Published in the Toronto Star September 10, 2016
If you are a gardener, there are many reasons why you would want to raise your plants in a raised bed.
Why would you want to build a raised bed in your yard? There are many answers to this question and most of them can be found in the new book by urban gardener Tara Nolan, “Raised Bed Revolution”. Tara is the new authority on the subject and we are due for one. Things have changed in the business of gardening over recent years to the extent that a comprehensive new book on this topic is indeed welcome.
It is early autumn, the perfect time of year to be handy and build something to plant up either this season or in the spring.
There are myriad reasons to build a raised bed for your veggies or ornamentals. Tara offers 12 pages of reasons. Some of my favourites include:
- Season extension. Start earlier, harvest later. Soil in raised beds warms more quickly in spring. With a glassed in structure around a raised bed or using white remay cloth the season extends for several weeks.
- Control soil quality. People frequently ask me, “What do I do with clay soil?” When I tell them that they have to dig it out about 30 to 40 cm deep and replace with 50 to 60 cm of new triple mix, they are never happy. When you build a raised bed in your yard, you don’t have to dig down and remove soil. In fact, you can place a garden right on top of a grass area if you cover it with enough newspaper (about 5 sections of the Toronto Star, but never my column: scrap book it). Fill the raised bed with the best quality, weed free soil that you can get your hands on. I recommend Mark’s Choice Garden But then, I would. Quality triple mix works well also.
- Some of the most handsome and practical raised bed gardens that I have seen are designed for wheelchair gardeners. While attending a special event, at Wind Reach Farms [a horse farm and garden dedicated to the needs of disabled children] in Ashburn Ontario recently, I saw the most remarkable raised bed gardens designed for this purpose. Be sure to design a wheelchair garden with a ‘wrap around’ feature for plants on the left and right hand side and with a shelf for shallow rooted plants that allows the gardener to ‘belly up’ to the garden with their legs safely nested under it.
- Enabling Gardens. Tara quotes a Rutgers Cooperative Extension article, “Enabling Gardens allow participants of all ages and abilities to fully participate and enjoy the gardening experience. They are designed to be barrier –free and provide sensory stimulation and physical activities in a non-threatening environment.”
- Solve a grading problem. If you are gardening on a steep grade and have trouble keeping it watered (water flows downhill: rule of nature) a raised bed can solve that problem. When you build your raised garden on a slope, a level is the most valuable tool in your tool box.
- Create gardens for special purposes. Have a grand child or child of your own? Build a raised bed just for them and plant it with sunflowers, beans, nasturtiums and other fool-proof plants come spring. As youngsters become more experienced they will want to grow other, more demanding plants.
- A raised bed can be dedicated to herbs, which prefer a dry, sunny location or leafy veggies like leaf lettuce, kale, Swiss chard and mesclun mix.
Raised beds are a great idea for the small space gardener who wants to maximize the colour and produce from limited space. I have seen a lot of community gardens that feature raised beds in recent years.
There are caveats to the raised-bed phenomena. They expose roots of winter hardy plants to excess cold in the depth of winter. I recommend choosing plants that are hardy to at least one planting zone above your own. A zone 6 Toronto garden demands that container-grown winter hardy plants are hardy to zone 5.
Raised beds tend to dry more quickly than ground level beds. This can be good as it decreases the likelihood of over watering, which is the root of 90% of all plant ‘problems’. But you do have to be vigilant about watering especially during hot, dry weather.
This book is a thorough treatise on the subject and I am delighted that a well known Canadian writer has produced it. The back third of the book provides many ‘do it yourself’ raised bed projects. And this is the prefect time of year to dig in and build some of them.
Raised Bed Revolution.
Build it, fill it, plant it….Garden Anywhere!
By Tara Nolan
Cool Spring Press