Start your raised bed garden by converting your existing lawn area to a raised bed. We go thru all the steps from installing the beds, protecting it from critters and more in this article.
The new gardeners are all getting inspired and we have that for their very first gardening season. But with all the information that’s out there, how do you even know when to start? Today I’ll go through some of the basics for site selection, raised bed construction, your car and soil, and then finally, mulch.
Best Location for a Raised Bed Garden
Location is extremely important for when you set up your first garden to make sure that you have the best chance for success. So how do you find a location? Although the summer solstice is still a few months away, the sun is going to give you some helpful tips even now to let you know where the best place to put your garden is. This is less of a concern if you have a wide open area. But if you’re in a city like I am, there are plenty of things that can obstruct the sun.
On a sunny day, take three or four photos of your yard. These photos will let you know which areas are getting a lot of sun in which are being shaded. If you don’t have an area that in most of the photos is sunny, take a look for structures. Structures like fences, trees, and houses on the South side of your property will cast a shadow on the North end. If you are not sure where North and South are, most smartphones have a builtin compass that can help you.
Remember that all those structures on the South side of your yard are causing shadows right now. The sun will pass higher in the sky during the summer, reducing the extent of the shadowing, so look for an area that is shaded now, however, when the length of the shadow was reduced in summer and may become exposed to sunlight.
Another good indicator if you live in an area like me that has snow throughout most of the winter is where the snow melts first. This isn’t an indication that the sun is able to concentrate and melt bare first before it goes into other areas that are more dependent on say, ambient air temperature. In my yard during the winter, the sun crosses quite low in the sky and my house shades the garden most of the day.
However, with the sun higher in the sky, your kids 12 to 14 hours of direct sunlight during the summer. Optimally the area you pick should have a minimum of six to eight hours of direct sunlight. With my short season, more is better.
In Southern climates, closer to the equator. The sun can actually be quite damaging, so it’s my understanding that you may in fact want to shade your garden and I think it’s actually afternoons on that you want to shade it from.
If you have a wall of your house that’s facing itself and has limited obstructions from the sun and maybe worthwhile to plant your garden directly against your home. Your home will not only protect your plants, it will radiate heat back to them, and if you put a close to a door, you’ll be able to enjoy your garden just a little bit more as you come in and out of the house.
The Exact Location of Your Raised Bed Garden
You’ve now identified an area for which you can put the garden. It’s time to narrow that down to exactly where you want to put your garden bed. Look for an area that has a slight slope to a promote drainage but is relatively flat. Don’t worry if you have a hillside like I do in my backyard, you can still construct raised beds like I have. It just takes a little extra time. If you’re in the Southern hemisphere, picture the flip the instructions for North versus South.
Best Size for your Raised Bed Garden
Now that you know where to put your garden, it’s time to decide how big of an area you want. I recommend starting with a four foot by eight foot or 1.2 meter by 2.4 meter raised bed garden. Most people can reach two feet or 60 centimeters and with easy access on all sides, you should be able to reach everywhere in your garden without having to step on the soil.
Now that you have an area marked out and you know the size of garden you want, it’s time to figure out which style of gardening you want to employ. Generally speaking, when advising new gardeners, I always recommend raised bed gardening.
I think it is important to have a successful first year in order to inspire you to continue this great hobby. Raised beds have a number of benefits over in crown gardening that just make it a little easier to have a good year.
Some of the benefits of raised beds include better control of the soil, the chance for fewer weeds and the potential for fewer soil issues. I do realize that the cost to start a raised bed sometimes this is a little more than in grad gardening, however, I feel the investment as well worth it.
Moving forward to place bed gardening does not have to cost a lot. It is time to build your garden beds. Around the perimeter of my garden. I have selected to build them from two two by sixes or one two by eight or two by 12. I’ve tried as much as possible to reclaim wood, so the depths of vary.
All you really need is six to eight inches. Raised beds are fairly easy to put together here. I’ve used a four by four post in the corner just through the planks to. Again, I’ve tried to source scrap material as much as possible.
Woodworking corner brackets work fine as well. In my main beds, I use four by four by four by six posts. These are more expensive. However, as I don’t have access all the way around the garden beds, I need to be able to walk on them. The four inch surface instead of the two inch surface makes it easier and stronger. The posts are much simpler to attach together. You can simply pre-drill and screw them directly to each other.
If you don’t have access to reclaimed wood, I recommend using the cheapest lumber you can find at your local hardware store. In my case, it’s pine. Pine won’t last nearly as long as Cedar or some of the other hardwoods, but as you’re a new gardener and you’ll probably want to expand in the future, this will give you a little bit more flexibility while keeping the initial costs down. If you have successfully built your raise bed, now it’s time to fill it with soil.
Before you do, make sure to put as much cardboard or paper as you can in the bottom. If you avoid glossy print and tape. The cardboard will break down over time helping to kill off any plants and seeds below while feeding and drawing and local earthworms.
Don’t just fill your brand new raised beds with any old top soil. Make sure it’s a garden soil. I made this mistake when I first started gardening and I had all sorts of compaction and water and weed problems that resulted in extremely poor harvests.
If you have access or have made your own compost, this is the cheapest way to fill your garden beds, but most new gardeners have not been composting long enough to fill their new beds. Unfortunately, this is where the largest costs for your first year’s garden may come from. In order to keep the cost of filling your garden down, I recommend the following garden mixture.
If you have a garden center that sells compost in bulk, this is likely your cheapest option. If you don’t have access to a truck. I have used containers to transport my soil in my car.
So, what I do is I go with our house compost at up one part and then one part so I left potting mix. In order to keep the cost down, you can probably get some of the same benefits from going three parts, house compost and one part soilless potting mix if you like. Mixing the potting soil will help to hold moisture in there or making the mixture lighter so that reeds can easily go through it.
The compost will provide the nutrients to your plants throughout the growing season. Fill your raised beds nearly to the top, leaving a little space for mulch, give it a quick watering to let things settle in. Mulching is the practice of using organic material and simply laying it on top of the soil. It helps retain moisture during the summer while suppressing weeds and as it breaks down, it’ll bring in beneficial organisms like earthworms and provide nutrients to your plants.
Many of the mulch materials that I’ve used in the past are both free and local. I like to use fall leaves, used coffee crowns and wood chips. You’ve built your first garden. Congratulations.
Now it’s time to pick what you want to grow. I have some helpful tips in another article that I will share with you in a future article.