Raised Beds: The Square Foot Gardening Technique

Raised Beds: The Square Foot Gardening Technique

The popularity of raised bed gardening is growing among home gardeners. Whether your interest is growing flowers, herbs or vegetables, raised beds offer many improvements over traditional gardens. In fact, raised bed gardening is essential in urban areas and globally in areas where arable land is hard to find.

“Raised” simply means the soil in the bed is higher than the surrounding ground. “Bed” means a small working area. Ideally, the bed should be narrow enough that it can be tended without stepping into the bed and compacting the soil within it. Raised beds can be placed on existing ground, paved driveways or patios, decks, or even elevated on legs to create a table (think: wheelchair accessible). A traditional row crop garden can even be replaced with raised beds to improve production.

The beds should be no wider than the easy reach of the gardener. Typically the beds are no more than four feet wide. Beds for young gardeners are often only three, or even two feet wide. Window boxes and deck railing boxes are special forms of raised beds that can be as little as six inches wide.

When placed on the ground, the beds may be framed or unframed. Most urban and suburban gardeners use framed beds, while those in rural or undeveloped areas generally do not frame their raised beds. When the beds are not framed, tillers or power cultivators can be used. However, properly maintained beds, whether framed or not, will not need power cultivation.

Better production is probably the most important reason to garden in these beds. According to the Ohio State University Extension, raised bed gardens yield an average of 1.24 pounds of vegetables per square foot, more than double the 0.6 pound average of the traditional home garden. One of the reasons for the increased production is that in square foot beds, vegetables are planted at higher densities. Plant spacing is minimized. The plants are close enough to shade weeds but are not overcrowded.

Raised beds offer many advantages over traditional row gardening.

Higher yields
Improved soil conditions
Ease of working
Better pest control
Water conservation

In square foot beds, the soil conditions can be more easily regulated. The soil mix can be controlled, but of even greater importance…the garden crops can be tended without compacting the soil. Soil compaction can reduce crop yields by as much as fifty percent, the OSU Extension reports. Water use is more efficient as the water can easily be directed to the plant roots where it is needed. Water is not wasted on the aisles between rows as in the traditional garden. Soil pH can be easily maintained and monitored.

Construction of raised beds is straightforward. Almost everyone has an idea about the materials and techniques to use when constructing the beds. But Mel Bartholomew, an engineer and efficiency expert, has raised the bar on raised beds! In 1981, after six years of research and experimentation, Bartholomew published The Square Foot Garden Manual. The techniques he proposed in the book virtually revolutionized raised bed gardening. In 2005, Bartholomew published a completely revised and updated All New Square Foot Gardening.

A thorough review of the new book can be found at www.basicinterests.wordpress.com. This book is required reading for the urban gardener or for anyone who wants to get more production from their garden space while reducing the amount of work required to maintain their garden.

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