Ask the master gardeners
Q: I had such poor success with my vegetable garden this past year I’m about to quit. What can I do? I so love the taste of homegrown produce and I love to garden.
— Karen Cheeks-Lomax, Mount Vernon
A: If you are looking for a better way to grow your vegetables, consider installing a raised bed. The advantages far outweigh the initial investment of time and money.
This is a great project to do now since you’ve put your garden to bed and have fewer garden chores to do. It also allows the soil to settle before spring.
Raised beds are usually easier to maintain (less bending and kneeling). They promote better plant health: walking in your garden compacts the soil; soil compaction can cause problems with drainage and oxygen available to the roots; it’s harder to weed compacted soil.
If you build a bed big enough to be accessed from both sides, you never have to set foot in it. Raised beds can be filled with high-quality soil rather than what Mother Nature has given us.
It’s easier to add compost or other organic matter. If you grow long-rooted plants like carrots, the beds are deeper and free of stones. Raised beds get more sun and air circulation. You can plant earlier because raised beds warm up before the ground in spring and they stay warmer later into fall.
To build it: Pick a sunny location and determine how big you want it. If the ground is not frozen, you can till the soil before building to allow extra room for the roots to grow.
If you have pests like moles or voles, you can line the bottom with hardware cloth or old screen material. Use a nontoxic material such as cinder blocks, bricks or pressure-treated wood. Do not use treated railroads ties because chemicals can leach into your garden.
You’ll want the bed to be at least 12 to 16 inches deep. Make sure it’s sturdy because it has to hold heavy soil. If using wood, be sure you brace the corners. There are companies that sell entire kits or just corner pieces that are easy to install and keep the corners plumb. This makes the job that much easier for you.
Add good-quality soil and plenty of compost. Don’t use soil from your garden as it tends to be too heavy and doesn’t drain well. Your raised bed should last for years and you can keep soil healthy by adding organic matter yearly. Good luck with your project!
— Sue Brennan, White Plains, master gardener with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Westchester