Photo: Broadforking a raised bed in the spring. Photo courtesy of Susquehanna Farm School.
Many of you have seen typical raised beds – neat and tidy, 4′ x 4′, surrounded by lumber. You build the frame, you fill it with compost/soil and you plant. Easy, right? Easy, except for the cost. Lumber can get pricey, depending on how many of these beds you plan to install. Soil and compost might cost money as well. Is there another way?
Some people get creative and try to up cycle other materials – tires, logs, railroad ties – however, these materials have the potential to leach toxic chemicals into your soil. Not a good thing when growing vegetables.
But not to worry, you have other options. Many gardeners are creating raised beds with little more than a rake and a shovel. Simply determine the width you require for a pathway, dig out that soil, and pile it up next to you in the future raised bed. According to Brandon Tennis of Susquehanna Farm School you want the finished bed to be a minimum of 3′ across. Pathways are typically the width of a wheelbarrow.
This process, although time-consuming at first has several benefits. Water conservation and management is a concern for every gardener. “By creating the raised beds in line with the natural contour of the land, they create a swale effect that will direct the water to where I want it and hold it there as it seeps into the ground from the uphill side of the bed, essentially watering the mound from underneath.” – Jon Darby, farm manager at the Horn Farm Center in York, PA.
While rigid construction is not used, these beds become permanent with the addition of compost and mulch over the years. The soil structure remains intact as the need to rototill is diminished. Microbes begin to establish and your soil comes to life. Jon also says “raised beds also give clearly defined boundaries of where to walk and not walk, keeping the planting areas from getting too compacted by foot travel.”
For those who want a slightly different approach – hugelkultur beds have been popping up in the area. While this approach is a topic for another post you can read more about the process here -