Raised Beds

(Question)

I am planning to put in raised beds in my vegtable garden.

How high do you recommend making them?
how large (the whole plot is 10×16) so I am trying to decide how many would be best?
what material to use? I was imagining using cedar.
do you recommend putting gravel at bottom to increase drainage?

ps. this website looks really different than where I used to go where I had to log in. Has that site been removed?

(Answer)

Congratulations on deciding to have a vegetable garden. More and more people are turning to home-grown vegetables and making space for them … sometimes, beautifully, mixed right in with their ornamentals!

Raised beds are wonderful for several reasons:

  • You can ensure your vegetable beds have the best soil possible since you have provided it
  •  They provide superb drainage … without needing to put gravel in the bottom
  • The soil is never compacted since you don’t step on it
  • They are ready to plant (and harvest) earlier than you think, since they thaw and dry out quickly in the spring
  • That means that you can get 2-3 harvests, by replacing early season crops, such as peas, with later season crops such as tomatoes
  • They require much less maintenance, because grass does not encroach on them, they are less likely to be weedy and usually, you plant them more densely than in a conventional row garden, thus crowding out the weeds
  • And the higher they are, the easier tending them is on your knees and back!

Cedar is an excellent choice of material, since it is very long-lasting in wet conditions. It is more expensive than other woods, however, so your decision of how high to make the beds, i.e., how many boards you stack, may depend on your budget.

The decision of how high to make them is entirely up to you. The most common plank size is called 1 x 8. In fact, the real measure is 3/4  x  7 1/4  inches or 19  x 184 mm. One board height of 7 1/4 inches (184 mm) will still provide you with the benefits listed above. Three boards high, 21 3/4 inches or 55 cm, will allow you to garden while seated. In fact, some gardeners build edge seats onto their tall beds.

As for how big the beds should be, that again is your choice as long as you can reach to the centre of the bed easily … that’s about a 4 foot width or less. Make sure to allow sufficient walking space between them beds.

Note that in raised beds, you can grow a LOT of vegetables in a small space. An Ohio State University study found that you can get double the product in this fashion, because all the soil is used for growing plants, not for paths: “In a traditional home garden, good management may yield about .6 pounds of vegetables per square foot. Records of production over three years in a raised bed at Dawes Arboretum near Newark, Ohio, indicate an average of 1.24 pounds per square foot, more than double the conventional yield.”  Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet, Horticulture and Crop Science

If this is your first vegetable garden, you might want to start with just 1 bed next year and decide whether to build others, once you’ve experience your first growing season.

And yes, you are right; this is a new web site! It is easier for the public to find and enables us to provide a lot more information that our old forum question and answer page did. Take a look at our Gardening Tips and Gardening Guides, for example, as well as checking the Events calendar to see where we might be hosting an Advice Clinic or making a presentation near you. Entering a search term, such as vegetable, in the Find It Here search box makes it easy to find all the information about that subject that has been posted to any part of the site.

Thanks for visiting and come back soon.