Site Preparations for Raised Bed
The view of the elevated beds surrounded by rich soil, moist and crumbly, free from weeds, and ready to plant is a brief moment of perfection, full of promise, a blank canvas awaiting the vision of the gardener.
The toughest part of planting is often achieved when the beds created are well prepared. And the better the beds in the garden are prepared, the less work there will be during the growing season, and the more likely the dream of the gardener will come to life.
Here are some tips to get your raised beds ready for a bountiful growing season.
Act out of tents
Seek to stick to the one simple ‘land’ rule when gardening in raised beds: Do not walk on the land within raised beds. The main advantage of raised bed gardening is that you are able to develop light, fluffy, well-drained soil, which facilitates vigorous plant development. Stepping on the main bed will compact the soil, decreasing aeration and slowing down the activity of valuable micro-organisms below the soil.
When constructing or buying raised beds, be sure you can touch any part of the bed without having to stand within it. (Our elevated beds are 4″ deep.) If you have to stand on the elevated bed, place a longboard deep into the bed and ‘rock the board’ while tending the soil. If the board ends can be set at the top of the raised bed sides, so much the better, because this will take some pressure off the field.
Turn under, or smother, crops cover with green manure
‘Green manure’ covers crops that are commonly planted between crop rotations, or during the winter, to reintroduce organic materials into the soil and provide a fertilizer rich in nitrogen. Before they go to seed, these cover crops should be turned under and replanted several weeks before bed.
There are many ways to transform undercover crops. You may use a grass whip, shears, or weed eater to cut the crop close to the soil level. Keep the compost cuttings, or use them as mulch. The remaining stubble can then be cut with a hoe and turned under. However, for gardeners growing in raised beds, using the hoe can be dangerous near the sides of the bed because you don’t want to hack into the sides of the bed or move the sides through the digging motion outwards. This can be done with some caution, though.
Some gardeners don’t bother turning under the stubble because it’s less of a job and doesn’t want to disturb the soil. Instead, they are planting the stubble in between. Over time the fresh seedling roots will break down the root clumps of the cover crop.
Another strategy for turning undercover crops is to ‘smother’ the cover crop by putting down a thick layer of mulch and covering the mulch with black plastic sheeting, which puts no tension on the sides of the raised bed. This approach has the benefit of breaking the cover crop down without cutting it down or dealing with the stubble, and the underlying soil remains untouched. However, the approach takes time. In sunny weather, which increases the heat under the sheeting, successful smothering of the cover crop can take 2-3 weeks. That will take longer in cool weather.
Inspect every bed that is raised for required repairs
Over the winter, the soil in raised beds gets damp and thick, and the added weight will exert pressure on the bed corners and bow outward to the middle of long stretches. Now is the time to fix something that requires attention, because any repair would damage the soil before you start sowing seeds or transplanting seedlings.
Often elevated beds that have angles screwed or nailed together may have a loose corner job. If this happens, you’ll usually have to dig out a couple of inches of the soil to get the corners together. We have used painted deck screws for repairs to patch the corners on cedar beds, with good results.
Most commercially marketed raised beds have corner constructions that won’t fit loose. The manufacturers are using designs such as mortise-tenon, half-lap with through plate, interlocking hardware, or winged brackets to ensure that the corners keep together.
If the sides of your raised beds in the middle of long stretches curve outwards, this can be fixed in two ways. You can place a stake inside the bed and screw the side bowed into the stake. This could last for a season or two. A safer approach is to draw in the bent leg and tie it to the bed’s opposite side. Use 1⁄2 “flat stock of aluminum and drill a hole for screws at each end.
Attach this bar to the very top edge of the lower boards (if the bed is two boards high), or bend the stock at an angle of 90 degrees and screw it into the boards within. Made-raised beds are typically built with cross-supports or center pins, so there is no bowing.
You may apply a non-toxic wood treatment to raised beds made from untreated wood to protect against sun exposure, water, and fungal decay. A single application lasts a lifetime, saving time and money to hold and remove wooden boards.
