Raised beds have a lot of advantages: you can get to the plants and weed the beds without crawling on your knees, and they are easier to access from all sides, making it possible to create several rows in a square bed and end up using space more effectively.
Another reason you might want to consider raised beds is keeping the soil from washing away if your garden is slightly sloped. In the past couple of years, we notice that plants in certain patches in our garden weren’t as healthy as in previous years, and it seemed likely that water had washed some of the nutrients out of the soil. Rather than just adding soil or nutrients, we decided to create a few raised beds in the problem area and fill them with new soil.
Usually, you make raised bed frames out of cedar, since it deteriorates much more slowly than pine or spruce. However, we had second thoughts when we priced 2” x 8” cedar boards. A single 4’ x 8’ frame would have cost over $250!
Fortunately, we found that Home Depot had some cedar raised bed kits that were much cheaper, although made of 1” stock instead two. These beds are made by Greene’s Fences in Solon, OH and are also available from Amazon. Delivery is free from either vendor. You can get a kit that makes a 4 x 8 cedar bed for about $90. We needed four of them to cover the worst sloping part, and when we assembled them we decided we needed two 4 x 4’ additional beds to use our garden’s fenced space most effectively. Fortunately, Greene’s had a sale on some 4 x 4 beds in a discontinued configuration that were only $69 a pair, although not as deep as the rest.
Assembling the 4’ x 8’ beds requires no tools except perhaps a hammer to slide the tongue and groove parts together. Then if you want to put the little 3” x 3” covers over the joining posts, you will need a screw gun (electric drill).
We put all 4 together in about an hour. The 4 x 4’ ones took longer since you needed screws to hold them together, but they went together reasonably quickly, too.
We laid the frames out in our garden and ordered a truckload of topsoil from our local landscaper. Fortunately, we were able to get his workers to dump the soil in the frames, saving a lot of work for us. When this topsoil dried out, it was pretty hard and cakey, so we tilled in both peat moss and some Wholly Cow manure/peat mixture.
Raking this smooth was fairly simple and planting went very rapidly because the soil was all prepared. Once the plants were planted, we realized that weeding would be different than when we had single straight rows, so we mulched each 4’ x 4’ frame segment with Sweet Peet, a locally franchised mulch that includes peat and manure. This product should keep the weeds down and provide enough nourishment that the deteriorating mulch won’t rob the beds of any nutrition.
The plants are all planted, the mulch applied and the garden looks great!