In addition to the practical aspects of vegetable gardening, gardening appeals to us for its aesthetic value as well. When God created the world, He did so in a creative, thoughtful, and ordered fashion. Our eyes are naturally trained to appreciate beauty that is combined with purpose and a certain degree of organization.
Raised beds have many practical benefits. They warm up more quickly in the spring, extending the harvest by several weeks. The soil can be improved easily and is less likely to become compacted through foot traffic. Because raised beds usually have excellent soil and crops can be planted more closely together, resulting in a larger harvest in less space.
Along with all these considerations, though, there’s something visually satisfying about a raised bed garden with neat, mulched paths running between each bed. Gardening is a pleasure because your feet remain on clean paths, instead of mucking through the mud. If you’d like to try raised beds, consider the following general principles:
• Raised beds can be as simple as a mound of earth extending above the surrounding soil, or more permanent beds made from long-lasting materials.
• Choose durable materials for your raised beds, including rot-resistant cedar, composite lumber, or even native rocks. Avoid pine, which breaks down quickly, and treated lumber, which can leach chemicals into the soil – and into your food.
• Plan your raised beds carefully, because they will be a permanent fixture in your yard. Consider how you will get water to plants. A soaker hose or drip irrigation system works very well with raised beds.
• Make raised beds as long as you like, but keep their width to three feet or less. At this width, you can reach into the beds from both sides to harvest vegetables and pull weeds. You’ll enjoy gardening more, and you’ll reduce soil compaction because you’re not walking in the beds.
• Make paths at least twenty-four inches between the beds so you can maneuver a wheel barrow through the area and have room to work. If you garden frequently as a family, consider making the rows slightly wider.
• Consider your climate when determining the height of your beds. In cool, moist climates, raised beds of one to two feet are not uncommon. The soil warms up more quickly so you can plant sooner. Raised beds tend to dry out more quickly than in-ground gardens, and the higher the raised bed, the more pronounced the drying effect. In hot, dry or windy climates, build your raised beds lower to conserve moisture. A bed of four to six inches high is adequate.
• If your native soil is reasonably fertile, use it in your raised beds and amend it with compost or manure. On the other hand, if your soil is heavy clay or sand, haul in gardening soil from a landscaping firm to fill your beds. The initial investment will pay off for years to come.
• Don’t mulch paths with grass clippings. Grass clippings works best as a mulch within the raised bed. In the paths, grass clippings become a slippery, slimy mess. Spread wood chip mulch every year or invest in pea gravel for a more permanent investment. You can choose to leave the paths bare, but they’ll be muddy in wet weather. Mulched paths are much nicer.