Raised Beds

Violetjune Zone 3November 1, 2013

Hello all,

Sometimes I think I like gardening best in the winter when it mostly involves just dreaming! Right now I'm thinking about moving the vegetable garden to a sunnier spot and switching to reasonably sized raised beds instead of the 8x8 bed the previous owners of our home built.

I have two experiences with raised beds. When I was a kid, my parents grew vegetables in hilled, wide rows that they would till and reconstruct every spring. This worked well but I don't want to go to all that trouble every year. My other experience was with a wooden-sided bed at a community garden. It was falling apart and full of quack grass. The paths between the beds were all grass and there was just no way to keep the grass out of there. It also dried out quickly and the soil in it seemed to repel water when I tried to water it.

My idea to avoid some of these drawbacks are to build wooden beds and mulch the paths deeply with wood chips to avoid grass and weeds invading the beds. My questions are - what type of wood should I use? How long will pine last in this climate (Calgary)? I could do cedar but it's pricey, so I'd rather use cheaper wood if it will last a reasonable amount of time. And what depth should I aim for to reduce the chance of it drying out so fast? Anything else to consider?

All advice appreciated! Thanks!

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marciaz3 Tropical 3 Northwestern Ontario

How deep was the raised bed at the community garden? Ours are about 3 feet deep and lined with landscape fabric. If you're building your old beds, try that. We built our raised bed using the community gardens' beds as a model and didn't have problems with weeds coming up through it.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2013 at 5:00PM
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bdgardener(3 AB)

Hi, just south of Calgary, all my veggies are in raised beds. I bought rough cut spruce, from UFA in High River, so you get the full dimensions, 2x6" 12ft long, cut them so they ended up being 9X3ft beds. Only one high, tilled the ground then put the raised bed down and shoveled the soil from the path areas into the bed, essentially a double dig. Then mulched the pathway ways with wood mulch. Still get some weeds in the paths but not bad. I can straddle the beds if necessary and a frost cloth fits perfectly across the width of them. My first beds have been in for 10 years, when I end up pulling everything at the end of the season I loose a little soil so i just top them up with manure. I only did them one high cause I figured if I had problems with grass or weeds or thistle ect they would be easy to remove and put them down again. So far they are holding up just starting to see a little wear on them now. Only advice I would give is not to use pressure treated wood, studies have shown that the chemicals can leach into the soil and be taken up by plants. Cheryl

    Bookmark   November 2, 2013 at 5:16PM
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ours are simple untreated spruce lumber,
then we protected them with Lifetime Wood Preservative
(this is a natural mineral based product made in BC, and is sold at Home Hardware)

the beds have been in service for 7 years,
the only thing we should have done structurally different,
was to add internal 2x4 corner supports and middle supports

the cost of the 16' 2x12's was unnecessary, as 8' 2x6's doubled up is far cheaper
and you avoid the middle part bowing outward

our beds were built on a caragana jungle (20' tall and impassable when we began)
after we cleared the top growth, we laid a row of landscape fabric (25 year warranty or above) horizontally
tuck taped the joins, then laid another row vertically and tuck taped the joins
then we built our beds and added some pea gravel for weight and to keep the area a little warmer
we have never had a caragana poke through,
so this system will definitely hinder quack grass, etc.
and you don't have to weed mat each individual raised bed,
just fill them with your soil mix

in a doubled 2x6 bed (actual height will be 11") you will be able to grow anything
even all your root crops (we grow carrots and potatoes in 2x8 beds)

we are contemplating adding 2x6 bottoms to the boxes
drilling drainage holes (and weed-matting for soil retention)
then raising the beds to hip level on 2x4 saw horses
this would make for easier sowing, upkeep, harvesting, etc.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2013 at 1:38PM
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marciaz3 Tropical 3 Northwestern Ontario


    Bookmark   November 3, 2013 at 4:36PM
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northspruce(z3a MB CDA)

Mine are three 2x6s high and they are mainly weed free. In a couple of places a small gap between the boards has allowed quack grass to get a start, and I have had to dig down and remove it from the inside. I also have an escaped flower weed (either yarrow or marguerite daisy) that has colonized them and I'm always having to fight it out. Over the 6 years I've had them though the weeds have been very minimal.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2013 at 7:04PM
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Violetjune Zone 3

Thanks for the replies. It sounds to me like untreated spruce will last a decade in our climate? I'm not going to bother using anything more expensive if that's the case.

For those of you that build your beds quite high, do you find they dry out very quickly? By now I know I can be pretty lazy about watering, so I'd like to find the right balance between high enough to warm up sooner and keep my kids from stepping in them, and low enough to keep the moisture in.

And I would love to have such a beautiful garden as intotheark, but space constrains us!

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 9:19AM
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northspruce(z3a MB CDA)

They do dry out quickly in dry years, but my soil is silty and everything dries out quickly even at ground level. I wind soaker hoses around in my raised beds and connect them all together. They are always set up so to water I just have to plug the hose in and leave it for 25 minutes.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 11:36AM
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SouthCountryGuy Zone 4b-5 SE BC(Zone 4b-5 SE BC Canada)

I guess my original post didn't go through.

We put mulch down between the raised beds at my dad's place about 12 years ago. It was 2-3" pine mulch placed about 4" deep. Very few weeds come up to this day.

Cheryl, before you go raising all your beds make sure you try one first. There is a local couple that is in wheelchairs that use old fridges for raised garden beds. They found that without the depth of the fridge, which is incidentally a perfect height for a person in wheelchair, the perched water table was too high.

Have a great white, snowy dang day!


