Raised beds

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    Couple of threads here are mentioning raised beds. Here’s some information I wrote up for a former client. It’s specific to his plot, but generalizes, and contains links.

    The overall dimensions of the space that we measured are 19’ x 9’. Four beds, each 3×8’ will fit nicely and leave 3’ paths for the mailman & the lawnmower (which probably is 28” width). Here’s my first rough sketch:

    The first thing to do is to is lay out the overall design in the space (as I have done on paper). This will take two people and a measuring tape. Simply identify the mid-point of the overall space, and measure out from there. The paths are both 3’ wide (1 square on paper = 1/2 ft.). When you’ve identified the location of the beds’ corners (and adjusted if necessary) use spray paint or strings & posts to mark off the perimeter of each bed. (This does not have to be absolutely perfect, as you will see.)

    Next, till up the ground in the location of each bed. Reasons: 1) Although the beds are raised, and we fill them with a variety of good things (manure, peat, etc.), we do NOT want the ground underneath to act as a “floor” or bottom that could affect drainage. 2) We want there to be continuity from the bottom up– that is, we will want to incorporate some organic matter in the underlying ground to facilitate the uptake of water. (Plants get water two ways: from above, but more importantly, from the capillary movement of water beneath. Having two distinct “layers”– the ground, and the soil in the beds– impedes the upward movement of water.) This is super important because it’s going to help cut down on watering.

    To till the areas up, simply turn over a shovel of dirt– grass, weeds & all– and break it up with the shovel. You don’t have to dig deeply, just a shovel’s depth will do. Remove rocks and whatever else you find, but don’t worry about cleaning out the grass, it will decompose and add organic matter.

    CAUTION: do not till when the soil is too wet. If it sticks to the shovel and your shoes, wait.

    Incorporate organic matter into the soil. There are many ways to do this. If you have a bag on your mower, you could rake up leaves, mow them, and spread the mulched leaves on top of the beds. Any dead stuff that you are pulling out as you do other clean up can be added. Avoid adding pine needles because over time they may make the soil too acidic. And do NOT throw the euonymous (that nasty ground cover) in because it can come back from the dead. If you neighbors are bagging up leaves and other yard waste, put it to use in your beds! Once you’ve covered the beds with about 2” of this organic matter, use a shovel or hoe to incorporate it into the top 3-4”.
    Construct the beds! This site has two good videos on bed construction; I like the second video best: http://hubpages.com/hub/Raised-Garden-Bed-Construction” onclick=”window.open(this.href);return false. Here’s another: http://extension.missouri.edu/explore/agguides/hort/g06985.htm” onclick=”window.open(this.href);return false. Generally following the ideas of “How to Build a Raised Bed” (first site), here’s what you’ll need (I found this at Home Depot, but I’m sure other places have this stuff as well):

    Millstead 2 In. x 8 In. x 8 Ft. Southern Yellow Pine Dimensional Lumber; $4.98; need 8; http://www.homedepot.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?storeId=10051&langId=-1&catalogId=10053&productId=100030227&N=10000003+90156+500153″ onclick=”window.open(this.href);return false

    Millstead 2 In. x 8 In. x 12 Ft. Southern Yellow Pine Dimensional Lumber; $6.95; need 2 cut into 8, 3’ sections (they do this for you); http://www.homedepot.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?storeId=10051&langId=-1&catalogId=10053&productId=100023418&N=10000003+90156+500153″ onclick=”window.open(this.href);return false

    (Lumber is untreated, and 8” height will be good, especially since we’ve worked the underlying soil.)

    Deck screws & power drill.

    I’ve seen various ways of securing the corners for added stability, and for stabilizing the beds on the ground, e.g., brackets, rebar, corner stakes. All seem reasonable. I would be inclined to use a corner stake (as in the video) screwed to the 2×8’s AND drilled with a hole to stake down a piece of rebar.

    One more thing– if these were my raised beds in the front yard, I would paint the outsides, especially those visible from the street. just for fun! Maybe you have a friend who’s an artist and could do some fun flowers and veggies.

    Place the beds. Once the beds are assembled, place them in the allotted space. I’d recommend digging a trench so they sit about 2” beneath the level of the grass (another reason to till up the space before hand). It’s not critical that they are perfectly level, but they should be nearly level to help with drainage (you don’t want a low spot where rain will run off to). Stake down with rebar if you decide to.

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