The Q&A Archives: Starting a Garden

Question: I plan on starting a garden this spring. I have between 400 and 500 sq.ft. of space to utilize. Should I just till the area up, should I till it and make raised beds, or I have seen some round, pyramidal, metal raised beds in the gardening magazines? The advantage of the round, raised beds is convenience. I have good, well drained area to start a garden on with good light. Money is not too big of an issue. I appreciate any advice you might have.

Answer: It sounds like you are a first-time gardener--and my advice to new gardeners is always to start with a manageable area. 500 sq. ft is a pretty big plot for a new vegetable garden--are you sure you want to go that big the first year? (Or is it a perennial/shrub garden--you didn't mention what plants you'll be using.)<br><br>The benefits of raised beds is that they warm up more quickly in the spring, provide better drainage (not a problem in your case), don't require as much tilling, and require a little less bending over. The drawbacks are that, once they're built, it's hard to change your mind, they require a good deal of work to construct, and can get expensive. My suggestion to you would be to build a few raised beds, and keep the rest of the garden as is. You can create small raised beds by simply raking the soil into long, flat-topped mounds--that's what I do. This way, you can start to get a feel for what you want to plant, how to best arrange the beds, and how difficult it will be to change the rest to raised beds. As far as those round, metal raised beds--that's really an aesthetic decision. I don't know of any particular benefit to them beyond those for a regular raised bed.<br><br>Before you dig in (and in Minnesota, it will be some time yet before you can till), I suggest you get a gardening book or two. "Gardening for Dummies" (forgive the title) by the editors here at NGA, is a good all-around reference. (And of course National Gardening magazine is a great resource!) <br><br>And finally, consider carefully what materials you use to build raised beds. There is conflicting evidence about whether using pressure treated wood is safe in the garden--especially for edibles. I prefer not to use it; there are other alternatives like rot-resistant woods (cedar, hemlock), recycled plastic "lumber", stone, etc.

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