My New Raised Bed Garden
I just created a new area in my kitchen garden! It's actually surprisingly easy to make a raised bed garden with these simple steps.
Two years ago, I decided to remake an area of my garden right by the stone wall. I started with four separate beds that I wanted to turn into one big square. An area that I could be more creative with. The first year turned out great. The following one felt... a bit messier. Lots of different plants led to more weeds and slugs too for that matter. Now it's time to go back to the original model: My raised bed garden. How do you go about creating one from scratch?
The pictures below show what the spot looked like in summer 2019.
Digging my Raised Bed Garden
I don't want to dig more than necessary in my garden. Partly because I don't want to disturb the earthworms and little microbes in the ground, but also because I don't really need to dig. I have high-quality soil here, airy and nutritious. My mulching (putting plant material that the worms and microbes can eat on top of the beds) keeps the soil in really good shape.
The area is like I said a square that can be divided into four narrow beds separated by three pathways. The easiest way to create a raised bed garden like this is:
- to stand where I want to create the path, with my back against it
- dig deep into the new path and keep digging while backing away
- put all of the soil in the new bed next to me
- flatten the bed
- put old mulch and similar in the new pathway
This way, I'm actually just moving soil from the pathway to the area where I'm creating my bed. An easy way to create a raised bed garden with great soil, ready for any sowing or planting project. You can say that I'm just creating pathways and getting the raised beds as a bonus.
You might wonder why I'm putting all this stuff onto the pathways. Well, it's actually really convenient! It's really important for me to create a great environment for the earthworms and other little critters in the soil. This is exactly what I'm doing when I'm putting the mulch on the pathways. I'm making a restaurant for my little helpers in the soil! There's some buried mulch further down into the bed too of course.
So my idea is to let the earthworms go to the pathways to eat until I can get new grass clippings and cover my raised bed garden again.
It's also really smart to have some material in the pathways so that they don't get all muddy. I decided to use straw this time. Weeds, grass clippings, wool or old leaves are other great options.
Soil, soil, soil
These beds are narrow. Perhaps just 2 ft (around 60 cm) or so. I can fit three quite tight rows of vegetables. Some of you who follow me on social media asked me if the soil in the beds might start to migrate. Well. The material actually keeps the soil in place. I also try to flatten it with the backside of a rake when I'm done with the bed.
Things might go south if we have heavy rain or an especially curious cat comes to investigate. But in general, I have to say that the soil stays put. Probably because of how airy it is! When it rains, the water just trickles down instead of creating a flood along the edges of the bed.
Questions from Instagram
I got a lot of questions after posting pictures of my raised bed garden on Instagram earlier this week. So, now I'm making a little Q&A below!
Where do you grow?
I have two gardens in the village Kalvsvik south of the city Växjö in southern Sweden. I grow in zone 3. The garden by my house is often slightly colder than the average garden around here, since it's surrounded by large open fields. On the other hand, I compensated by creating my kitchen garden in an area with sunlight all day long. My other garden is located by my little cottage next to the church in the village. It's windy there all the time.
Do I have to remove the weeds? Can I just add soil mixed with manure from a stable on top?
I wouldn't do that. That type of soil is very nutritious. And weeds enjoy nutrients too. They establish and grow quickly if you use this type of soil. So, try to do the work properly from the beginning instead. Remove the weeds and clean your bed properly. Or cover the ground with cardboard or newspapers (non-toxic ink) and then soil on top. This is a great way to smother the weeds while also being able to grow on top of the bed.
What is mulch?
Mulch is simply put different types of organic material that you put on top your bed. This method is very time-efficient and good for the soil too. You can read more about mulching here:
Do you have any tips on how I can keep the straw from blowing away?
The straw won't blow away as easily if it's wet. I often just put it outside for a while so that it can soak up some dew and moist from the surroundings. You can of course also water dry straw after you put it on top of your beds too. I try to add a wire mesh panel on top of a bed covered with straw before I water the it. The straw in the pathways usually stays where it is.
Are the beds completely made up of soil or do you have something else further down?
It's all soil!
How can I create a raised bed garden in compact clay soil?
The first step is to improve the soil quality by mulching the area! You can start by cleaning the soil up and then loosening it with a pitchfork. Don't dig, don't turn. Just push the pitchfork into the ground and move it around a little. Keep doing this many times, around 4 inches (10 cm) apart or so. After that, it's time to start adding the mulch! The material will break down and create a nice layer of high-quality soil on top of the clay. The layers are going to blend with time too.
What's the point in digging like this, instead of just planning the pathways on even ground?
In this case, it was really important to make sure that I have nice and airy soil to sow and plant in. Without lots of old mulch material around, that is. I'm getting the soil from the new pathways so I don't have to dig the actual beds. It's an easy way to hit two birds with one stone!
Why is your rake curved?
I can't tell you how many times I've regretted buying this rake. It's supposed to be ergonomic, but I actually prefer a regular rake. I'm only using it because it's here and a lot more durable than a normal wooden rake. So I feel like I need to use it after all!
How wide are your beds?
Around 2 ft 3 - 2 ft 7 (70-80 cm) is great.
I already did a sowing in my raised bed garden here by the stone wall. It's so exciting! I'm going to write more about the sowing later this week.