Starting A Vegetable Garden
Whether it’s your first time gardening or you’re an experienced gardener, starting a vegetable garden can be a fun and rewarding experience. It’s a great way to reduce your carbon footprint, eat healthier and be more environmentally conscious.
Hello Mid-Ohio Valley farmers and gardeners! Spring has sprung here in the valley as early April temperatures climb into the 70s. The first mowing of the lawn has already passed for many and I see people tilling garden areas.
The 2023 growing season is almost upon us and many gardeners have planted peas, lettuce, radishes and other cool season vegetables. Keep in mind April always provides many temperature swings and the frost free date for our area is May 12. Do not plant warm season vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers too early.
If you do not have a lot of space or just want a nice dedicated area for vegetables or flowers, consider developing a raised bed garden this year around the home or farm. Raised beds offer backyard gardeners many benefits. This is especially helpful if you have a limited gardening area or are blessed with some West Virginia clay soil.
Raised beds make gardening possible on sites where growing plants would otherwise be impossible due to poor soil fertility, drainage issues, and steep slopes. Terraced raised beds can turn hillsides into productive growing areas, while reducing soil erosion.
The concept of raised bed gardening has been around for centuries. Some of the earlier concepts were engineers building stone boxes containing soil to grow the famous gardens in Babylonian.
Alan Chadwick, an English gardener and horticulturist, highlighted raised bed vegetable gardening in the United State in the late 1960s when he built gardens at the University of California at Santa Cruz.
His garden techniques were popularized in book “How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine.” by John Jeavons.
Raised beds can be used to grow many vegetables, herbs, fruits, trees, shrubs and flowers. Furthermore, raised beds built at the proper height are ideal for individuals with physical limitations.
Once built, raised beds are easy to prepare for planting and to care for throughout the growing season. They are well suited to a wide range of intensive gardening techniques such as row covers, trickle irrigation, intercropping, successive plantings, and use of plant supports. An added bonus is their orderliness usually produces an extremely attractive and appealing garden area.
You can choose from two styles of forming raised beds, either with or without a permanent frame. One method is tilling and ridging the existing soil into a mound or hill. This type of raised bed is not permanent and is typically used for annual vegetables, such as tomatoes and squash, flowers and herbs grown on beds 6 to 10 inches high. The main advantage of temporary raised beds is their simplicity. No expense is involved in constructing framework to contain the soil.
Another form is a framed bed, which is permanent and filled with soil or a soil-compost-sand blend to create a large volume of loose, friable soil. This type of bed is conducive to square-foot, intensive gardening and growth of many perennial and annual plants. Although constructing walls for raised beds takes labor and has an initial cost, the finished product should last for many years.
Raised beds can vary in size but Extension recommends they be at least 8 to 12 inches high to allow for adequate root development. They can be constructed using several types of building materials including wood, synthetic lumber, brick, or stone (cement blocks too). Line the bed with hardware cloth to prevent burrowing animals such as groundhogs from damaging crops.
A maximum width of 4 feet is a good choice for adult gardeners. At this width, the center of the bed is easily accessible from either side. Typical lengths are 8 to 12 feet but that depends on how much area is available. When constructing a wooden frame, install support stakes halfway down the length of the bed to prevent the wood from bowing after it is filled with soil.
Prior to building the bed, the soil that the bed is constructed over can be aerated with a broad-fork or spade. A good mix for the bed is a topsoil-compost-sand blend or a mixture of topsoil and soilless mixes, such as peat moss, compost, coconut coir, vermiculite, sand or wood chips. If the existing topsoil in the garden is not suitable for a raised bed, then manufactured growing media can be created.
A raised bed can be easily converted into a four-season cold frame structure by placing hoops made of plastic pipe or metal conduit over the frame. Each hoop is spaced 3 to 5 feet apart and can be placed on rebar to provide support. The hoops can support row cover or a lightweight plastic covering, which will protect young or mature plants from freezing temperature, driving rain or wind.
Many vegetables and herbs can be overwintered in a cold frame structure, including spinach, collards, carrots, turnips sprouting broccoli, shallots, bunching onions and kale. In warmer months, shade cloth or wildlife netting can be placed over the hoops to shade or prevent damage from wildlife.
Find our more information at our WVU Gardening webpage extension.wvu.edu/lawn-gardening-pests/gardening. Contact me at the Wood County WVU Extension Office (304)-424-1960 or at email@example.com with questions. Good Luck and Happy Gardening!