Ask a Question forum: Raised Garden Beds Newbie

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Name: Bree Lorenz
All life is precious
Apr 23, 2017 12:49 PM CST
Hi everyone! I am new here and I am very new to gardening. The most I have ever planted (with varying success) are tomatoes and herbs, and my beloved coleus. We are a retired military family, so finally being settled in one place has opened up more opportunities to garden. I'm so excited!

Today we built ten 4 by 4 raised beds out of cedar but we did not fill them with dirt yet as it started to rain. We live in Virginia. In late March we sowed seeds of varying vegetables and herbs.

I would very much welcome any and all advice on what to watch out for, how to do things.. just any advice you would like to give to a new gardener of raised beds, just anything you can think of. Thank you all so much.


Name: Philip Becker
Fresno California (Zone 8a)
Apr 23, 2017 7:50 PM CST
That's great Bree. ! Hurray!
Give us your zone in your profile, to help us. Ok ?
Let us know what your growing, and problems, your having. Picture's, also help alot.
Welcome to the gardening family 😁!
Anything i say, could be misrepresented, or wrong.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
Frugal Gardener Garden Procrastinator I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest
Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database.
Apr 24, 2017 6:07 PM CST
Welcome to, Bree!

Plant things that you like to eat! (Well, some things are terrible from the supermarket but great fresh, so you do have to experiment a little. Consider "snap peas". Even sweeter than snow pea pods. Cherry tomatoes. Not all lettuce is tasteless!)

Maybe you already know that a lot of gardening time is spent pulling weeds. If you don't pull ONE weed before it flowers and goes to seed, next year you'll have 20 to 200 extra weeds to pull. Try to pull or at least hoe weeds before they go to seed!

And never put a SEEDED weed into your compost heap. I did that one year. The next year, I had a BUMPER crop of that weed in every bed. Burn those or throw them away! (Probably the commercial composting companies that turn municipal waste into compost get it hot enough to kill weed seeds and plant diseases - I hope.)

Weed seeds won't sprout if they never see the Sun. Try to keep several inches of mulch on top of the soil, to reduce the amount of weeding you'll have to do. If you hoe without mulch, you might kill 20 weeds, but you'll disturb the soil over several square feet. Without mulch, that exposes NEW weed seeds to sunlight, and they say "OK, it's my turn now!". Someone called the top few inches of soil "the weed seed bank".

organic Mulch:
- wood chips large enough to let rain flow right through
- bark chips large enough to let rain flow right through
- straw, hay, chopped leaves
- pine needles

Mulch has many benefits:
- keeps the soil cooler during the day and warmer at night
- keeps soil moister by reducing evaporation
- prevents rain and watering from hitting the soil hard, so the soil doesn't develop a crust
- all of the above also benefit worms
- when rain hits hard, or plants flop over and lay on the ground, a thick layer of clean mulch keeps soil-borne plant diseases away from your plants. And leafy vegetables stay cleaner, so they are easier to prepare for salad.
- As mulch breaks down, it releases organic matter into the soil.

To be fertile and encourage plants, soil must contain many kinds of living things, from bacteria and fungi through worms. All those living things need to eat. All they have to eat is the organic matter in soil. You have to keep replenishing that organic matter.

("If you feed the soil, the soil will feed your plants.")

Adding compost to soil adds organic matter quickly. Add a layer of compost a few inches thick, twice a year if you can get that much compost. You can turn it under, or let the Fall layer of top-dressed compost just dissolve over the winter.

Some people skip the "compost heap" step and put coffee grounds, lawn clippings and kitchen scraps right into the soil: spot composting, trench composting and sheet composting. You can rake aside your mulch, lay down some compost-raw-materials between rows of plants, and cover it back up with mulch. But don't do that with any mulch that local critters might dig up to eat. They'll dig your plants right along with it.

But I like to compost the raw materials in a heap so I get to see the beautiful "black gold" before I feed it to my soil microbes. I also don;t have to worry about how fast it will break down if I go through a heap first.

P.S. I like the idea of many small beds. But I like very narrow beds, so I can reach across the whole bed from just one side. Like 3' x 5' instead of 4' x 4'. Or even 2 1/2 feet wide. Or incredibly narrow, like a large container.

Thumb of 2017-04-25/RickCorey/c7389f

Thumb of 2017-04-25/RickCorey/32d6b0

When I make a bed too wide, it's hard for me to plant and harvest in the middle:

Thumb of 2017-04-25/RickCorey/10cfea

You can make a raised bed "more raised" if you dig a trench around it, anywhere from 6" to 2' deep. Maybe use that soil IN the bed, after amending it. Now your feet are a foot or so lower than they were before, and maybe the top of the bed is 6-12" taller. You hardly have to bend over at all, AND the soil has even better drainage. But if your walls pass water too easily (like concrete paving stones), you might want to line your walls with plastic to keep the corners and edges from drying out too fast.

Good luck, and please keep adding to the thread as you gain experience with your beds. Both updates and further questions are welcomed!

And everyone loves photos. Those photos that people take right after weeding and cleaning up make me feel like a slacker! The photos with weeds and pet damage feel more homey and recognizable.

If you feel the thread gets too long for the "Q&A Forum", you can use the "Suggest a Change" button at the bottom of the thread to move the whole thread to another forum. People who have been "Watching" the thread will automatically be re-directed to the new location (I'm pretty sure of that.)

Name: Elaine
Sarasota, Fl
The one constant in life is change
Cat Lover Master Gardener: Florida Tropicals Multi-Region Gardener Vegetable Grower Region: Florida
Herbs Orchids Birds Garden Ideas: Level 2 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
Apr 24, 2017 8:55 PM CST
Could you possibly post some pictures of the raised beds you built? Also if you would please fill in your profile with your location in the world, that will help us a lot to advise you.

A couple of small things to add, be sure your raised beds aren't situated on top of tree roots. The trees will send their roots up into your beds and starve your vegetables by stealing all the fertilizer and water. Also you want your beds to be in full sun if possible so again keep them away from the trees.

Be sure you have a good water supply close by, too. Vegetables need water every day in hot weather to produce well. Water in the mornings, deeply. This way the plants can dry off during the day and not sit all night with water on the leaves. Wet leaves on warm nights are an invitation to lots of fungal woes for some plants.

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: stone
near Macon Georgia (USA) (Zone 8a)
Plant Identifier Garden Sages Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
Apr 25, 2017 7:43 AM CST
Welcome to the site, Bree.
I checked your other post, and those seeds sound great.

Where do you plan to get the soil for your raised beds?

I don't know about virginia, but... Around here, it helps to work the native soil in the bottom of the box before adding any new soil.

Most people don't, because they are trying to get out of work.... Problem is.... Plants can't send their roots down into that hard pan, and any watering you do hits that layer and just runs out along the top of the ground....

As you've already done some gardening.... The new beds shouldn't prove too surprising...

Ditto on grow what you eat.... Personally I grow a lot of melons.... Of course, not in cedar beds....

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