Our guide to vegetable gardening in raised beds
What are the benefits of using a raised bed to grow your vegetables?
Raised beds allow you to match your soil type with your vegetable plants and control their fertility levels. The overall quality of your crops will also be enhanced, as you will see a significant improvement of your yield due to a more efficient use of space. As a result, vegetables that are close together will provide your soil with shade. This will make it a lot harder for weeds to grow. Furthermore, beds are easy to manage even if you have reduced mobility or struggle with bending down. You can also protect your plants from flying pests, as you can simply insert stakes at each corner of the bed and then cover it with a horticultural fleece.
Vegetables suitable for growing in raised beds
Depending on the size and depth of your bed, some vegetables will grow better than others. We found that the following were the most suitable to grow:
- Spring Onions
However, vegetables that require a lot of space, such as squash or sweetcorn, and those that will need stable support, such as peas and beans, will be harder to grow in a raised bed.
Considerations before constructing your raised vegetable bed
Length: Your bed can be as long as you like but it is a good idea to keep it fairly short. This will stop you from having to step over your bed to get to the other side and will therefore prevent your soil from deteriorating.
Width: You will need to make sure that your bed is narrow enough for you to reach the centre without stepping onto it.
Height: The higher your bed is, the easier it will be to access from a wheelchair or if you have trouble bending down. Even if you do not have reduced mobility, you should think about whether you prefer standing, kneeling or sitting whilst gardening. If you prefer to sit, you could even build a sitting ledge along the sides of your bed.
Budget: Building your raised bed from wood or paving slabs is relatively cheap in comparison to brick or railway sleepers. They are also easier to construct, meaning that you are less likely to require professional help. One advantage of using brick or railway sleepers is that they are more durable than wood. If you choose to construct your raised bed from wooden planks or railway sleepers, make sure that they are free from creosote, which could leak into the soil and harm your plants.
Aesthetics: Wooden and brick-built beds provide a more traditional look in comparison to modern, streamline paving slabs and railway sleepers. Remember, you can always paint or treat your materials to make them look more appealing!
Construction: If you are planning to build your own raised bed, you will need to consider how easy each material is to work with. A simple way of building one is to place paving slabs sideways up into the ground. If you choose this method, make sure that you bury the slabs deep enough so that they do not lean outwards or become unstable. Another easy technique is to use wooden planks nailed to stakes in the ground. Wooden beds do not require foundations but there is a limit as to how high they can be built because of their strength. Brick is one of the most versatile materials in terms of size and shape, however, depending on your level of skill, you may need to hire a professional to get the foundations right, especially if you would like a high bed.
The location of your raised bed will depend largely on where space is available in your garden or allotment. If possible, allow enough room between the beds so that you can gain easy access with wheelbarrows (and wheelchairs). It will also be beneficial to choose a sunny spot, depending on which vegetables you plan to grow. It is important to note that some vegetables, such as beetroot, carrots and turnip, will still grow well in partial shade.
Tips for planting in raised vegetable beds
To ensure that the plants' roots have enough room to grow, beds should be built deeply above hard surfaces. You can also give plants more space to grow by rounding off the surface of your bed into an arch shape and by using trellises and canes to allow vertical growing space. This is especially ideal for spinach and lettuce. More vegetables can be planted if you grow them in a triangular formation rather than in square rows. Be careful not to plant your vegetables too close together or they may not be able to reach their potential size.
Companion planting can fend off pests as it can attract pollinators. For example, planting onions with carrots can deter carrot fly and the scent of French marigolds can keep tomatoes free of whitefly.
Common problems with raised vegetable beds
Higher beds can cause more drainage. This can sometimes cause soil to dry out quickly, especially during droughts, so make sure that you water your raised beds frequently. There is a risk of nutrients being leached out of your soil, as more watering is required for raised beds. It is therefore important to fertilise your soil on a regular basis.
If you are thinking of building your own raised vegetable garden and have any questions, then why not submit them to one of our horticultural experts on our Facebook page.