by Kate Gardner, Planet Natural.
As you plan your garden for this year, think about building some raised beds. Raised bed gardening improves drainage, uses space more efficiently, increases yield, and simplifies the control of weeds and pests.
1. The soil is usually superior to that in row gardens in part because it never gets stepped on and is not compacted. Filling beds usually becomes an opportunity to get high-quality soil and to fine-tune the mix of fertilizer and amendments.
2. You can mix the soil to your own specifications, creating a fine loam even where clay or sandy soil prevails.
3. A raised bed warms up more quickly than does the surrounding soil in spring, so it’s possible to plant in them earlier than in a flat bed. The light soil improves the movement of both water and air, and roots can spread out in search of nutrients more easily than in compacted dirt. It’s therefore possible to plant a raised bed more densely than one would the same amount of space in a traditional garden, which translates into higher yields.
4. The walls of most raised beds create at least a partial block to many blowing seeds and to most rhizomous plants. Where aggressive weeds are a problem, raised beds can be established on top of a layer of weed cloth, blocking roots out completely. When sequential planting and cover crops are used, ensuring that there is no bare dirt for weeds to colonize, weed problems drop off to almost nothing.
5. A good soil mix should eliminate the need for deep digging. To add nutrients, compost can be laid over the top of the bed in spring and fall; worms will do the mixing work. Slow release fertilizers can be mixed with the compost in fall or dug into the top few inches of soil in spring or between crops. Liquid fertilizers can also be applied as foliar sprays.
6. Water use in raised beds can be reduced by building a tight, solid structure lined with impermeable plastic, and by using drip hoses or similar systems rather than sprinklers. Drip systems put water where it’s needed, near the roots, which reduces loss through evaporation.Good watering practices also make a difference. These include watering only in early morning or evening, only when plants really need it, and always to a depth of six to ten inches.