty black plastic.
With so many raised bed choices, it’s hard to know where to start. Try it; you’ll like it.
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