Sheila Reynolds and her husband, Lowell Paul, started growing fruits and vegetables at their rural Douglas County home nearly 30 years ago, but they only recently created raised planting beds in their garden. The new beds help the couple maximize garden space and overcome challenges with poor soil, and Reynolds thinks the transformed garden is easier to weed and water than the traditional vegetable garden they had previously.
This year is the third season since Reynolds and Paul built wooden frames and filled them with soil and compost to create a planting area 6 to 8 inches above the soil surface.
“Adding soil is the way to go,” Reynolds says. “I like the raised beds because I can make that area really nice with soil and compost.”
By keeping the beds less than 4 feet wide, Reynolds also avoids walking and kneeling on the now-fluffy soil. Most gardeners prefer beds that are 4 feet-by-8 feet or 4 feet-by-10 feet for ease of planting and care.
Sweet corn and green beans, laden with the fruits of Reynolds’ labor, are testament to how well vegetables can grow in such an environment. Both crops are planted densely to shade the soil surface and lessen the number of weeds. Mulching also helps keep weed seeds from getting the light they need to germinate.
Landscape fabric covers the soil surface between the beds to keep weeds from growing there. There is also a sturdy wood and wire mesh fence that Paul built to deter rabbits and deer from the garden, and Reynolds keeps a small border of gravel on the outside of the fence to ease the mowing and weeding. By mowing a pass around the outside of the garden with the mower chute aimed away from the garden, Reynolds is able to keep most of the weed and grass seeds from the lawn away from the garden beds. Landscape fabric underneath the gravel holds the rock in place.
Blackberries, prime for picking, lean against the inside of the fence on one side, and cucumbers grow up the fence opposite. The fence structure also supports peas each spring.
Reynolds also grows tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, basil and squash in raised beds and rotates them with the corn and beans to reduce disease. Since the blackberries, raspberries and strawberries are all perennial crops, they each have beds of their own. Asparagus and dill also grace the perimeter of the garden.
When considering building your own raised beds, identify a location with at least a half day of sun, a water source nearby, and some protection from damaging winds. Reynolds is lucky to have trees on the south and west sides of her garden that are close enough to block some of the prevailing winds, but far enough away that they only shade the lawn surrounding the garden.
— Jennifer Smith is the Douglas County Extension Agent – Horticulture for K-State Research and Extension. Contact her or an Extension Master Gardener with your gardening questions at 843-7058 or firstname.lastname@example.org.