Raised Framed Garden Beds

(Question)

I would like to speak to someone who has experience in creating raised framed garden beds. It’s for a community garden project. I am helping by consulting on what  to grow in the way of herbs and low maintenance plants. They’ve hired a contractor.  I’m interested in discussing practical things like what materials should be used and the size of the beds, and any issues like that.

 

(Answer)

You are involved in a movement that is gaining momentum in the GTA. Community Gardening brings like minded people together. They take part in the decision making and getting a garden established and maintaining it. Good luck with being part of this venture.

The most common material used for making raised beds is lumber. Since your raised beds will be used to grow edibles, you should steer clear of wood preserved with toxins. Avoid creosote-treated railroad ties and pressure treated wood. Opt instead for naturally rot-resistant cedar or redwood.

Soil is the key to successful gardening in raised beds. Fill the bed with a customized soil-and-compost blend. Organically rich soil encourages the growth of healthy, extensive roots that are able to reach more nutrients and water. Drainage is built into the bed walls, which hold the soil in place to keep erosion in check. A raised bed greatly increases exposure to the sun which warms up the bed and extends the growing season. Raising the  level of the garden by even a foot makes it easier for jobs such as planting, weeding and harvesting. Keep a compost heap and when the material has decomposed return to your soil, so that you are continually adding nutrients.

A 3 x 6-ft bed should be wide enough but narrow enough to reach easily from both sides. The ideal height would be 1 to 2 ft tall. Do not fill the bed with soil from the area as it probably will be contaminated. Being able to reach the plants easily means the soil does not get compacted by treading all over it.

In a community garden obviously you will build more than one bed, which makes it easier to rotate crops and meet the watering needs of specific plants. Leave at least 18 in. between beds for walkways, or 2ft if you need room for a wheelbarrow or lawnmower.  The number of beds depends on the size of your lot. Prepare the site by getting rid of grass and weeds before building the beds and make sure that the ground is level.

Herbs enjoy a sheltered, sunny position and well drained soil. Raised beds are just perfect for growing herbs. Good choices would be parsley, chives, thyme and rosemary. Visit http://www.torontomastergardeners.ca/gardeningguides/growing-herbs-a-toronto-master-gardeners-guide/ for further information.

Gardening in raised beds is a popular topic and the Toronto Master Gardeners have answered numerous questions, which are posted on our website. Please visit www.torontomastergardeners.ca and search the topic “raised beds”.  You will find really useful information in the responses. The City of Toronto has information on community gardens on their website. The Toronto Community Garden Network (www.tcgn.ca) may also prove helpful.

Here are a few books worthy of checking out:

“Raised Bed Gardening: how to grow more in less space” by Simon Akeroyd. 2016

“Raised Bed Revolution: build it, fill it, plant it, garden anywhere” by Tara Nolan. 2016

“Building Raised Beds: easy, accessible garden space for vegetables and flowers” by Fern Marshall Bradley. 2015