Now that I can blame my senior years for forgetting things, I think it seems befitting for me to say that as far back as I can remember, I have wanted to have raised beds in our garden to grow vegetables, flowers or whatever the heart so desires; whenever I peek at a community garden or listen to a fellow gardener talk about their raised gardens, invariably I get curious about the construction and other logistics involved in starting such a project. But, not being handy with tools and wood, I always got discouraged in the past because from what I have gathered talking to others, most people built their own frames from supplies bought at hardware stores.
However, it wasn’t until late winter this year when a friend and I gave a presentation on Adaptive Gardening at our local senior center, her interest, by coincidence, growing plants in raised beds. Among other aspects of raised-bed gardening, to my delight, I learned that one can also buy ready-to-assemble kits at local garden centers. Lo and behold, that’s exactly what we did, for the very next day, we purchased kits to make two four-foot by four-foot by nine-inch frames with built-in trellises, an added feature for growing climbing plants such as peas, beans etc. And, on one of his visits home, our son made three, about 16 by 28 inch frames from wood he was given by a friend. So, basically, the three small beds were at no cost to us.
Speaking of cost, the initial investment, aside from the expense of buying the kits, is the soil, a good quality friable soil. Believe me, it takes a lot of soil, I mean a whole lot, to fill the frames. We opted for a brand name potting soil which we amended with Plant-tone, a slow-release organic fertilizer; we did, however, skimp on spending on the weed barrier for the bottom of the frames by using old cotton sheets in the large frames and layers of newspaper in the small ones.
Our first round of crops were cool weather greens: spinach, cabbage, kale, mustard, red Swiss chard and cilantro, some from seeds others from starter plants. Now, as we are consuming the spring crop (we pick the greens while still tender), we have planted summer veggies such as eggplant, squash, peppers and, of course, some zinnias, one of my favorite annuals.
Needless to say, we are thrilled with the setup and success of the project: the location is perfect - sunny for a good part of the day - and close to the kitchen along with an outdoor spigot very nearby. There is a regular size bench for us to relax or rest and a smaller one for our grandson when he visits us; now, every morning when I wake up, I eagerly look forward to stepping outside to pick our “Freshest of the Fresh” produce.
By the way, the Chesterfield Extension Office has several raised beds in the front of the office bursting with healthy vegetables; there is also a publication by Virginia Tech that can be procured by visiting their website or popping inside the office during business hours. It always helps to learn the right way of gardening in raised beds.