Gardening in raised beds has become increasingly popular in recent years not least of all because it can solve so many gardening challenges. Got terrible soil? Not a problem when you add exactly the right soil mix to the bed. Problems with rabbits? Only super-athletic rabbits will get into beds 18" or taller. Find bending difficult? Since raised beds are taller you won't have to lean down as far.
However, there is a common misconception that all raised beds are equal but that simply isn't true. One size does NOT fit all so it is important to identify what your personal gardening challenges are and design a bed to suit.
Whether you garden on hard rocky soil, fast draining sandy soil or solid clay that is saturated in winter but dries out completely in summer you've clearly discovered by now that growing a wide range of vegetables is virtually impossible. Creating a raised bed is the easiest solution but how high should it be?
If you are only interested in growing a few salad leaves and baby radish a 6" soil depth is adequate, but if you plan to grow root crops such as parsnips then 6" is too shallow (my parsnips often exceed 12" long). I recommend 10-12" depth if the beds are on native soil which is nice and loose like mine. If your native soil is of the "too rocky/too sandy" variety then consider 15" tall beds.
Ease of reach
You will want to be able to work with a variety of different tools in your bed; a rake and hoe for soil preparation, a hand trowel, dibber and row markers for planting and probably a short digging fork for harvesting. When you decide how tall to make your raised bed be sure to consider this. A 30" tall bed is wonderful for harvesting salad and beetroot by hand but would you be comfortable digging up potatoes at that height? Try it and see – can you get the leverage you'd need? Perhaps 1' tall is optimal?
Ease of reach is also about how well you can reach the middle of the raised bed. Many designs are 4' wide but is that best for you?
My beds are 3' wide and 12" high. I can kneel (or sit on a little stool)at the side of the bed and comfortably reach in 18" to plant seeds. That means I can easily reach the middle of a 3' wide bed from either side. A 4' wide bed is too much of a stretch for me. Again, take a few minutes to test these dimensions before you commit to building or buying a raised bed.
Are you thinking of growing beans or peas on trellises? If your bed is 2' tall and you add 5' trellis you'll need a ladder to harvest! You may be OK with that – but do take time to consider it.
Would you like to build your own?
We can help! My husband Andy and I teach an online class for Craftsy called Building A Raised Bed Garden – and you can win it for FREE.
In this seven part video class we take you through everything from site preparation and materials selection to tips to help you make the most of every square inch of your planting space. Andy teaches a great lesson on setting up an easy drip irrigation system that can be adapted to each bed, each crop and each season and we also show you how to adjust the basic bed design to accommodate a simple hoop frame.
Now you can protect against weather and insects to further extend the harvesting season and improve productivity.
Seriously you can do this – Andy makes it so easy! Design the raised bed that works best for you then build it yourself with our help.
What's so special about Craftsy? Their videos are exceptionally high quality, your subscription never expires, you can interact with fellow students and your instructors and if you're not satisfied Craftsy will refund your money! What's to lose?
Our new class goes live on April 13th but right now you can enter to win the class for free.
Just click on the photo above to be entered. The giveaway ends midnight PST April 12th 2015.
Get ready to grow an abundance of healthy vegetables and fruit this year.
CONGRATULATIONS to the winner Ena Ronanyne!
Didn't win? Well how about a consolation prize; click here to get up to 50% off my class .
Photo credit; Craftsy. Location; garden of Susi and Jose Torre Bueno, San Diego