This article originally ran in the Ruston Daily Leader on August 2, 2011.
Thinking about vegetable gardening this spring? What about raised bed gardening? Traditionally, to fresh vegetables, we often thought that we had to have a back 40 or some large area to plant, along with equipment such as a tractor or tiller, which is not necessarily true. A garden salad can be produced in small raised bed, 4 feet by 4 feet, or even in containers. This is what we are doing with school and community gardens throughout north Louisiana.
A raised bed garden can be as rustic or as contemporary as you like. Raised beds can be very inexpensive using recycled material or very expensive using decorative stones or bricks. One of the most important things to keep in mind is ease in garden maintenance. For instance, sometimes when you use a garden tiller to turn over soil, you later battle weeds, which can be very discouraging. By building raised beds, you can combat the weed problem from the start. The typical size of a raised bed is approximately 10 feet long and 4 feet wide.
The first thing in building a raised bed for vegetables is to locate the garden in as much sunlight as possible. The fruit-bearing crops, such as tomatoes, peppers and squash, need full sunlight for best production. Too much shade limits production, although the leafy vegetables will tolerate more shade than the root or fruit-bearing crops.
To suppress the weeds you can lay a weed mat on the ground or cover the small area with several layers of newspaper or cardboard. The weed mats are normally sold in garden centers and can be costly. However, they are very effective at preventing light from reaching grassy weeds and allowing your plants above the mat to thrive. The cardboard or newspaper can be recycled material. Once you have placed several layers of newspaper or cardboard to suppress the weeds, you can determine what to use as the side walls.
Side walls can be made of lumber, rubber borders, stones, bricks or anything that will hold soil. The height of the garden bed can be as high as you like. However, a 4-6 inch depth is sufficient to grow vegetables. Once you have established your side walls, you are ready to fill the bed with soil. Remember, you want to keep raised beds weed-free so be cautious when determining which soil to use. Gardening is no fun if you have to weed the garden each time you go out. Soil purchased in bags is normally free of unwanted weeds and can be handled easily. If you have a well-aged compost pile, this soil may be just what you need. Once you have filled your bed with soil, you are ready to figure out what you are going to plant.
A garden salad can be produced from the seeds of lettuce, radishes, spinach and carrots in just 45 days. Fall is just around the corner and is a great time to grow leafy vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, mustard, turnips and collards. Tomatoes and cucumber can be added next spring after danger of frost has passed. Remember, you do not have to have a back 40 or a garden tractor or tiller to grow your own salad.
For more information regarding this or any other horticultural topic please contact me.