How Does Your Garden Grow?
Clay and limestone—that’s what Middle Tennessee is made of, but that’s not what a healthy garden is made of. Double-digging and amending the soil is a backbreaking way to get a garden growing, and the manual labor alone could scare off beginning gardeners. Building a raised bed is an easy, fun and cute way to grow vegetables, herbs, perennials or shrubs.
In addition to being a cinch to maintain, a raised bed produces higher yield, and has better drainage and warmer soil, extending the growing season. The frame support makes it easy to cover, keeping those four-legged critters out and protecting against those untimely frosts. There’s less soil compaction, fewer weeds, and smaller areas to fertilize in a raised bed, and with the right materials, it can last for years. The ambitious gardener can have several raised beds, each with its own soil type: sandy, loamy, acidic, etc.
What You'll Need for One Double-High 4ft-by-8ft cedar raised bed
-Four 2-inch by 8-foot by 8-inch high cedar boards for the long sides
-Four 2-inch by 4-foot by 8-inch high cedar boards for the short sides
-Eight 4-inch by 4-inch by 8-inch cedar posts for the corner braces
-48 3 1/2-inch coated deck screws
-Six 18-inch pieces of #4 rebar to hold it steady
Site Selection and Bed Prep
STEP ONE Pick a sunny spot. Experts agree that full sun means six hours of direct sun. Hopefully, your sunny spot is close to a water source, but if not, do the best with the space you have. They make long hoses, after all!
STEP TWO For optimal sun exposure within the bed, orient your bed north to south. Place taller plants in the north end.
STEP THREE Pick your “just right” size. Consider how much space is manageable: 4 feet across or less means you can reach all the way into the middle (2 feet for one-side access to beds). Seasoned gardeners tend to agree that any longer than 10 feet is too many steps from end to end. We made our bed 4 feet by 8 feet.
STEP FOUR Bend over and touch—or look for—your toes. Soil that is 3 inches deep can produce good results for crops like strawberries, onions, radishes, lettuce, spinach and bush beans, but you don’t have to keep it low, as taller beds are easier to reach. If access is an issue, add a sitting board by nailing a 1-inch by 4-inch by 12-inch plank at regular intervals perpendicular to the top of the frame.
STEP FIVE Get on the level. Prepare the ground by removing sod and leveling the area using stakes and a string level. Loosen the ground with a shovel or garden fork 8 to 12 inches down.
How To Build a Raised Bed
STEP ONE Enlist a friend to help. Pick a level spot—like a driveway or the inside of your garage—to put your raised bed together.
STEP TWO Screw corner braces to each end of the long boards with three screws for each side.
STEP THREE Attach short ends to corner braces also using three screws for each side. You should have a rectangle frame. Repeat steps one and two.
STEP FOUR Set first frame on the level soil you prepared earlier. Wiggle it until it rests firmly against soil. If the box is still not level, just keep removing soil until your frame is level.
STEP FIVE Drive the rebar six inches into the ground directly against the boards (two on each long end and one on each short end). There should be 4 inches of rebar left to slide the second rectangle on (which you will do in step seven).
STEP SIX Line the inside edges with newspaper to prevent loose soil from running out the bottom.
STEP SEVEN Fill with quality topsoil and compost mixture, about 50 percent of each.
STEP EIGHT Slide the second rectangle over the exposed rebar.
STEP NINE Finish filling with 50/50 mix. Rake the soil until it’s level and ready for planting.
STEP TEN Fill with your favorite herbs, vegetables or flowers.
Building a raised bed is the quickest way to create a well-drained garden in Middle Tennessee. It’s also the best way to tame your garden, as you will have better control over soil texture, ingredients and moisture levels. Maintenance is simple—just add compost once or twice a year as you lose soil and nutrients, and mulch to manage weeds and moisture.
Dana Birdsong didn’t have time for a headache that day. The (then) 35-year-old lobbyist and advocate for the American College of Cardiology in Washington, D.C. had a meeting on Capitol Hill she couldn’t miss.
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