Building raised beds or using the new grow bags can help make your vegetable gardening a success. From controlling the type and quality of soil you use to increasing accessibility to tend and harvest your crops, both can make gardening this spring and summer a breeze.
Find areas in your yard that receive at least six hours of full sunlight during the growing season. Because we’ve outgrown our original vegetable garden, Rick and I have now reduced the area of our zoysia lawn to make way for more food – and rose – growing.
You can also build your own raised beds. We use 6-by-6-inch pressure-treated wood. That way we can determine the size that’s right for us. And because our back yard slopes, we can maximize our growing area while keeping the beds level.
We used one level of wood on the higher side of the yard and three on the lowest to keep them level. Then we lined the lower edge and both sides with heavy-duty plastic. The bottom of each bed is filled with several inches of gravel to aid in drainage.
If you don’t want to build your own from scratch, box retailers have pre-cut kits or you can use your building skills to cut and assemble lumber.
Typically, raised beds are a couple of feet wide. Plan the location, dig out a couple of inches of the existing soil if you like, then install the wooden sides.
Fill the beds with a mix of garden soil, composted organic matter and soil amendments. If the beds are large, purchase garden soil in bulk. We get Nutra-mix, a compost-like soil that’s heavy on organic matter. We may cut it with bags of garden soil from a box retailer.
As we prep the soil, we also mix in a general-purpose fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, and till or turn it in. Rake smooth.
Then you’re ready to plant tomatoes, herbs, eggplant, pepper seedlings and other spring crops. Be sure to allow plenty of space for them to grow and mature.
The soil’s not quite warm enough to start seeds outside until mid-May, when you can sow cucumbers, pole beans and squash directly into the garden. Read the package for spacing when planting seeds and remember that you’ll need to thin them in a couple of weeks, removing the weakest seedlings.
One of the newest gardening “inventions,” grow bags are exactly what they sound like: large bags made of flexible material and are sold by the volume of soil they can hold. “Grow Bag Gardening” author Kevin Espiritu provides excellent detail about how to choose bags and sizes.
He also suggests other “found” materials, such as burlap bags, reusable grocery bags or planting directly into a bag of garden soil laid on its side with the other side cut open for planting.
The beauty of grow bags is their portability. They can be used on your patio, driveway or anyplace that gets full sun.
You’ll have to water the grow bags more frequently, but they open a world of possibilities of where to grow food crops or even flowers.
Give this new type of gardening a try this year. Not only will it expand your garden area, it will be a fun way to grow even more fresh produce.
Photo: Courtesy Kevin Espiritu