By Cynthia Bee, Conservation Garden Park
Vegetable gardens are popular in Utah where we value self-reliance—and the best tomatoes. What we don’t love is a lot of weeding and maintenance that often accompany vegetable gardening. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the work, weeds, and water required to grow your own high-quality produce at home. Raised vegetable beds solve challenges and extend the growing season.
Raised beds make it easier to avoid chemicals in your produce, so long as you choose the right bed materials to go along with your good growing practices. The most popular option for bed construction is lumber; just make sure to use untreated lumber to avoid chemicals. Redwood and Cedar are the most popular and tolerate soil contact over time with less decomposition of the lumber.
Other options include cinder blocks, metal, or PVC-based fencing products. Many of the composite decking materials, also called plastic lumber, are non-toxic but you’ll want to carefully review manufacturers specifications before committing to a specific material. If you’d like painted or stained beds, consider Milk Paint. Milk Paint is made from natural ingredients and pigments, making it safe to use.
An advantage of raised beds is light soils. Because you don’t walk on the soil, they don’t suffer from compaction. Keep it that way by sizing them correctly. Your arm reach is about 2 feet, so beds with access from only one side should be 2 feet wide. Beds which can be accessed from both sides can be 4 feet wide. The length of the bed is determined by the space available and your desired layout.
It’s also a good idea to have a couple of different bed depths. The minimum depth is 6 inches for crops like lettuce, radishes, and basic greens. Tomatoes and larger vegetable plants will appreciate depths of 8-12 inches.
Lawn between planting beds creates a watering and maintenance nightmare, so surround beds with gravel or mulch instead. Weed barrier fabric can be used below the mulch in paths but should not be used in or under the planting beds.
There are all sorts of raised bed gardening soils available through local suppliers. Soils used in raised beds need to be more nutrient dense and lighter than your existing top soil. A mix of soil and compost is recommended. Consider also the addition of coconut coir, a renewable resource that is a replacement for peat moss and can hold 10x its weight in water, which helps the beds retain even moisture for a longer period. Top dressing planting beds with a compost mulch will also help reduce weeds and maintain moisture.
Most vegetables do best when water is applied to the roots through drip irrigation. Vegetable gardens should have their own irrigation zone because they require less water than lawn but more water than shrub beds.
To learn more about home food production in the landscape, register for the upcoming Organic Gardening and Fruit Tree Growing classes on Saturday, April 28th. Register to attend at http://conservationgardenpark.org/events.