Remove the parasitic roots, or block them
Look for signs of any rapidly developing spreading roots from weeds like horsetail, and pull them out of the direction they came from. We’ve had to dig a main hole in the pathway in certain situations to bring the root under the surface of an elevated platform. If possible, trace the root to its source, and pull the entire root ball.
Arboreal roots are drawn to warm, rich soil. If you have trees near your elevated bed, you may want to dig into the bed soil to see if tree roots are intruding into the fertile elevated bed. We had roots in our garden, spreading more than 50 ‘from a tall fir tree and rising directly underneath our prime garden beds. Digging the soil, scraping the roots, and then constructing a barrier, was a major task. Once they expand into your beds, you should be able to detect possible invasive roots. Is there a nearby fruit tree, a tall tree a little farther down, or large shrubs nearby? Foresee and accommodate potential development until any issues arise.
Some gardeners would suggest spreading a carpet or a similar ‘blanket’ barrier to invasive roots at the bottom of your bed. I think this is a mistake because, for some vegetables, it slows down the drainage and restricts root production.
You may block invasive roots from outside the room, instead of blanketing the bottom of your raised bed. On the side of the raised bed that lies in the direction of invasive roots can be dug a small trench. We dug the tiniest trench we could, about 8 “long, and plunged down to clay. The depth ranged from 3-4′. Then we slipped down, on the bottom, large sheets of recycled plastic HDPE that we got from a feed store for free. (These sheets were spread under pallet feed bags.) Coroplast sheeting is another alternative. For this reason, some gardeners use metal roofing sheets, but this will rust over time. Trim any waste at ground level until the trench is filled back in. This will now protect your beds as a permanent root barrier.
Appraise the soil for improvements, and add the beds
The soil is continually settling in raised beds. The soil level may be several many inches lower in early spring than was the case last fall. Take a pinch of soil and see if it is warm, sticky, and crumbly. When the soil is compacted, it can require some peat to fluff it up.
If you use the gardening form of no-till, modifications can be added with topdressing. Modifications such as lime, peat, rock phosphate, and compost may be scattered over the soil and covered with a thin mulch layer. When the plants are up, it is possible to add more mulch, which will top up the field.
Soils with a pH inferior to 6.2 will benefit from lime addition. The perfect 6.5 – 6.8pH. The finest grind is dolomite, and it is recommended. With calcareous ground, it will take the plants twice as long to derive any benefit from it. Ideally, lime will be applied a few weeks prior to planting. It is not advised to hydrate the lime, or “easy lime,” as it can alter the pH of the soil so quickly that plants can be harmed. During heavy spring rains, cover newly restricted beds with plastic to avoid a runoff. The pH of the soil can be measured by using a test kit for soil pH.
When the soil for the base garden is in place, it is time to feed it. Till in compost is the preferred process. Compost can be bought in bags from a nursery, but a better way for the gardener to keep a pile of homemade compost is. There are different composter models available to match the scale of the garden and the residential restrictions. ‘Compost tumblers’ are sealed composters that accelerate the process of composting and discourage pests. If you’re interested in compost tumblers, read our review of compost tumblers of different styles. Manure is best applied just about two weeks before spring seeding.
For tall crops, set stakes or poles, and trellises
If you are planning to grow tomatoes, peas, pole beans, or other plants that will need support, now is the time to put in place those supports. Waiting until your plants are in will disrupt the young spreading roots of your vegetables by pushing the stakes to the soil.
We suggest building a simple overhead frame for tomatoes and covering it with 6 mils clear plastic sheeting, or corrugated, transparent fiberglass panels.
This is aimed at keeping the rain off the tomato leaves, which will prevent tomato blight. You may need to hand-water your tomatoes during the growing season or use a soaker hose, taking care not to spray the leaves. Once the tomatoes are grown, adding a generous mulch layer will reduce the amount of watering required, and protect the plants during dry spells as well. In our yard, we screw the tomato shelter upright supports directly into the inside face of the elevated frame. This is easy to put together and easy to disassemble in winter if we want beds that are exposed to winter rain. Leaving the shelter during the winter, the soil becomes over-dry, forcing away the worms and other beneficial species that need some soil moisture.
