Raised beds are a great option for an urban garden. Our favorite things to grow in raised beds are carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, basil, parsley, cilantro, lettuce, squash, beans, and peas, but you can use them to grow just about anything. And for certain plants, raised beds really help them thrive because of the excellent drainage and increased control over the soil. We chose raised beds in our yard for several reasons:
- They look neat and tidy. Our garden is in the front yard and it looks a little more respectable in orderly, well-defined beds. This becomes more important in the middle of summer when weeds grow to waist height, plants try to escape their boundaries, and it’s too hot to carefully maintain everything. At that point, the raised beds at least hint that we’re trying to tend a garden and not grow a miniature jungle in front of our house. Sorry, neighbors!
- The raised beds make it a lot easier to have kids in the garden. Our 3-year-old son can tell that he’s not supposed to stomp around in the beds because there’s a clear boundary. Whether he respects that boundary is another story. The raised beds also make it easier for him to work in the garden without trampling things by accident.
- We find it easier to plan and work in the garden when it’s divided up into workable plots. We can quickly draw up plans for next season since we already know how the space is laid out. Weeding is also less daunting when it can be divided up by bed. The same is true of planting and bed prep. The work is easier to manage when it’s divided up into small chunks.
- Raised beds provide good drainage, which is crucial here in North Florida where we regularly get rainfall above 2 inches during a single storm.
- It’s easy to add new beds without a whole lot of digging. Our yard is half clay and half rocks so digging deep isn’t a very appealing option.
How we built our raised beds:
- Three 8-foot 2×6’s
- Twelve 3 1/2” screws or nails
- Old cardboard boxes free of staples, tape, etc.
- Top soil, compost, etc. (Most garden supply centers and home improvement stores will sell top soil in large quantities and will even deliver. Compost will provide the most nutrients but may be too expensive to buy in large quantities.)
Cut one of the boards into two equal pieces. Now you’ve got two 4’ boards. Make a rectangle with your two 4′ boards and two of the 8′ boards and connect with three screws at each corner. Position the rectangle where you want your bed. (The resulting structure can get heavy, so it’s best to built it near or even exactly where you’ll want it.) Lay down the cardboard to cover any grass or weeds. Cover the cardboard with topsoil. If you’re only going to be growing lettuce and other leafy greens, the soil doesn’t need to be too deep. But if you have an inexpensive supply of soil or compost, go ahead and lay it on thick. The cardboard will ensure weeds don’t grow up from below.
We chose 4’x8’ simply because it’s a manageable space. Much wider and you’d have trouble reaching across to pick fruit or pull weeds.
Our beds are 6” tall, which is relatively short for raised beds. But we knew we wouldn’t be adding a whole lot of soil to begin with so there’s wasn’t much point in making them taller.
For more great tips on gardening, be sure to check out the M + BL archive of gardening posts – or look for the upcoming Nourish and Love Episode 5, featuring grain-free chicken nuggets and raised flower beds.
Do you have raised beds in your garden? Tell us about them – and happy gardening!