When I was planning my garden last fall, it was pretty obvious from the start that I wouldn’t be able to plant directly in the ground. Our house is set on a septic tank and there are no plans of where it begins or ends so planting any kind of deep rooted vegetable or fruit is out of the question unless you want questionable fertilizer in your produce. But still, we had so much land it seemed like a waste not to build a garden, so we settled on raised garden beds!
The Benefits of Raised Garden Beds
Raised beds have some obvious benefits – they’re convenient to reach for those who struggle to bend or sit for long periods of time, and they make garden planning easier. Just pick the layout of your garden and create seamless, even symmetrical designs.
But even beyond those benefits, raised garden beds are often the best choices for plants to grow in.
For yards like ours, that sits on a slope and is heavily compacted from top soil erosion and construction equipment going over the soil repeatedly, raised beds are the easiest way to get well-draining soil.
Unlike an open garden, you get to choose what soil goes in a raised garden bed. Theoretically, this means that you could choose to buy soil with no weeds or weed seeds but in practice, I’ve only ever used a mix of native topsoil from our yard and garden soil amendments which means we still get some weeds. But they are definitely fewer, and I can easily pull them out when they spring up. In hard compacted dirt it’d be a different story.
Georgia isn’t a state where gardeners struggle with a short planting time. We get plenty of full sun and heat but when I’m itching to start planting again and eagerly monitoring the temperature forecasts, a garden bed makes the planning more convenient. Since the soil is raised, it doesn’t depend as much on the ground temperature to warm up. It also retains heat more easily and makes seed starting less of an experiment and more of an easy beginning to your plants.
Planning and Set Up
Choosing the Right Gardening Bed
We took three major factors into consideration when picking our gardening beds – size, depth, and material. Since our backyard is so spacious, we wanted to maximize how much planting space we had. Raised beds come in a variety of size, from 48×48 inches to what we ultimately chose, 4×8 feet. Unlike a 2×8, which is a little too thin and would look cluttered when we put down more beds, the 4×8 size is still convenient – I’m able to reach the middle from either side – and long enough to allow for a variety of different plants. The Farmer’s Almanac gardening advice column recommends a 16×10 garden bed to feed a family of 4 plus some extra for preserving. I wasn’t quite as ambitious and started small – only 1 raised bed measuring 4×8 feet with some easy to grow vegetables.
We also needed a gardening bed that was deep enough to allow us to grow roots vegetables like carrots, turnips, beets, etc. without reaching into the ground and being potentially exposed to the septic tank. With a minimum of 6 inches tall, most vegetables would grow without hitting the ground. We chose a 10-inch deep bed just to be safe.
Lastly, we wanted something that would endure the exposure to the elements. Cedar is usually widely recommended because it lasts for a long time and it’s also pest repellent, like Eucalyptus, and easy to get a hold of. A lot of companies make Cedar raised beds, so building your own isn’t the only option!
This season I’m adding a new raised bed to my garden.The Farmer’s Almanac gardening advice column recommends a 16×10 garden bed to feed a family of 4 plus some extra for preserving. I wasn’t quite as ambitious and started small – only 1 raised bed measuring 4×8 feet with some easy to grow vegetables. But it was really too small. I could get harvests only once in a while and it was barely enough to feed myself, let alone a family.
I wanted to add a new one this season because a little bit more experience and I want to see what an actual satisfying harvest looks like!
Since our backyard is on a slope, I had to level out an area next to the existing bed where the new one is going to sit. The Greenes Fence garden bed kit I bought is super easy to put together. The boards just fit into carved slots on the corner pieces.
Leveling out the area was hard work but definitely easier than last summer when we were trying to lift dirt that had been baking under 90 degrees for months. I filled up half the bed with garden amendment soil and then dug up the remaining from our yard.
I won’t lie, doing it alone was hard and I don’t think my back will be thanking me for the next week. But it’s all about the payoff! I started my tomatoes indoors today but they won’t be ready for transplanting for another month so I planted some radishes that should be ready fairly quickly. I’ll also be planting some squash, basil, and green onions later this summer. I’m looking forward to how well everything is going to grow!