I love, love, love, home grown vegetables. You may think I’m exaggerating, 3 loves?? But have you ever tried a home grown carrot? It tastes so fresh and sweet, better than store bought baby carrots (and that’s saying a lot). Or tasted a tomato right off the plant? They are amazing fresh and full of flavor.
Vegetable gardening is a very rewarding activity. When you grow your own food, you know exactly where it comes from, it is locally grown and that it’s pesticide free. While there is some trial and error with vegetable gardening, once you have your system set up it is easy. This article will walk you through how to make a raised garden bed, my garden bed of choice.
The Case for Homegrown Food
When you purchase food in the grocery store, the products come from around the country and the world. The amount of energy it takes to get the food to your local grocery store is tremendous.
“It is estimated that the average American meal travels about 1500 miles to get from farm to plate. Why is this cause for concern? There are many reasons:
- This long-distance, large-scale transportation of food consumes large quantities of fossil fuels. It is estimated that we currently put almost 10 kcal of fossil fuel energy into our food system for every 1 kcal of energy we get as food.
- Transporting food over long distances also generates great quantities of carbon dioxide emissions. Some forms of transport are more polluting than others. Airfreight generates 50 times more CO2 than sea shipping. But sea shipping is slow, and in our increasing demand for fresh food, food is increasingly being shipped by faster – and more polluting – means.
- In order to transport food long distances, much of it is picked while still unripe and then gassed to “ripen” it after transport, or it is highly processed in factories using preservatives, irradiation, and other means to keep it stable for transport and sale. Scientists are experimenting with genetic modification to produce longer-lasting, less perishable produce.”1
So much energy is used and pollution produced just to get that tomato to your local grocery shelf, it’s disturbing. I like to supplement my grocery shopping with vegetables and fruits I have grown and locally grown products I can buy at farmers markets.
Another reason I love to grow my own food is because of the prevalent use of pesticides. Have you heard about the Dirty Dozen? No, not the movie, the Dirty Dozen List of the most contaminated fruits and vegetables for the year. This is an award no one wants to win! Each year the Environmental Working Group publishes the Dirty Dozen list2. The 2017 list contains some of my favorite vegetables and fruits, spinach, apples, tomatoes, grapes, sweet bell peppers and potatoes. I have been trying to buy in season fruits and veggies and for the items on the 2017 list to buy organic or grow my own. The Environmental Working Group also publishes the Clean 15, which is the fruits and vegetables that are the least likely to have pesticide residue found on them.
Making Your Raised Garden Bed
Now back to the fun stuff, gardening, follow these 6 steps to make your raised garden bed.
Step 1 – Decide Where to Put Your Garden.
The first step is to find an area in your yard for the vegetable garden. It should have lots of sun and be away from large trees, since their root systems have a far reach. I recommend fencing your garden, I have a three foot fence around my garden which is enough of a deterrent to keep my dog out.
Step 2 – Clear the Grass and Weeds Out of the Garden Area.
Now that you have your garden area picked out, the next step to get rid of the grass and plant material in that area. I like to use a hand tiller to pull up all of the plant material. This is a great arm work out, make sure you go in both directions!
Be sure to clear and extra foot around where the plants or wood frame will be, this will help you keep the grass and weeds out of the garden.
Step 3 – Make Your frame for the Raised Garden Bed.
Most of my raised garden beds are 4 feet by 8 feet. Four feet wide is ideal so you are able to reach the middle of the bed from both sides without going into the garden bed. Not walking in your garden bed keeps the soil fluffy and not compact. The length of the garden bed is up to you. My first garden beds are eight feet long only because this is the longest board I can fit in my car! Now I have my awesome husband, who has a trailer, so I can get longer boards if I want to.
Using two screws per side, make your rectangle garden bed.
Step 4 – Place the frame in the desired location.
Bring the frame over to the desired location and place it on the ground. Be sure that there is about one foot of dirt around surrounding the bed as discussed in Step 2. In my garden there are seven beds with about three foot wide walking paths throughout. I have placed a thick layer of pine bark on the pathways to keep the weeds out and give the garden a more finished look.
Step 5 – Double Dig.
I use a version of the double dig method to start all of my raised garden areas. If you want to learn more about this, my favorite gardening/farming book is MiniFarming Self-Sufficiency on ¼ Acre by Brett L. Markham, the link is at the end of the article. The purpose of double digging is to rotate the soil, pulling the subsoil to the top.
Within your garden frame, dig down a shovel depth in the soil and move that soil to the side. I do this for half of the bed at a time (in MiniFarming he does one trench at a time). In the dugout area, use the hand tiller to loosen up the soil. Then add a layer of compost (1 bag if you are doing a 4 foot by 8 foot). Once you have spread out the compost, put the dirt back over this area. Be sure not to step in this area again, you want to keep the soil fluffy.
Once you have completed the double dig on both halves of the garden, add more compost to the top of the soil (3 bags) and garden soil* (2 bags). Till up the soil and get everything really mixed in and leveled out.
* I purchase garden soil when I am starting out a new garden plot. Living in central Florida, I have found that the soil needs a lot of help at the beginning to be nutritious for plants. If you live in an area with better soil you could skip using the garden soil. I would still recommend using compost, my preferred compost if I am buying it is mushroom compost. If you are composting at home, yard waste and kitchen scraps, you should use that in the garden.
Step 6 – Plant!
Now is the fun step, planting your seedlings and seeds. Be sure to water the soil thoroughly before planting. Then if you are planting seedlings or larger plants, water each hole before you place the seedling or plant in the ground.
It is so rewarding to watch the seeds and plants growing and thriving. In the beginning of your garden you will need to water a lot to help the plants thrive. The amount will depend on your location and what you have planted.
If you want to more on this topic these two books below have really helped me since they address the amount of land that I am working with, an urban environment on 1/4 acre of land. And as always, if you have any questions about this article please leave it to me in the comments. Happy gardening!