Raised Bed Gardening

One Key to Success is Soil Preparation

Creating a raised bed can bring out the artist, the chef or the mathematician in us. Now is a great time to create the ideal design and concoct the perfect soil.

Construction and Design Inspiration

The great thing about designing a raised bed is that you can be as structured or as imaginative as you like. Create beautiful geometric designs with a range of shapes from simple squares and rectangles or more elaborate L-shaped beds, diamonds or octagons. Remember doing dot-to-dot pictures as a kid?

Creating a raised bed is like bringing a dot-to-dot picture to life in your garden. Plot it out and then fill it in.

If a practical approach is preferred, find a kit at your local do-it-yourself center or online. A simple square is easy to construct yourself at any size or height. You can find specific guidelines for size and depth or you can build to suit your need. An average size is 4’ x 4’ with a minimum depth of 6 inches of soil. Cedar wood is best for the walls because of its rot resistant qualities, but kits also come in durable composite and plastic.

Creating the Ideal Soil

The key to successful raised bed gardening is soil preparation. This is where the cook in me gets excited! Here’s my recipe for soil that works great for vegetables and herbs. Like in the kitchen, this recipe can be followed to a “T,” or combined with your own experience and finessed.

Topsoil– Topsoil is the staple, like flour in a cake. Whatever you do, don’t scrimp on this ingredient. Poor quality topsoil often contains weeds and herbicides. Visually inspect the soil and avoid purchasing it if there are signs of salt crusting on surface, the soil is hard and doesn’t crumble easily, if it feels gritty (indicates sandy) or sticky (indicates clay), and color is light or white (contains salt or lime).

Compost – Everyone has their favorite, and mine is cotton burr. It’s loaded with nutrients and a wide range of micro-organisms so important to a sustainable organic environment. This compost is made from cotton plants. As cotton grows, it absorbs nutrients that end up in pods called “bolls” or “burrs” that are not used and end up as “trash” that has become garden “treasure.” It has twice the nutrient value as manure composts but with no e-coli issues.

Vermiculite– This ingredient helps seeds germinate, stimulates root growth, and helps plant anchorage and nutrient intake. It also aids in watering. Since you are creating the ideal soil rather than combatting a poor soil, you don’t use as much. Just sprinkle it in, like adding salt to a recipe.

Worm Castings– This is my secret super ingredient. Worm castings are a concentrated natural fertilizer that won’t burn your plants. They contain excellent soluble mineral content, thus making vegetables and herbs flourish. This is the most expensive ingredient on my list so I add it last, only applying it to the area where roots will be growing rather than adding it to the whole soil mixture.