Raised bed vegetable gardening is popular because the beds can be more accessible.
They provide for less stooping, supply a solution for poorly drained sites, allow the soil to be amended easily to give better growing conditions, and may be placed in small spaces. The produce harvested would add more servings of vegetables to a meal and help stretch the dollars budgeted for food.
Beds are usually raised at least 6 to 8 inches from the surface. It may be higher if it makes it more accessible for harvesting and removing weeds. A frame to support the soil may be constructed of wood, stone, concrete block, brick or recycled plastic boards, or soil may be mounded without a rigid structure.
Bed sizes vary. They are typically constructed no more than 4 feet wide since this allows for easy reaching into the bed from either side. By not walking in the beds, soil compaction is avoided, which allows plants to grow better. Maintaining an aisle of 2 to 4 feet between beds allows easy access with tools, hose reels, chairs or wheelchairs.
Full sun is the best location for vegetable garden. However, many vegetables will produce a good crop with 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight a day. Locate a bed away from trees if possible so that the roots will not grow into the bed and compete with the vegetables for water and nutrients. Do not place gardens near black walnut (Juglans nigra) trees since walnuts produce a compound in their roots, shoots and leaves that is toxic to many plants, including several vegetables.
To make life easier, locate your beds where water is readily available since raised beds dry out quickly and require more frequent watering than conventional gardens.
In preparing soil for the bed, adding components such as organic matter and porous material will improve soil structure. An ideal soil for raised beds consists of equal volumes of good garden soil, organic matter such as compost, peat moss, and porous material like vermiculite or perlite. If good garden soil is not available, substitute additional organic matter. Add lime and fertilizer as recommended by a soil test of the finished soil mix. In the absence of a soil test, 1 to 2 pounds of a complete fertilizer such as 10-20-10 per 100 square feet is usually adequate.
There are several ways to plant your bed. You may choose to plant in rows within the bed, or simply group similar plants together by maturation time or height. Keep in mind that diversity in plants will promote a more stable ecosystem. Monoculture, or grouping together of the same or closely related crops, may encourage more pest and disease issues. Plant diversity tends to encourage more beneficial insects and microorganisms in the planting area. You may even want to include a few flowers in your garden to increase the diversity of plants being grown.