A raised garden bed is one that is built off the ground, usually in some form of boxed structure. It requires no digging – the worms do that for you – which improves the structure of the soil and increases its nutrient value.
As a raised bed is self-contained the growing bed can be adapted for any plant requirement, alkaline, acid or neutral, depending on what you want to plant.
The bed should be narrow enough to reach across it without bending your back too much from either side, the best width is about 1.2 metres. This allows for easy access with no bending double, kneeling or squatting.
A bed can be as low as 30 cm but usually they are 60 – 90 cm off the ground. The size will depend on the amount of wood you have available to build the bed with, the amount of growing medium you have available to fill the bed with and the ease of use you want the finished bed to have.
For gardeners that have back problems or other disabilities a higher bed, even if it is smaller, may be preferable as it will be easier to access.
For our beds we have used railway sleepers (available from most garden suppliers). We also used cut sleepers as uprights to support the vertical lengths. Remember these need to go far enough into the ground to support the weight of the rest of the structure. A general rule of thumb is one third in the ground. We used a combination of 3 metres and 2.4 metre lengths with the 2.4 metres cut in half for the ends.
The supports were attached to the horizontals with bolts. Make sure the nuts are on the inside so that you don’t catch yourself on them when you are gardening. Make sure they are secure as when the bed is full of soil it will exert quite a lot of pressure on the bolts.
Once you have finished the structure it is a good idea to put down a layer of cardboard or newspaper to help stop any weeds coming through. Even ½ dozen sheets are good but the thicker the better. Make sure the sheets overlap to cover the soil completely.
- If your bed is deep you may want to fill it with soil first. Leave 30 cm for hay and compost at the top.
- Put in 10 – 30 cm of lucerne hay or if not available you can use pasture hay, sawdust, pea straw, vegetable waste, lawn clippings, prunings, sawdust or a combination of these.
- Put in a layer of fertiliser or animal manure. You can often get this from stables if you have one near you. Just be careful that the horses haven’t been fed food with a lot of chemicals in it as this would be counterproductive to the health of your garden bed.
- Spread a 5 – 10 cm layer of compost or compost-soil mix on top of the manure.
- Cover the bed with newspaper; again, making sure the sheets overlap. This will help to keep the moisture in the soil.
- Cover the bed with mulch or pine bark. Again this helps to keep the moisture in the soil.
- Water the garden bed to settle everything down.
Once your garden bed is ready just create a small hole through the newspaper and plant your seedlings straight into the compost/soil mix below.
Next year you can just top up the layers and begin again.
As always don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.
John and Linda Ballis
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