Cover the soil with sheets of mulch or plastic
Throughout the year, covering the soil in your raised bed is a safe idea. This is especially useful in early spring, after the introduction of amendments and fertilizer. The cover helps retain warmth, which helps break down the amendments and ‘heal’ them before seeds are planted or transplanted to start. The cover often helps to shed water so that the heavy spring rains don’t wash away your important amendments. The cover often discourages the sprouting in the garden soil of weed seeds, which can lie dormant.
In colder, weathered climates, it would be more successful to cover the bed with a layer of black poly sheeting than mulch to help warm the soil in early spring. Typically, we wait until the weather warms up we bring a dense mulch layer down.
Perennials split. Clear, perennial beds with a mulch
Old plant debris can be washed from established perennial beds and mulched to avoid weed growth. Perennials are easiest to break when shots that emerge are only 2 to 4 inches tall. Late perennials, such as asparagus, should have cut stalks at a ground level last year and placed them in the compost. Prepare new beds for annual flowers by spreading and working deeply into a 6-inch deep layer of organic matter (i.e. peat moss, compost, rotted manure). Plants growing in warm, rich soil are less vulnerable to summer drought. Mulch should be sprayed around the growing plant, but not over its sprouting root mass.
Wait, before planting, until the soil is dry
Stop the lure of planting the first sign of a warm spell in your garden. If you work the soil when it’s too wet, you risk losing all of its natural pockets of air, and your seeds will suffocate and rot. As a general rule, wait before sowing seeds until the soil is 60 degrees F (15 degrees C) Optimum for germination is 68 – 80 degrees F (20 – 30 degrees C). Even ‘cold weather’ crops like peas can do well in early spring when the soil is around 75 degrees F. When a handful of soil tastes more like crumbly chocolate cake than either an ice cube or mud cake, it’s usually ready to be planted in the spring.
It might sound to people like a lot of work getting your raised beds ready for spring, but regular year-round garden maintenance makes the early spring chores manageable. Most gardeners are excited to spring outdoors, and these arrangements are a labor of love. And as your garden dream unfolds, the rewards will last all summer.
Wood Selection for Raised Bed
Elevated beds make for a vegetable or flower garden, even if you have poor soil. The beds consist of a rectangular wooden frame constructed to any height you like and filled with fresh soil. This prevents tilling and alteration work on the soil of an established garden bed. In addition, raised beds may be placed on platforms to make gardening available to elderly people or others with limited mobility. Choosing the right lumber is the first step you take when you create raised beds.
The red cedar, yew, and redwood lumber oils make it rot-resistant by nature. Other timber, such as black walnut, white oak, and locust wood, are thick and make them durable. This lumber has no preservatives attached, which means it’s safe for plants and won’t leach chemicals into vegetables grown in the beds. They fade to gray as these woods age; this is especially true with cedar.
Whilst some people find the shift in color appealing, others do not. Although cedar is priced just marginally higher than pine and wood treated with heat, redwood, oak, and locust wood can be costly.
Composite lumber is a recycled commodity consisting of wood shavings that are held together with different types of binders such as plastic resins. The resins make this form of lumber resistant to rot and pest, and very durable. In suit natural wood, this lumber comes in a variety of colors and textures. Since the composite lumber is not thick, it is simpler to cut and drill in than to deal with conventional lumber. The downside of composite lumber is that it costs almost twice as much as pressure-treated lumber, but composite lumber is more durable and needs less maintenance compared to other lumbers.
Look for lumber with a label indicating it has been handled with ACQ — alkaline copper quat if you want to use pressurized wood for your raised beds. ACQ is an alternative water-based to conventional wood processed with heat. Modern wood being handled with pressure contains arsenic, a toxin that can leak into the soil and be picked up into the vegetables you consume. As with wood treated with arsenic, wood treated with ACQ is resistant to rot and insects, and can last for years.
