Congratulations on your decision to start a garden! The weather has been enticing you to get your hands dirty, you've explored your soil preparation options (see Week 1 video and Soil 101), and now you're ready to get started! So what's next? Spend a few minutes with WBTV meteorologist Jim Lytle and Mike Bishop from Blue Max Materials to see if a raised garden is right for you!
What is a raised garden? Simply put, it's building your garden above ground instead of in the ground. Now why would you want to do that? There are several compelling reasons:
- It looks great! Your garden bed is neat and organized and makes an aesthetically pleasing addition to your backyard.
- Soil preparation is much easier - you just till up the top few inches of the existing soil and then dump a blended topsoil like Blue Max Materials' Garden Max on top. The soil will drain more effectively, your plants' roots will love the breathing room, and your vegetables or flowers will grow, grow, grow! (Various studies have shown that raised garden beds produce 1.4 to 2 times as many vegetables and flowers per square foot as ordinary beds.)
- Since your garden is closer to you (it's raised after all!), there's no more bending over to pull weeds or harvest your vegetables - you can sit on a stool or put a seat on your garden cart!
Raised garden beds (photo courtesy of Bob Hogue).
So how do I build this raised garden? First choose the material to border your garden. Options include lumber, railroad ties, natural stone in a stacked stone wall, retaining wall materials, river rock, brick - the choices here are limited only by your imagination and your budget. Consider such things as the look you're trying to achieve, longevity (stone lasts longer than wood) and durability (a retaining wall material is more "kid-proof" than a stacked stone wall). The people at Blue Max Materials can help you explore different options.
Second, lay out your garden with stakes and string. You will want to lay it out so that you can reach all of it from paths surrounding the garden so you don't have to step into the garden itself. With this type of design, your entire garden bed can actually be used for plants instead of having to leave room to walk around the plants. This reduces soil compaction and allows for more productivity in your garden.
Third, till up the soil a few inches down in your garden bed, either with a roto-tiller or a spade. This does not have to be pretty or very deep - the intent is to loosen the top layer of soil (ie, clay in the Charlotte area) to allow water to drain through the raised bed to the ground below, especially during heavy rains.
Now you're ready to build your wall and fill the area with topsoil. The depth of the topsoil will be determined by the type of plants you're putting in; most vegetable and flower gardens need a 12" depth to allow for root expansion while trees and shrubs will require greater depths.
Installing stacked stone wall around raised garden bed at Baxter St. Community Garden in downtown Charlotte.
Beds are 10'x10' per specifications by Mecklenburg County Parks & Recreation.