(This is a reprint from a post originally produced on 3/31/2009)
David K.--a man of many talents--is a member of the staff at Skillin's Falmouth. David recently constructed a raised bed to grow vegetables and flowers for his family. He also would like you to know that he also built the picnic table. Wow! I am told he was ably helped by his young daughter who is a big Skillin's fan!
Why a raised bed:
Raised beds allow you to control the soil, which is especially good if you live in an area with poor soil, or soil with high concentrations of contaminants such as lead. (Skillin’s provides soil test kits for moisture and ph levels. You can also have your soil tested for lead and other contaminants at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension: kits are available in our stores.)
There is less stooping, making it easier to weed and maintain, which also makes them great for kids and those with limited mobility.
Raised beds warm up more quickly in the Spring, so you can begin planting a little earlier.
Measure your available space. I chose a 4 foot by 10 foot area with a full day of sun (essential if you’re growing vegetables).
Buy the lumber: I used 2" by 10" by 10' lumber for the sides, and 2" by 10" by 4' for the ends. While cedar is the best lumber to use, it is hard to come by in the size I wanted. I used spruce, which will rot more quickly, but should give me 5 to 10 years of use. Do not use pressure-treated wood, as it is “treated” with chemicals you do not want in your soil, or in your body. (Pressure-treated wood used to be treated with arsenic, but these days it’s copper.) You can also use stone, cinder blocks, bricks, or fiberglass.
Assemble the bed: I braced my pieces with some scrap 2" by 4"’s lying around my garage (made of pine). Use deck screws or other exterior-use screws. If you don’t have a drill or can’t do the labor, you can purchase corner brackets here at Skillin’s. They save time too.
To figure out your soil needs: multiply your three dimensions (width, length, height) to establish your cubic feet. Mine was 4 foot by 10 foot by 3/4 foot (9 inches) for 30 cubic feet. Since one cubic yard = 27 cubic feet, I needed just a little under one cubic yard. Skillin’s sells composts and soils by the bag and by the yard (or half-yard). About a third of my bed is filled with various types of compost.
I put down a series of layers in my bed.
The first layer was cardboard, to block out any weeds. You can also use three sheets of newspaper. (Make sure it’s plain cardboard or plain newspaper: you don’t want the chemicals in colored paper leaching into your soil.) Wet it down if it’s a windy day to prevent it from blowing around. This layer will break down eventually.
My second layer was shredded oak leaves that I never raked up last fall. They decompose slowly and improve the soil.
My third layer was composed cow manure (available in 40-lb. bags). Because it’s composted, it doesn’t smell, and handles just like dirt.
My fourth layer was compost from my own bin. (Bins are available at Skillin’s.) It was very rewarding to see last year’s kitchen scraps dedicated to this year’s food production.
Then I added my soil. I used a mix of Jolly Gardener potting soil and Coast of Maine’s Bar Harbor Blend potting soil.
Finally, I used some Espoma Bone Meal to raise the phosphorus and nitrogen levels in my soil (good for veggies), and then watered it all in.
You are ready to plant!
Early Spring is a good time to plant any cold-season crop that says on the seed packet: “plant as soon as you can work the ground.” I have planted carrots, peas, spinach and lettuce.
A final tip: if like me you are using your raised bed to grow vegetables, don’t forget to add a few flowers here and there to beautify it. Marigolds attract beneficial insects and combat some pests."
David writes a terrific Portland ME garden log called A Garden in Maine and I urge you to check it out!