Logs make raised beds appealing and rustic in appearance. If you have the means to move the logs, you will often get them free of people cleaning up after winter storms or chopping down trees. Then the logs can be cut to the size you wish for your beds. Mitering or dovetailing ends will make the corners safe. Flattening the logs to the bottom will prevent them from rolling away. Do not remove logs from public land without first obtaining a permit.
There are several options for materials to be used for the building of raised garden beds. Some are more respectful of the climate than others. This publication focuses on materials that comply with most standards of organic food production.
Lumber is also used in raised bed construction. It provides natural rot and pest resistance. Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is very resistant to rot and can last for years, even when in soil contact. The wood is, however, very thick and can be difficult to work with. Since Eastern red cedar isn’t commercially grown, it’s difficult to find — particularly in larger dimensions — and is usually very expensive. West coastal cedar (Thuja plicata) can be found in many lumber shops and is much easier to deal with, but it is susceptible to splitting without pre-drilling while using wood screws.
Sustainable production methods have some environmental issues and — as it is produced on the west coast — the amount of fuel required to ship it to Georgia. Sometimes the expense is four to five times that of Southern Yellow Pine, and is there a doubt about the cedar? S life expectancy when the soil is in direct contact.
(Taxodium distichum) is native to the Southeast and available in Georgia more readily than cedar, but it is not widely found in discount lumber stores.
Especially when it is used in direct contact with soil, its rot- and insect-resistant qualities are disputed, but it is thought to last longer than normal pine. It can be costly to order from a lumber store, but if cypress is grown and milled locally, the cost is affordable and offers a good alternative to cedar.
(Pinus sp.) is the most widely available wood in Georgia and is native to the Southeast. Southern yellow pine is one of the best, easiest woods to deal with when used in construction, and is very inexpensive. There are different grades of pine, with No. 1 being the best and least common. No matter the grade, when used in direct contact with the soil, pine has almost no resistance to rot or insects and has a very short life. The exception is fir, which is used in older buildings. Forty- to 50-year-old pine lumber compared to modern-day pine lumber is extremely heavy, straight, and dense. Compared to most other materials, recycled wood from older barns and houses provides an outstanding alternative and one that is very “natural.”
Oak and other hardwoods
They are difficult to find in large quantities or sizes and have just marginally more rot and insect resistance than pine based on most studies. The cost of most hardwoods is prohibitive, and when they’re dry, hardwoods are extremely hard to work with.
Soil Selection for Raise bed
Compost selection or planting mix may feel like gambling. You know that soil is your garden’s core and that what you grow and how it grows is directly related to the nature of what you grow it in, but the soil or soil mixes are the best? Due to bad soil, entire seasons may be lost, irrespective of any other effort you send your garden or conversations, poems, or songs you sing to your plants. In the end, the harvest’s production and flavor return to the soil. Growing your own soil, soil mixes, and compost is ideal but time-consuming and often labor-intensive, understandably. Your next best choice is to purchase fertilizer from a landscape supplies company or from the nearest garden center.
Luckily (or unfortunately), you’re faced with almost impossible options. For example, how does potting soil differ from the planting mix? The mark is organic yet organic, and what does it mean? Want compost or builder loam? It can be incredibly confusing, but it doesn’t have to be so.
Below are the basics for deciphering the soil question: raised beds Beginning from scratch, fill your beds with a 60/40 to 50/50 top organic soil to blend into compost. In addition, add compost when changing raised beds.
Throughout winter and summer, cover with a coarse compost or mulch to preserve soil structure, and retain soil humidity and temperature. * Substitute planting mix as needed for topsoil.
The organic potting mix is packed with. Line the bottom of drain-rock containers, particularly for larger containers and plants holding containers that require “well-draining” soil. Modify with manure, tea manure, and liquid fertilizers—top dress with compost or other materials to protect the soil. For e.g., gravel, pebbles, fir-bark, and coarse compost. * Treat larger containers such as elevated bedding troughs.
