When considering growing your own food many people discuss garden layout, permaculture design and what food you should try to grow. There are as many designs and ideas as there are gardeners (if not more!). However, one of the best ways to grow your own food is in a raised bed.
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Why Raised Beds
If you are lucky enough to have a backyard, even if it is small, there are some major benefits to growing your food in raised beds rather than the ground or in containers. In reality, raised beds are a perfect marriage between the two main ways to garden: in the ground or in pots.
When you opt for raised beds you can choose the soil, even if yours in no good, you can customize the size and you can place it in different spots, including on concrete if you have to. This also allows for controlling weeds and if you have mobility issues, it can be customized to a height that is best for you (and your back!). Another benefit is with covers, you can extend your growing season even more in raised beds. Or you can direct sow into the beds after your last frost.
How to create a raised bed
There are so many ways to create a raised bed. All of the box stores and Amazon offer different variations. However, the sturdiest, most durable and easiest to fill will be made from good lumber. You want to stay away from treated lumber as that isn’t safe for food that you will consume and can potentially hurt your plants.
The sturdiest, longest lasting lumber will be hardwoods like cherry, oak, and walnut. Due to the slow growth of these forests, which is why the wood is hardwood, they’re not as sustainable as other options. They are also much more expensive as a result. The most common softwoods are pine and cedar. I used pine and cedar for the most part. This is because it is cheap and while it won’t last forever like the other woods, it will still last a long time.
One of the very first things you should do is decide on the materials and produce a price list. This includes lumber, screws, soil, soil amendments. I generally do not include seeds in the calculation because they change from year to year. If you need extra height to your raised bed you either need to make it a table, thus less soil, with legs and a bottom or you add lumber and this more soil.
My Supplies and Price List
2 in by 6 in by 8 ft pine: $5.98 each X 3 boards = $17.94
1lb box of 2.5 inch decking screws: $9.98
The more complicated calculations involve the soil. To find out how much soil you will need, find a handy volume raised bed calculator online. This will give you the amounts in cubic yards or feet that you need to fill your raised bed.
For our bed, we need 16 cubic feet of mixed soil. One of the problems with this is that many bags of soil and amendments such as peat moss, coconut coir, perlite and vermiculite are going to come in quarts. The mix of soil can vary and I am usually not too specific. However, if you follow the square foot method, there is a formula: 1/3 perlite, 1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss.
In my case, I just look for some variety including bags of soil, compost, peat moss and vermiculite. If you must buy from a box store, here is the formula and prices for the items at the closest home improvement store:
Soil: $6.98 per 1 cubic foot X 5 = $34.90 for 5 cubic feet
Compost: $4.98 per 2 cubic feet X 3 = $14.94 for 6 cubic feet
Peat moss: $10.47 per 3 cubic feet
Vermiculite: $20.47 per 2 cubic feet
Total cubic feet soil mix: 16 cubic feet
Downsides to Raised Beds
There are some downsides to consider but most can be handled in a smart manner. First, is the cost. One of the hardest things to come by is good soil that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. If you are planning on making a raised bed using soil, compost and other fillers from a big box store, then you need to budget and strategize carefully as it can become very expensive.
As you can see, it is about $108 per raised bed and each bed is 32 square feet. With a minimum of 100 sq. feet per person per year needed to grow what you need, you will need 25 beds for a family of 4. That is a staggering $2700. In one go, that might be a lot. But as you gain experience you can easily add one or two beds a year. Plus cut cost by getting materials for less or free.
There are other options though. Near me, there is an sod and mulch facility that also provides a garden mix of soil by the cubic yard for a reasonable price. In other cities and towns, there are options such as compost facilities and bulk soil delivery.
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