Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Mondays in Steamboat Today.
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Steamboat Springs Many of us gardeners start out with flowers and shrubs in our gardens and then think that maybe some vegetables would be a nice addition. Others have vegetable gardens but want to make it a little easier to plant, cultivate and harvest.
A raised bed seems the best way to go, especially for those of us with compacted, clay soil. It is tough for roots of any plant to grow through the dense soil and especially so for annual vegetables grown from seed.
The first step is to site your raised bed. Since the seeds and plants will need plenty of sunlight, a nice spot along a north-south axis should maximize the light source. Try to provide protection from the wind, too.
Then, decide how large you want your bed. This will depend upon how much you plan to grow and what vegetables you choose for your garden. Some require more space between plants than others. Read the seed packet or instructions that come with your seedlings to determine spacing. Also, you’ll need to know how deep the roots will grow and plan your raised bed height accordingly. Typically, 12 to 16 inches high is sufficient for most vegetables.
You may configure your vegetable garden any way you like. However, it is recommended that you create a vegetable garden no wider than four feet across, which allows you to plant, weed, water, fertilize and harvest plants from the outside of the garden without having to step inside and compact the soil.
Then choose the materials you want to use for retaining walls. These are needed to hold in the soil and to help keep water from running off. Retaining wall materials can include framing timber, stone, bricks, landscape timber, plastic milk jugs, plastic edging, cedar planks or deck materials or even old tires. Railroad ties are not recommended since they contain creosote, which will leach into the soil and air, harming plants. For untreated wood, you might want to place a layer of plastic between the wood and the soil to help prevent rotting. If possible, till the soil evenly if only 2 to 3 inches. Then, fill in your raised bed with a mixture of compost, decent clump-free garden soil and manure or other fertilizer. Allow the bed to settle for a couple of weeks before planting; you may need to add more soil to reach the height of the walls.
To protect your plants from early and late season frosts and from small animals such as birds and chipmunks, place posts at the corners of your raised bed and use these to secure heavy plastic on cold nights and fine mesh during the rest of the growing season.
A raised bed warms up earlier in the spring and stays warm longer into the fall, making it an ideal way to grow a plant that you hope to harvest in our short 59-day growing season.
Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the CSU Extension Routt County. Call 970-879-0825 with questions.