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Make a Raised Bed!

May 27, 2010

The benefits of raised garden beds include fluffier soil that is easier for plant roots to grow through and better drainage.  As the garden beds are raised above the ground in a designated space, soil compaction is lessened and the soil warms up quicker in the spring which allows for earlier planting.  This is also a great method to use when your existing soil is undesirable. 

Raised beds can be framed or unframed; this really depends on your situation and whether you already have quality soil.  Given that much of the soil in Western Pa is very clayey, and in the city of Pittsburgh, may contain lead, we will focus first on framed raised beds.  Please click here for information on soil testing and lead contamination

To build a framed bed, begin with untreated lumber.  The size and overall construction of the raised bed is really up to you.  Traditionally, it is recommended that your garden bed be no more than 4 foot across with a path on either side, so that you can easily reach the center of the bed from either path.  The length of the bed depends mostly on your space – it can be as long as your space will allow.  When considering the height of the frame, 12 inches or less is recommended.  Basically what you are building is a rectangular structure that you can then fill in with soil and plant in.  A mixture of topsoil, compost and composted manure can be used to fill in the raised beds.  Local sources for quality soil, manure and lumber are provided here.

More on Materials:

Pressure treated lumber should not be used for gardening applications as it contains chemical preservatives that can leach into soil and potentially end up in the food that you grow.  Naturally rot resistant wood such as red cedar or black locust can be used and will last 10 to 20 years.  Other alternatives include recycled plastic lumber or plastic/wood composite lumber.  Urban lots often have stores of brick, cinder block or rocks that can be used to support the sides of your garden bed!  

You may also think about just using pine, knowing that it will decompose naturally. Since garden frames can be replaced and, who knows, maybe you will want to change your garden design and not be stuck with one design for years and years and years.  Reclaimed wood is a great material to use. Reclaimed wood is material that has had a previous use.  If you have friends or families that are taking down an old structure, you may be able to salvage some of the wood.  The reuse is super sustainable as you are putting a material to use another time before it enters a landfill.  Just be sure that it is untreated, unpainted wood!

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