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For The Garden

Raised Beds

Author: Cathy Cromell
Issue: November, 2010, Page 139
Photo by Dency Kane

Concrete blocks form a raised bed.

Desert Gardening 101

Are you eager to start gardening but deterred by rocky soil? Does the thought of harvesting tender, tasty veggies make your mouth water? Then consider building raised beds. They offer many advantages, including the following:
Easy-to-improve soil. The borders on raised beds contain soil in a defined area, allowing you to enrich it with compost, fertilizer or other amendments over time.
Reduced soil compaction. Stepping on gardens compacts the air pockets between soil particles, impeding the flow of water, oxygen and nutrients to roots. By design, raised beds clearly outline garden versus path areas.
Protection from sun and frost. When using PVC pipes, poles or other items for support, shade or frost cloth easily can be draped over raised beds. If strung with wire, supports can double as trellises for vining crops to scramble upward, thereby saving gardening space.
Easy access. Appropriately sized raised beds allow folks with certain physical challenges to enjoy gardening.
Enhanced aesthetics and sense of community. Many homeowners are now transforming unused front yards into bountiful beds filled with edibles and flowers. Topping raised beds with wide seating surfaces creates spots for neighbors and family to sit.

Raised beds can be built using a variety of materials, including cement block, brick, stone, wood or plastic “lumber.” If your budget is tight, check with neighbors or “free cycle” ads on Web sites such as Craigslist for leftover construction materials that you can pick up and haul away. Chunks of cement removed from a sidewalk or driveway renovation, for example, can be repurposed as a raised bed if carefully stacked. You can get started by building up soil without borders, although this requires regular maintenance to counteract erosion. Whichever method you choose, consider the following dimension guidelines:
Height—Most annual vegetables, flowers and herbs need a 12-inch depth of loose soil for healthy root development. (For raised beds less than 12 inches high, loosen the underlying soil before building, to enhance drainage.) If it is challenging to bend, kneel or reach across beds, adjust bed dimensions to suit your needs. As a guideline, raised planting areas should be about 2 feet high for wheelchair accessibility, and about 3 feet high for access without kneeling or bending. Also, garden beds built on legs allow wheelchairs to roll partially beneath them for closer access.
Width—If you have access to the garden from only one side, create beds no wider than 3 feet. If you have access from both sides, they can be 4 feet wide. With these widths, it is easy to reach across the planting beds without stepping on soil and compacting it. Forward reach from a wheelchair is about 30 inches, but take measurements to be exact. Allow at least 2 to 3 feet between beds to maneuver wheelchairs or garden equipment.
Length—This dimension depends on your needs and available space.
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