A raised bed is the gardener’s ideal: optimum soil, intensive cropping, and abundant harvests. Any permanent garden, large or small, can be set up using the raised-bed technique. The method is just as popular for flower gardens as it is for food gardens. Among the advantages of this type of bed is that the soil dries out and warms more quickly in early spring, which allows you to plant sooner—a desirable feature in the frost belt.
The crops usually are planted in wide-row fashion. Raised bed gardens can be seen as permanent wide row gardens, or wide row gardens with architecture. See .
To make the simplest type of raised bed, lay out the garden in beds from 3 to 5 feet wide, depending on your reach. You should be able to easily reach the center of the bed without stepping in it. The beds can be any length, but if they are longer than about 20 feet, it’s inconvenient to walk from one side of a bed to the other around the end.
Plan paths between the beds at least 16 inches wide (the width of a standard garden rake), or wider if you want to fit a cart or wheeled caddy in the path. Make the paths by digging down about 4 inches and throwing the soil on the beds. Shape the beds with sloped sides and flat tops.
This type of bed is raised about 4 inches and has no sides; the slope keeps the soil in place.
If the bed is framed, however, it looks better, is easier to work, and less soil falls on the path. The frame can be constructed of stone, bricks or concrete blocks, or of 2-inch lumber or railroad ties. All are effective and reasonably attractive. Avoid new railroad ties treated with fresh creosote, which is not good for the soil. Red cedar and redwood make the most long-lasting frames.
A framed bed about chair height topped by a sill wide enough to sit on makes gardening more comfortable and leisurely, especially for gardeners with mobility problems.
An extra advantage of permanent beds is that you can invest time and effort in improvements because the improvements will last many years. For example, you can pave the paths or cover them with gravel or something else that doesn’t support weed growth. You can make a system of hoops or a frame over the beds to support row covers, shade cloth or bird netting.
You will have to purchase soil to fill beds higher than about 4 inches. For some tips, see Buying Topsoil.