For the preparation of an in-ground planting area, two options include using the no-dig method and simply top-dressing your planting area with compost, or double digging and using a compost or loam creator. Either suggest planting fava beans, covering crops or other plants that add organic matter, and helping to make soil workable through root growth while also adding tilth and structure.
Organic vs. organic
Soil mixtures and composts made from organic materials are usually labeled as “organic.” Organic materials can be biodegradable in everything. With soils, it usually refers to organic matter dependent on plants. Both of these products, however, are not chemical-free. Chemical safe means it is safe from pesticides, insecticides, artificial fertilizers, and other emissions. A product that is “certified organic” has been tested to be chemical-free or to be grown and harvested in a chemical-free environment, one in which chemicals are not added or applied when the product is grown or made. Look for an official seal that says “Food Certified,” such as OMRI certification. This is one of the highest requirements for soil and other garden products to be certified as chemical-free in the US.
It feeds soil by introducing organic matter to the soil. Think of land as a method of living. Our job is to copy nature as closely as possible but in a semi-controlled environment — our gardens — we’re doing that. For example, in a forest, leaves, branches, and entire trees fall to the ground providing shelter and food for all kinds of creatures above and below the surface of the soil. Worms, beetles, and other insects, along with microscopic species such as bacteria, live in the soil. Fungi run all over the land like highways. Both work together, do what they do — feed and poop — and, in the end, decompose matter and, unintentionally, create soil. Leaves, bark trees, straw, and kitchen scraps are all “organic matter,” improving soil structure, preserving moisture, and also supplying drainage while adding nutrients.
Compost is any mixture of organic materials, but not all are produced in equal measure. Worm compost is very different from leaf mold, but they’re both compost and awesome. Look for one made with local materials when choosing a simple, all-around compost for your garden, which is a mostly plant-based mix. Castings of worms (vermicompost) are always fine. Manure is fine because it is not sewage sludge.
Potting mix and planting mix
These are also very close to each other. Usually, these are made from fir bark or other local tree items, sawdust, mycorrhizal fungi, worm castings, alfalfa and/or kelp meal, feather meal, perlite and occasionally mushroom compost, gypsum, and bat guano. Potting soil is made for containers, and ingredients such as pumice and sand, are used to increase drainage and decrease compaction, along with organic content such as peat moss or coconut coir to retain moisture. Whenever possible, search for goods that don’t use peat. Coconut coir is a fabulous and much more sustainable substitution.
A mixture of a coarsely treated tree product like fir bark and manure, often chicken manure, is commonly used. Loam builders and other similar things similar to “wood” blends are excellent ways to introduce the organic matter to the soil.
Topsoil is typically the top two inches of soil that is present in the average setting. It is normally packed with beneficial fungi and bacteria, grit like sand, and some dirt. Compared to soil contained at greater depths, it appears to be rich in organic matter. Topsoil quality varies according to region.
Loam is the scientific term for soil containing healthy sand, silt, and clay amounts along with organic matter. It’s considered an ideal medium of growth.
Crop starting mix
These are soilless mixes or sterilized soils. They are engineered to be free of bacteria and fungi, and therefore free of disease that can be useful when growing seed plants. See How to Make Your Own Seed Starting Mix: https:/passthepistil.com/Mulch is a phrase used to describe a top dressing. Soils are top-dressed to protect the soil structure, especially from rain which can degrade soil structure very quickly. Mulch also helps to keep soil temperatures cool on hot days, while trapping moisture when temperatures drop. It will also help to retain soil moisture and introduce the organic matter to the soil by decomposition by using a mulch made from organic material such as fir bark. The different types of mulch are leaves, needles, bark, grass, husks, coarse compost, and gravel.
If anything else fails and you’re still uncertain, pick a certified organic product that’s manufactured locally whenever possible. For example, living along the coast, I’d expect to find a soil mix that includes kelp, oyster shell, and other items found near the shore. I didn’t have to move far to get to my garden, which means I support the local economy, use fewer fossil fuels, and use resources that are native to the local climate.