by Marilyn Odneal, Horticulture Adviser
One way to tell whether or not you are a “seasoned” gardener is when you bend down to weed, you wonder if you can get back up. If that is the case, consider using raised beds for your garden. How high you raise them is up to you. You can construct a flat seating area around the perimeter of the bed – something like an old fashioned sand box – so you can sit on the side to garden. Whether you are seated or standing, raised beds make gardening easier for everyone. Here are some types to consider.
Simple raised beds: A simple raised bed is usually from four to eight feet long by four feet wide, raised at least one foot high or higher. It is easy to reach two feet into the middle of a four foot width, so don’t make the beds any wider than that. Find a site for your bed with at least six to eight hours of sunlight each day that is near a source of water – raised beds tend to dry out more quickly than a traditional garden. Beds can be made of treated lumber, plastic, cinder blocks, or steel. Several manufactured types can be purchased from garden supply stores or catalogs or you can construct them yourself. One advantage of raised beds is that they can be more densely planted than conventional gardens with spaces between rows. Raised beds warm up earlier in the spring so seeds will germinate earlier than if planted in the ground. You can construct a cover for your raised bed that you can open and close using plastic to protect plants from cold temperature in spring and fall or using spun bond fabric to protect plants from damaging insects. Just remember that pollination needs to occur, so the plants cannot be covered with fabric throughout the season, just when pests are targeting the plants. You might even consider using bird netting or screen to keep birds and other critters out of the bed.
Lasagna gardens: A variation of the simple raised bed is a lasagna garden. The lasagna technique is based on the “hugel” (the German word for hill or mound) where layers of organic matter are spread in a layer on the ground to break down into growing media.
Starting with wetted newspaper or cardboard to cover the soil or grass, Patricia Lanza, author of the book on lasagna gardening, advises adding alternate layers of two to three inches of sphagnum peat moss with four to six inches of organic matter like shredded leaves, grass clippings, compost, shredded garden debris (no noxious weeds or material with weed seeds), sawdust, straw or animal manures. When the layered raised bed is 18-24 inches high, the lasagna is ready to break down to great growing media. You can construct lasagna gardens in the fall and winter and be ready to plant in spring.
And there are even more types of raised beds to talk about! In the next column we will cover square foot gardens and gardening in bags – great options for older gardeners. So don’t worry about getting older – after all – old gardeners never die, they just spade away.
For suggestions, comments or questions on this column, contact Marilyn Odneal via email at MarilynOdneal@missouristate.edu; write to Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station, 9740 Red Spring Road, Mountain Grove, Mo. 65711; or call (417) 547-7500. Visit our Web site at http://mtngrv.missouristate.edu.
HINGE TOP PLANT BED – This covered raised bed photo was taken at a friend’s garden in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The hinged cover is convenient and can be changed from clear plastic in spring to serve as a mini-greenhouse, spun bound fabric to protect from the hot sun or insects, or bird net to protect from birds, cats and dogs.