Saturday, November 29, 2008

So What Is Raised Bed Gardening?

I became an avid fan of raised bed gardening when I moved to the Ozarks in 2000. I grew up in the fertile soil of southern Illinois. Needless to say, the rocky, clay based soil of the Ozarks was quite a disappointment. One need only spend a couple of hours in the yard with a pick, trying to break up rocks, to realize the advantage of growing vegetables in a raised bed.At the most basic level, raised bed gardening involves growing plants above ground. Through the use of special techniques, growing beds, soils, and fertilizers, the raised bed gardener creates the ideal growing environment without ever digging into the actual ground. Raised beds can be built directly on top of the ground, or in some sort of frame placed on legs, sawhorses, etc. A box can even be built into decks, porches, etc. The main idea here is NO DIGGING!Raised beds come in many different shapes and sizes. In my own particular garden, I have raised beds that are 4' x 4", 2' x 8', and 4' x 8'. I am sure there are many other varieties as well. The size of the raised bed is typically dictated by the ability of the gardener to effectively reach across the space. I can comfortably reach across a 4' bed without hurting my back.Raised bed gardening is also a departure from traditional gardening in its use of compact space. Traditional gardens are planted in rows, and can require a lot of space. Raised bed gardens attempt to make better use of space by planting in squares and rectangles.This makes raised bed gardening ideal for small yards. I have even seen great gardens raised on the back porch of apartments. A 4' x 4' bed only takes up 16 sq. ft.Special soils are used in raised bed gardening, in order to maximize the amount of vegetables that can be grown in the small space. Typical ingredients may include potting soil, top soil, compost, leaves, fertilizers, vermiculite, cotton seed hulls, and many other things. The special soil is designed to be very rich in the nutrients needed to grow so many plants in such a small space. In addition, it is designed to be very loose, so plants can root themselves deeply. In small raised beds, the grower typically does not step or stand on the soil. Hence, the soil tends to be less compacted, and easier on root growth.Raised bed gardening also makes it possible for the average gardener to extend the normal growing season. It is very easy to build a simple greenhouse or "cold frame' over the top of the bed. The greenhouse holds in moisture and heat. Special underlining can help to keep the soil warmer. I am writing this article two days before Thanksgiving, and I still have a productive garden in my 4' x 8' greenhouse. Here in the Ozarks, we are consistently dropping below freezing every night!Slainte,Ray ProvinceThe Celtic Ozark Garden

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