In small scale horticulture, a highly effective technique is the creation of permanent growing beds separated by access paths. Raised garden beds are great for growing small plots of vegetables and flowers. Gardeners can build their own beds or buy them as a kit.
Raised beds have numerous benefits. They allow compost/ plant feed to be concentrated in a smaller area. They deepen the soil, provide improved drainage and serve as a barrier to pests. They also keep soil from washing away during heavy rain, keep weeds out of the soil and prevent soil compaction. Finally, high beds reduce back strain from bending over and are ideal for wheelchair using gardeners.
How to set up raised beds
Work out the dimensions of your beds. Make sure you can reach into the middle of the beds; maximum of 48” (120cms) wide. There is no real limit on length.
Lay out the beds east to west. This assures equal light exposure to all the plants in the bed.
Double-dig the bed area, if the ground has never been used for gardening, to a depth of 16”. Keep an eye out for any roots which may be growing beneath your beds and cut through them. Leave soil piled up in the center so you can set the bed in place without obstructions. Instead of digging, you can mow the growing area and then lay down newspaper or card.
Build/ assemble the beds. Use good quality timber and reinforce the corners.
Spread soil out evenly, add any planned soil amendments and water the bed. Rake the bed to even out the soil and you’re ready to plant. An ideal soil mix is 50% garden soil with 50% compost.
Create pathways between the beds; about 24”/ 60 cms wide. Cover the pathways between beds with a weed barrier topped with a 2-3” layer of bark, sawdust or gravel. Or lay turf.
Avoid stepping on the bed. Once the soil is added and the bed is planted, make it a policy to never step on the bed. Stepping on the bed will compact the soil, reduce aeration and impact root growth.
This text was written by Chris Warburton Brown of the Permaculture Association (Britain) as part of our collaborative GROW Observatory project.
The GROW Observatory has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 690199.