A few years ago, I was on the phone with one of my church friends and we were talking about becoming a vegetarian. I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it. There are good things and bad things that are connected with both. One thing I do know is that there is a settlement in California called Loma Linda where there are a significant number of centenarians. The fact is that most of these centenarians are also vegetarians. This concentration of centenarians and vegetarians is not accidental. Eating healthy vegetables and limiting meats of all forms is referred to as the Eden Diet in a 2013 US Money report. The findings are significant for this study as these vegetarians live more than a decade longer than most of us.
I was walking by the pool recently and this question popped up. One couple mentioned that their daughter is having some success cultivating her garden with raised beds and asked if I had any experience using them. Here are some quick benefits of having a raised bed: Easier on a gardener’s back, looks nicer later in the season, fewer pest invasions, better drainage, fewer weeds, better soil temperatures and earlier planting time, can be a permanent or temporary garden, and less chance of soil contamination. Bottom line, I’ve recommended raised gardens to most vegetable lovers I know for many of the reasons mentioned.
My friend from a few years ago told me that he didn’t really like the vegetable offerings he usually saw on store shelves. I agreed with him up to a point. What I did was recall a World Health Organization study that was done and it pointed out that there was a significant difference between organically grown vegetables and fruits versus conventionally grown produce. If you are looking at an organically grown vegetable, you will have an ample source of nutrients compared to a conventionally grown product. In other words, conventionally raised produce likely lacked the trace nutrients we all need in our diets. This means that a wise person can look for alternatives to go to the market if you cannot find signs of organic products on the items you would like to buy.
When we were installing some raised beds a few years ago at the North End Community Improvement Collaborative in Mansfield we all noticed a lot of benefits in the first few years we were there. The beds had excellent garden soil, organic matter, and soil amendments. The ground remained light and airy because nobody stepped on it. The soil was not compacted and did not require tillage. As we worked in that parking lot, we had the freedom to add the soil, rich organic matter, compost, and soil additives that would produce the food we wanted. Keep in mind that the soil will settle and the plants will run out of nutrients, which means you’ll be adding fresh soil to raised beds on a regular basis.
As the soil has been improved and enriched with nutrients, plant density can be increased and a higher plant-to-soil ratio will result. Since you don’t walk into the beds, you don’t need to walk between rows. The challenge is that you have to bend over the beds to care for the plants, which means the length of your arms will determine how well you can care for the plants. More vegetable plants will also mean more shade on the ground and fewer weeds.
When you collect most packets of seeds, you will see that the plant you are placing in your raised bed does best in well-drained soil. Raised beds are usually elevated, which means the soil drains more quickly than flat beds. In most raised beds you will find rich, well-draining soil, unlike our heavy clay soil here in Ohio where we range from a little loamy to needing a pickaxe, spud bars and a stick of dynamite to turn the soil . Keep in mind that your raised bed will likely need more watering than your ground-level bed, unless you have partial revetment as I recommend.
Moles, voles and squirrels are best controlled with raised beds. These soil dwellers have a hard time getting past the wood and wire mesh lining the bottom of the bed. If you make a frame with wood to fit the hole in the bottom of the trim with the wire mesh in the center of the frame, you can then attach the plastic trim to the edge of the frame. By doing this you can have a small reserve at the bottom of the bed and provide water for the roots as needed. Instead of spraying each plant individually for insect pests, you can spray around the bed and control certain insects. With the raised bed you can install bird nets or mosquito nets over the beds or other insect exclusion fabric. Overall, pest control is easiest with raised beds.
This year, as you’re planning your gardens, you really need to consider raised beds, which is what my friends were doing as we talked by the pool. I hope your new year is happy. As you walk your gardens and see some challenges, please let me know. I will help you as much as possible, please email me at [email protected] I’ll be back to ohiohealthyfoodcooperative.org soon. Thank you for participating in our column.
Eric Larson of Jeromesville is a veteran landscaper and gardening enthusiast and a founding board member of the Ohio Chapter of Association of Professional Landscape Designers.