    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 1:36PM
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marciaz3 Tropical 3 Northwestern Ontario

We only have the one raised bed this year but plan on adding more. (Hurry and build them, DH - there's still time! LOL). They did dry out, but it wasn't too bad, especially this year because we got a fair bit of rain. The carrots planted in it were super easy to pull while the ones in the ground had to be dug. I guess we'll see as the years go on, but we do water if it has been very hot or dry,

Lance, a fridge would hold the water, wouldn't it? The raised beds are on the ground and have no bottom, so they would be much better-drained.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 4:42PM
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northspruce(z3a MB CDA)

I know people have different things that they swear by, but I believe in letting the plants root into the soil below. Some garden plants such as corn and sunflowers rely on many feet of soil depth. For this reason I don't use landscape cloth, although I imagine it would eliminate weeds growing up. I also think deep rooting helps the plants resist dry conditions.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 5:37PM
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SouthCountryGuy Zone 4b-5 SE BC(Zone 4b-5 SE BC Canada)

Marcia, the fridges had lots holes drilled into the bottom of them. Sorry I should have clarified. The other bonus of them sitting on the ground is the ground itself acted as a wick to help lower the perched water table.

Winter is here :(


    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 5:49PM
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Violetjune Zone 3

Northspruce, I think you might be right about plant roots going deeper and being more resistant to dry conditions if the bottom of the bed is open. I also like your idea of soaker hoses that always remain in place. Could you tell me a little more about what you've done? How deep are your beds, how far down do you amend the soil, and do you bury the soaker hoses or just lay them on top? Do you mulch? Thanks!

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 6:08PM
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marciaz3 Tropical 3 Northwestern Ontario

I don't think i'd plant corn in a raised bed anyway - i'd need a ladder to harvest it! LOL

Lance, that's okay - i should have thought of that as well.

Winter hasn't reached us yet, but i'm sure it won't be long until it does. :-/

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 9:15PM
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northspruce(z3a MB CDA)

These are my beds, I just have 3. This photo may have been before I put the hoses in, or maybe they're just not visible from this angle, I can't remember. So far I have just joined 3 hoses together and lost a bit of water between the beds, but I keep intending to get some short solid hoses (probably washing machine water lines or something) in the future.

I don't amend the soil underneath, I actually have nice soil here although a bit dry and a bit lean. The beds are filled with compost, manure, leaves, extra soil from around my yard, and bagged topsoil, depending what I have available. I leave the hoses on top and I don't mulch. I sometimes dig in compost and then it gets all mixed up and drives me nuts.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 11:31PM
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Mice have been a big problem with our small experiment with raised beds. Probably, we made a mouse heaven, with black poplar logs put together like mini log cabin walls, 3 logs high. On top of the grass, we laid down thick partly composed goat bedding, with soil on top. It worked beautifully, except for significant rodent damage esp. to our peppers, with a preferance for the hottest peppers. We used our grass trimmer to trim grass along the edges.

Has anyone any good advice for how we can deal with our mouse problem?

    Bookmark   November 21, 2013 at 6:48PM
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Lots of cats?? I know a lady in MB who could probably hook you up. ;)

What timing to revisit Far North!! (after about 5 years away...OUCH!) I *finally* have time to get back to gardening/scheming for gardening, and raised beds are right at the top of the list!! (Our "farm garden" was about the size of 2 large town lots put together, but when the thistle moved in two years ago . . . ::cue horror music::)

I'm hoping that raised beds will give me better/more efficient production...I'd like to build them out of rough cut black poplar lumber, with layers (from the bottom up) of newspaper to kill the grass, well composted chicken and sheep manure and then top soil. I've been dreaming of something like intotheark's picture for years...but so far I've only managed to give my pre-existing flower beds a slow and painful death...just couldn't keep up. Who knew farm gardening was so much different from gardening in town.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2013 at 12:19AM
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marciaz3 Tropical 3 Northwestern Ontario

Welcome back, Verena!

    Bookmark   November 23, 2013 at 5:40PM
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I agree that cats are the easy answer to mouse problems, but they sure are hard on wild birds.

Since we haven't had a cat around, the birds have taken up residence around our yardsite with more peace of mind.

Do you think we should go for a cat and let the birds fend for themselves?

    Bookmark   November 27, 2013 at 12:22AM
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Pudge 2b

Well, my neighbors like to let their cats out to wander at will and they like to do their business in my raised beds so there's that to consider ... especially the freshly turned/hoed soil. I have to cover my raised beds in the spring after working them unless I want the cats in there digging things up and leaving a lot of stinky stuff behind. I've seen those cats stalking birds at the feeders, but I've never seen them catch one. I stuck a bunch of chicken wire underneath a shrub near the feeding arbor to deter them from laying in wait.

I've never had any issue with mice and raised beds. I do have a problem with ants, though - they nest in and alongside rotting wood. My untreated logs are 14 years old and rotting, some worse than others. Hopefully we get some changed next summer, I think we'll go with 2x8's with corner brackets and stakes to brace the boards along the sides.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2013 at 3:12PM
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I personally would much rather do what Pudge has done to keep the cats from the birds, than have mice. Don't cats prefer mice anyway? They're so much more fun to catch.

Get a cat or two :)

    Bookmark   November 28, 2013 at 10:17PM
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Regarding Ants in rotting logs:

I was wondering if pouring boiling water on the location where the ants seem to be building nests would work? I know it sounds kind of cruel, but was thinking that would be less toxic than some poison.

I poured the boiling water from my canner on the dandelions and grass trying to creep up near the front porch entry, It works great.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2013 at 6:45PM
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