Growing your own produce is an excellent way to save money on groceries, but it’s not without its challenges. A raised garden avoids several pitfalls and provides good results with a minimal amount of effort. Here’s how to get started.
Design. Plan to make your garden no more than four feet wide to ensure you don’t have to walk on your garden to harvest your produce. A four-foot by eight-foot garden is a good size and provides enough space for larger plants like tomatoes. If you need more room, create additional gardens. This will allow flexibility for plants that require different growing conditions. Each garden bed should be one to two feet deep.
Materials and construction. A raised bed can be constructed from a variety of materials. Use any durable material, including stone, sheet metal or wood, to create the frame. If you choose wood, make sure it is untreated, or line your bed to avoid leaching of chemicals into the soil. Cedar and redwood resist rot from moisture, but they can be expensive. Other lumber, such as pine is more affordable. (An eight-foot long 12-inch board is about $15). Corrugated metal roofing sheets are another inexpensive option (about $20 per eight-foot panel), just watch out for sharp edges. Whatever material you choose, make sure you use stainless steel or galvanized screws or bolts to assemble your frame. If you use wood or metal, you’ll need to include posts in the corners and on long sides to support the frame.
Location. Where you place your raised garden will determine its success. Produce requires six hours of sun to thrive, so select an unshaded location. A north-south orientation is ideal to maximize light exposure. In addition, a level spot with good drainage will require less prep work and digging during installation.
Installation. Before you install your garden frame, level and prepare the site. If the location you’ve chosen accumulates water, add a layer of gravel to improve drainage. Dig a shallow trench for your frame. Next, install metal mesh to deter underground pests from invading your garden. Place your frame and fill it with soil mix (six parts topsoil, three parts compost, one part potting soil). Use the best soil you can afford — it will lead to better harvests. For a four-foot by eight-foot garden that is 18 inches deep, you’ll need 48 cubic feet of soil mix. Purchase bagged soil and compost from your home improvement store or garden center, but if you need large amounts, you may save by buying in bulk.
Irrigation. Providing your plants the correct amount of water is critical to the success of your garden. Many hobby gardeners water by hand. This works fine, but is labor intensive. If you go the manual route, make sure you water the soil and not the foliage. You’ll waste less water and avoid diseases that come from wet plants. If you want to make watering even easier, wrap a soaker hose through the bed. It will let water seep into the soil slowly. You can purchase a 50-foot soaker hose for about $15.