Start planning your garden, or let us do it for you!
On days when the temperature struggles to get above freezing, it may feel like warmer weather is in some far-off future. Rest assured, though, that gardening days will return soon.
Meanwhile, if you have an established kitchen garden or are a newbie considering growing food for the first time, take advantage of these next few weeks to plan for it.
Gardens of Babylon’s “personal farmer” service makes it even easier, says landscape designer Chloe Barrett. “We offer everything necessary to have a successful home garden, from raised bed design and installation, filling your beds with premium compost, to planning, installing, and maintaining your vegetables for you,” she explains. “We also offer organic fertilization and pest control for the home garden.”
If you’re more the DIY type, the Garden Center at Gardens of Babylon has everything you need to build your own raised beds. Cedar boards and raised bed kits, along with the soil and plants (in the appropriate season) to fill them and the tools you need to plant and tend to your new garden beds are available in-store and online.
Advantages of raised bed gardens
Years ago, when I was too busy to take care of a garden but wanted a garden anyway, I discovered the advantage of growing the food plants in raised beds:
- The soil in a raised bed warms up earlier in the spring.
- Raised beds drain quickly when it rains.
- The beds grow more food in less space.
- Weed control is easier in a raised bed than in a traditional in-ground garden plot.
Now I grow herbs, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes and other food in the raised beds in my backyard garden each year.
Raised bed basics: How, where and when?
One significant advantage is that you can improve the condition of the soil more easily in the concentrated area of a raised garden bed. It’s especially good for gardeners whose ground is heavy clay; the soil in the raised bed can easily be made more friable, better for growing food.
Expert gardeners agree that the best raised beds can be as long as you want them, but the width should be no more than four feet, which allows you to comfortably reach the center of the bed from either side without stepping into the bed and compacting the soil.
Most food plants, especially summer vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers, grow best in full sun, so plan to position the beds where they can get direct sunlight at least six hours a day. If you already have beds in position, it’s easy now to prepare them for spring planting; if you are looking at raised beds in your future, preparing them now assures that they will be ready when it’s time to begin planting in spring.
What can you grow in raised beds?
From the U.T. Extension Service (and personal experience), I know that beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and all types of herbs do well in raised beds. Tomatoes and cucumbers grow better when they are allowed to grow up, supported with stakes or cages, and now allowed to sprawl.
Unless the bed is extra deep, corn is not a good choice, as it needs to be well-anchored – though I have seen corn growing in a couple of community garden raised beds where it did well (until the raccoons found it!).
Large, sprawling plants such as melons and pumpkins will quickly take over a bed, so those giants are more suitable for larger garden spaces. Smaller sprawlers, such as summer and winter squashes, may be easier to keep in the boundaries, but be aware that they, too, can overrun other plants when conditions are right and they are allowed to sprawl. You may be able to train them upward on a trellis.
Raised beds also make it easier to interplant vegetables; radishes and lettuce can grow early in spring in between spaces where tomatoes and other larger vegetables will be planted later. The early vegetables will mature and can be removed before the larger plants need the space.
You can also grow a single perennial crop, such as strawberries or asparagus, in raised beds. The most efficient raised gardens are well-fertilized, watered and kept filled with growing plants from early spring through late fall.