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If you have been thinking of starting a vegetable garden, consider building or buying a raised bed.Raised beds are popular for a variety of reasons. They drain faster than typical garden beds due to their height — a real advantage during periods of heavy rain like we have seen this month. And, overall, raised beds are more attractive and easier to maintain than traditional in-ground beds. With careful management, they can even be more productive than typical garden beds.As a result, they are becoming increasingly popular in home vegetable gardening. They are particularly useful if you are gardening in a situation where the drainage is poor or the existing soil is unsuitable for growing vegetables. It’s also a great way to garden with kids, as it is less physically demanding.There are many other ways to grow vegetables in a home garden, including traditional in-ground gardens with raised rows, container gardens and even hydroponic gardens. No matter which you choose, though, it's time to get it done.We are reaching the end of the ideal season for planting many popular vegetables that produce in the late spring and early summer, such as tomatoes, bell peppers, snap beans, squash and cucumbers.Planting now is important for a number of reasons. Many vegetables, such as tomatoes and snap beans, set better crops during the milder weather of April and May than they will later on, when it is intensely hot. And delaying planting vegetables often means dealing with more insect and disease problems.
A combination of raised-bed sizes adds interest to the area.
Building upwardRaised beds are generally built about 12 inches high but may be higher. Raised beds can be built up high enough to sit on the edge while you garden and are particularly easy on the back. They can allow gardeners with physical limitations or those who can no longer do the physical work involved with traditional beds to continue gardening.The bed should generally be no wider than your ability to comfortably reach the middle when standing just outside the bed. For most adults, a bed 3 to 4 feet wide is best. The reason for this is to avoid walking in the bed once it is planted. Walking in the bed compacts the soil. You should be able to plant, weed and harvest while standing outside the bed and reaching in. The length of the bed is up to you.Many kits to build raised gardens are available in stores and online, or you can construct your own with a variety of materials: landscape timbers, bricks, cinder blocks, plastic lumber, rot-resistant wood like cedar and redwood or pressure-treated boards (2-inch-by-12-inch boards work well).
These beds are high enough to allow the gardener to sit on the edge of the structure while working with the plants.
Rot and termites are real concerns, so using rot- and termite-resistant materials, such as pressure-treated wood, plastic lumber and cinder blocks, will create a more permanent raised bed. The bottom of the raised bed is left open — the sides simply sit on the existing ground. This ensures good drainage.If you are constructing a raised bed in a lawn area, we usually build the bed and then dig out the lawn grass or kill it with a herbicide like glyphosate. If you use a herbicide, the dead grass does not need to be removed before adding the soil.The growing mediumFilling raised beds may be done with the sandy alluvial soil deposited here by the Mississippi River. Choose pumped sand or river sand, and avoid spillway sand because it is more likely to contain weeds. Pumped sand and river sand are fertile, very fine loam soils, but they are low in organic matter. This lack of organic matter is what makes river sand light in color. These soils are also low in nitrogen and have a slightly alkaline pH. Adding organic matter and fertilizer is important.To fill a raised bed 12 inches high, add about 7 inches of river sand, then the general purpose fertilizer (choose one with a 3:1:2 or 4:1:2 ratio, like 15-5-10). You may also use a blended organic fertilizer with a similar ratio.Finally, spread about 3 inches of organic matter (compost, mushroom compost, aged manure, etc.), and thoroughly incorporate the organic matter and fertilizer into the soil. Now it's ready to be planted. The soil level should be a couple of inches below the edge of the sides. This facilitates watering. And, remember, you need space for the mulch you will cover the soil with.
Raised beds, like this one for snap beans and tomatoes, can be constructed from many materials, including landscape timbers, bricks, cinder blocks, plastic lumber, rot-resistant wood like cedar and redwood or pressure treated boards (2-inch by 12-inch boards work well).
Instead of blending your own soil mix (river sand plus organic matter), you might choose to purchase a blended soil mix from a local company or nursery. Selecting a quality topsoil or garden soil is very important. Before purchasing a blended soil mix ask about what was mixed together to make the soil mix and in what proportions, the pH of the soil mix, levels of major nutrients and salts levels.The organic matter, such as ground pine bark, wood chips, rice hulls, etc., should be well composted. If it’s not, you may see vegetable plants that look stunted, grow poorly and are yellowish or show nutrient deficiency symptoms.With the soil mix, you won’t need to add organic matter, but it is important to add fertilizer before you plant. Again, choose a fertilizer with about a 3:1:2 ratio (such as 15-5-10 or anything similar) to the blended soil before planting. Organic gardeners can add blood meal, cotton seed meal and/or alfalfa meal. This will ensure there is sufficient nitrogen in the soil for the plants, and will compensate for any nitrogen that may be tied up if the organic matter in the mix is still undergoing decomposition.For small-scale jobs, it is often easiest to purchase bagged soil mix from a nursery. For larger jobs, soil companies and some nurseries will sell you blended soil mixes by the cubic yard and deliver it (if your order is large enough), or you can often go and get it yourself if you have a pickup truck.A remarkable number of people have taken up home vegetable gardening since the pandemic began, and they've discovered the benefits of healthy exercise and fresh, homegrown vegetables. It’s not too late to plant your garden or start a new one, but at this point the sooner the better.
Raised beds ORG XMIT: NO.Raisedbeds.io.042421
Jeff Strout 2021
PLANT NOWVegetables to plant in late April include cantaloupe, corn, cucumber, cucuzza, cushaw, honeydew, lima beans, luffa, Malabar spinach, mirliton (plant sprouted fruit), okra, pumpkin, snap beans, Southern peas, squashes, sweet potato (plant rooted cuttings), Swiss chard and watermelon. Plant transplants of tomato, peppers and eggplant.
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Dan Gill is a retired consumer horticulture specialist with the LSU AgCenter. He hosts the “Garden Show” on WWL-AM Saturdays at 9 a.m. Email gardening questions to [email protected]
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