Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.
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One way to make gardening easier on your body and on the plants is to build a raised bed.
It can be designed in most any shape and size that appeals to you. I have two that are side by side rectangles, each 10 feet long by 4 feet deep and 2.5 feet high. These dimensions make it less strenuous on your back and leg joints to reach into the bed for planting, weeding, watering and harvesting. Make your bed any deeper than about 4 feet and you'll have to stretch and strain to reach into the center of your garden, defeating the primary reason for building the structure.
When you fill your raised bed with a mixture of well-tilled, composted soil, the plants have an easier time spreading their roots to gather the air, water and nutrients needed for vigor and healthy growth.
To create a raised bed, map out the size and shape of the space you wish it to occupy in your yard. Most any materials can be used for the frame - lumber, stone, brick, cement blocks, railroad ties, etc. Beware of using creosote or treated wood (green-treated is OK) as the chemicals can leach from wood into the soil and from there into your plants. If this is the only option available to you, then you can line your raised bed with plastic sheeting to provide a barrier between the wood sides and the soil.
Before filling your bed with soil, you might want to throw in a layer of gravel or similar material to allow for good drainage. And if burrowing animals are a problem, you can line the bottom and sides with hardware cloth - that bendable metal fence-like material available at the hardware store.
Another amenity you might want to consider is a structure that allows you to cover the raised bed with cloth or netting as the need arises. Because of our short growing season, many of us have a tendency to try to push the season and often get caught with plants in the ground and a frost predicted. A structure of rebar in the corners of your bed with thin pvc plastic piping arched between posts gives you an archway on which you can secure sheets, burlap or other materials to keep the warmth in on a cold night.
This same structure also can be used to secure netting over and around your raised bed if you have a problem with small animals (rabbits, chipmunks, birds, etc.) getting into the garden and grazing on your flowers and veggies.
Fill your raised bed with well-tilled soil and compost or organic material to provide good tilth or fluffiness that aids in plant growth. Let it settle for a week or so in order to reduce large air pockets, then plant your seeds or plants according to package and label directions. Water well, mulch and enjoy a relatively easy season of gardening.
Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825.