Raised beds make it easy to grow a lot of vegetables in a little space. You can weed and manage a raised bed easily, and can obtain a bountiful harvest from it if you design it carefully. It's important to consider the bed's location, construction and planting layout in advance to enjoy the biggest harvest possible.
Find a location that will receive at least six, and preferably eight to ten, hours of full sun each day. Vegetable plants do best with at least eight hours of sunlight every day. If they receive less, they may not grow well or may produce little. A nearby water source will also make your gardening easier and more convenient, as will a position close to a garden shed or storage area and a compost bin or pile.
Beds can be constructed from cedar, redwood or a recycled lumber product like Trex. Other options include bricks, stone and cinder blocks, although these may heat up too much in hot climates and overheat the plants. Do not use treated lumber, as the fungicide used on it may leach into your garden soil and be drawn into your vegetables. Construct your beds in a small enough size that you can easily reach to the center of the bed to plant, weed and harvest. The beds should be at least 10 inches deep to grow most plants, and possibly deeper for root vegetables like potatoes, carrots or beets.
Inside the Garden Beds
Many raised bed gardeners like to use a method called "square-foot gardening," which divides the raised bed into square-foot portions that are each planted with as many seeds or transplants as will thrive in that space. You may also need to reserve space for tomato cages or other support structures for the particular plants you plan to grow. Consider also using companion planting to reduce insect pests and possibly increase the productivity of your vegetable garden (see Resources).
Rotating the Raised Bed Crops
Plan to rotate your crops among your raised beds or among different areas of one raised bed every year. Crop rotation, even on this small scale, allows the soil to recover and permits plants to use a new source of nutrition each year. You can also plant a cover crop in an unused raised bed that will replenish the soil. For example, red clover can be planted and grown in a bed in either summer or winter, then plowed into the soil and allowed to compost in place. The clover will both "fix" more nitrogen into the soil while it grows and also enrich the soil as compost when it's plowed under.
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