The Garden Patch: Raised beds boost garden efficiency

Well, here I go on one of my pet gardening subjects: raised-bed gardening. About 25 years ago I started to get interested in raised bed gardening when we lived in Salina. I did it all wrong then, but it still worked better than ground level for me.

What did I do wrong? I raised the whole garden in one big patch – I had to walk in it to work it which is one of the no-nos of raised beds. My next try was when we moved back to Osage County and I just mounded the soil and that worked better – four-foot wide mounds – didn’t have to put feet in the growing area. When we moved to Osage City 11 years ago, I lined those four foot mounds with landscape timbers – BINGO – we’re getting the hang of it! Works great!

I was asked just today about using railroad ties for raised beds. Not recommended! The ties have too much creosote in them that can inhibit plant growth. Wrap the ties in black polyethylene first and you’ve got a good product! By doing this the creosote won’t leak out and harm your plants. I’ve seen it done and it works.

Let’s talk about efficient space use – a good gardener (that’s you) should be able to utilize the raised bed to its fullest potential. Careful planning must be done to achieve this. Group vegetables together based on maturity time. Plant all short season crops in one area so that when they finish producing they can be replaced by another crop. This is referred to as succession planting.

For instance, plant lettuce, spinach, radishes and other leafy crops in one area so that when they are finished that area can be replanted with beans, cucumbers or some other warm-season crop.

Also, inter-planting may be used. This method utilizes the empty row space – for example, between rows of onions plant tomatoes or peppers. By the time the onions are harvested, the other plants will just be reaching a large size. Succession planting and intercropping will help you reach the full potential of the bed.

Don’t overlook fall gardening! Most crops that produce well in the spring months will also produce in the fall. In fact, some crops such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage may even produce better in the fall as we tend to have a longer and more consistent cool period.

And speaking of raised beds, you may be able to plant a little earlier due to the fact that raised beds warm up quicker in the spring. By using plastic mulches and row covers, it is possible to plant as much as two weeks earlier than a traditional garden.

Water, water everywhere, can I give my garden a drink? It is best to water when the soil dries slightly. One or more inches of water per week is the general recommendation.

Many raised bed gardeners will use drip irrigation (I do). Drip irrigation allows you to use less water and apply it more efficiently. Drip tubing or soaker hose may be purchased at local nurseries and garden centers. The tubes are then laid out over the bed, spaced about 2 to 3 feet apart depending on soil type. Using very low pressure (7 – 10 PSI), the water slowly drips or oozes from the hose and filters down into the soil. Drip irrigation places the water at the root system which allows for less evaporation and water going to non-target areas such as the path. Drip tubing can also be buried below the soil surface for the most efficient delivery system.

Did you say I have to fertilize? Fertilization needs of a raised bed garden are the same as a traditional garden. It is best to start with a soil test. Before planting in the spring, a general application of about 1 pound of 10-10-10 can be spread over 100 square feet of bed and incorporated.

Sidedress the crops during the growing season based on the needs of the individual crops.

CAUTION: Do not over fertilize as this will lead to poor production!

Next week let’s talk about mulches. Mulching is a very important part of your gardening practice, and doing it wrong can be costly in terms of production. We’ll discuss types of mulch, methods of application, things to watch out for and just general mulching. Stay tuned and we’ll keep you informed! Thanks for being with us this week and keep that garden growing!

stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my Mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.

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