Raised beds are one of my favorite ways to garden. They can bring out the artist, the chef or the mathematician in us. (Yes, even weasels like to be creative!) I love knowing that the work I put into creating the best soil possible will help ensure success. Now is a great time to create the ideal design and concoct the perfect soil for your raised bed garden.
Construction and Design Inspiration
The great thing about a raised bed is that you can be as structured or as imaginative as you like. Either way, you can create beautiful geometric designs with a range of shapes from simple squares and rectangles to more elaborate L-shaped beds, diamonds, octagons (or any other –agon).
If you’re like me and enjoy dreaming up something new for your garden, you are probably already doodling designs for the spot you’ve picked out. Remember doing dot-to-dot pictures as a kid? Creating a raised bed is like bringing a dot-to-dot picture to life in your garden.
Or if you are like many of my weasel friends who prefer a practical approach, there are many kits available. They range in price depending on size and material, and can be found at your local do-it-yourself centers or online. I’ve even seen plans to build a circular bed!
A simple square is easy to construct yourself at any size or height. You can find specific guidelines for size and depth, or you can build to suit your need. An average size is 4’x4’ with a minimum depth of 6” of soil. Cedar wood is best for the walls because of its rot resistant qualities, but kits also come in durable composite and plastic. The Garden Weasel Edger is a great tool to mark out the bed.
Creating the Ideal Soil
The key to successful raised bed gardening is soil preparation. This is where the cook in me gets excited! Here’s my recipe for soil that works great for vegetables and herbs. Like in the kitchen, this recipe can be followed to a tee, or combined with your own experience and finessed. I’d love you to share your favorite soil ingredients with me here!
The Garden Glide is a helpful tool to move bags easily to your spot, and the Garden Claw would be useful for mixing the soil in the bed. It is easiest to blend the ingredients in a large container first, then pour them into the beds.
Topsoil – Topsoil is the staple, like flour in a cake. Whatever you do, don’t scrimp on this ingredient. Good quality topsoil is slightly more expensive than the cheaper stuff, but worth it. Poor quality topsoil often contains weeds and herbicides. You can visually inspect the soil and avoid purchasing it if there are signs of salt crusting on surface, the soil is hard and doesn’t crumble easily in your fingers, if it feels gritty (indicates sandy) or sticky (indicates clay), and color is light or white (contains salt or lime).
Compost – Everyone has their favorite, and mine is Cotton Burr. It’s loaded with nutrients and a wide range of micro-organisms so important to a sustainable organic environment. This compost is made from cotton plants. As cotton grows, it absorbs nutrients that end up in pods called “bolls” or “burrs” that are not used and end up as “trash” that has become garden “treasure.” It has twice the nutrient value as manure composts but with no e-coli issues.
Vermiculite – This ingredient helps seeds germinate, stimulates root growth, and helps plant anchorage and nutrient intake. It also aids in watering. But since you are creating the ideal soil rather than combatting a poor soil, you do not have to use as much. I just sprinkle it in, like adding salt to a recipe.
Worm Castings – This is my secret super ingredient. Worm castings are a concentrated natural fertilizer that won’t burn your plants. They contain excellent soluble mineral content, thus making vegetables and herbs flourish. This is the most expensive ingredient on my list so I add it last, just before planting or seeding, only applying it to the area where roots will be growing rather than adding it to the whole soil mixture.