Making a vegetable bed is something like making a bed you sleep in. It has different layers and is raised above ground level to provide an environment for something or someone to get into. In the case of vegetables you are making a bed that a plant or seed can establish itself and grow to its full potential in. Just like when we get into bed at night so that we can rise the next morning to realize our full potential. Now you know the analogy of why it is called a flower bed or in this case a vegetable garden bed.
The soil is not the only component to having a successful vegetable garden but it is a very important one. The soil is the stomach of the plant. All the nutrients in the soil are digested through biological activity before the plant can take them up. Water is absorbed into the plant through the soil. The soil holds the plant upright so that it can absorb sunlight. The soil is a big thing and you would do well to pay close attention to this important step in beginning a vegetable garden.
Raised beds offer several benefits over planting on level ground. You have better drainage, deeper topsoil, less bending for the gardener, looser soil, closer plant spacing and better weed control. Making the bed also offers a chance to amend the soil to improve its capacity to support better plant growth. There are two methods. One method of amending one is to not use any of the native soil that you have in your garden and fill a box or some other container with potting soil. See my post on potting soil. The other method is to use the soil that you have now and improve it by adding amendments like compost and minerals. You could also use top soil brought in from an outside source if your native soil is very bad. See my post on What is good soil.
The Raised vegetable bed should be no wider that you can reach from either side which is usually no more than 3 to 4 feet total width. The length can be as long as you have space for. Most beds in a home garden are no more than 10 feet long. There is some confusion about what to frame the bed with. And there are many materials that will work from wood to stone to metal. A bed does not have to be framed with anything but there is some maintenance to keeping its shape if you don’t use something to frame it. In an organic garden be sure you don’t use treated wood and instead use a wood like cypress or cedar that will be naturally rot resistant. Check out this article at the National Gardening Association website about Rot resistant wood.
One way of raising the bed is to use the topsoil around the bed. Without digging a deep ditch you shovel up the topsoil a few inches deep all around the bed and add it to the bed to make it higher. This gives you more topsoil in the bed where the plant grows and less topsoil where you will be walking all the time. The next thing is to add compost to your planting bed. If you have sandy soil or clay soil your garden beds will benefit from a generous amount of topsoil. You can buy compost in bags or in bulk loads depending on how much you need. Compost is simply something that was alive and now is decaying and looks like rich soil. It should have an earthy smell and be loose and crumble easily. Avoid sulfur or sour smells. It should not look like what it was once made of if it is well composted. You will want to make your own compost if you are going to garden and never throw away vegetable scraps or leaves from your yard as they are very valuable in the garden. Compost is something you will always be adding to your garden over the years. How much compost to add to beginning with depends on the condition you soil is in to start with but a good rule of green thumb is 3 to 4 inches spread evenly over the top of your soil and then mixed in to the top 6 to 8 inches of your existing soil.
When you are beginning to make your garden bed it’s a good time to get rid of any unwanted weeds, grass, stones and roots. This is also the time to add minerals and fertilizers that a soil test has called for. See my post on soil test. Spending the time and money in the beginning is well worth the effort in having successful garden. By adding a little extra compost and organic fertilizer as you replant things you will keep your garden bed productive and it will provide years of service.