The Q&A Archives: Building Raised Beds

Question: I am building 2 raised gardens in the corners of my yard along interior fence corners. Each has varying sunlight - 1 8 hrs - the other 3-5 hours. What is the best soil compost/manure mix ratio for the new gardens...the best draining material for the bottom of the enclosures...etc? I have access to all materials necessary and want to start off correctly. I'll be planting tomatoes - strawberries - carrots - parsley - and basil...any help is appreciated.

Answer: Good for you! It sounds like a great project!

First of all, you want to make sure the planters are well drained, so they shouldn't have bottoms--that is, they should be set right on the ground. If the soil is compacted you can loosen it with a garden fork or even till it. You don't need to remove the sod, since it will be smothered. It will add nutrients as it decays. If your soil is heavy, you could add a few inches of sand or gravel in the bottom of the container to facilitate drainage.

I'd start out with a mix of good topsoil and compost (or composted manure) -- about a 70/30 mix. You can then add more compost each year.

I'd plant the tomatoes and strawberries in the sunniest spot; the others can withstand a little less sunlight -- though all would grow better in full sun.

One thing to consider is whether or not to use pressure-treated wood for the beds. There is some controversy over the safety of p/t wood around food crops, and I prefer not to use it. There are a number of alternatives, including rot-resistant wood, concrete blocks, stone, and plastic "wood". Just thought I'd mention it.

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