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The beauty of raised bed gardening

Jim Conley –

CSU Extension

WALSENBURG– A huge “Thanks” to all who attended last Saturday’s “Vegetable Garden Workshop.”  We had an amazing 91 people in attendance!  Thanks also to the Planning Committee and another “Thanks” to the co-sponsors, The Huerfano County Chamber of Commerce, Spanish Peaks Library District, La Veta Library District, and the Huerfano County Master Gardeners!  Our speakers were inspiring and provided a lot of practical tips.

    One of those valuable tips was the concept of a raised bed garden.  A raised bed is constructed with framework that allows soil to be added to the interior, raising the soil level above the surrounding terrain.  Typical frames could be old railroad ties, concrete blocks, flat stones, lumber or landscape timbers.  Some people question the use of treated lumber.  The most common wood preservative traditionally used was CCA, which was taken off the market in 2003.  Currently, ACZA and ACQ are the two products used for wood treatment, and research shows that lumber treated with these products can be used safely in raised beds. The good news is this: in our dry environment, even untreated lumber will last for years, and you’ll have no concerns about these chemicals.

    A raised bed allows you to create a more ideal soil for vegetable gardening. We tend to have either very sandy soils or very heavy clay soils.  The sandy soils dry out too quickly, and the clay soils drain slowly.  By using a raised bed, you have the opportunity to create your own garden mix by adding sand, compost and soil,  giving you a more ideal soil.

    A raised bed can be any size, but it’s suggested to be no more than 4 ft. wide.  This allows you to work the bed from either side without having to walk in it.  Foot traffic increases soil compaction, which reduces water infiltration and yield.  If you have to walk in your raised bed, lay a plank down first and walk on it to distribute your weight.

    Wind!  Yes, we have wind, and a raised bed can be your friend.  You might have some trees on your property that can serve as a windbreak.  If not, you can erect a wooden windbreak on the north and west sides of your raised bed.  Something as simple as a few wooden pallets or a roll of snow fence will make an effective windbreak.  If you have a good spot, plant some native shrubs that will grow into a windbreak.

    Critters?  Yes, a raised bed can help here, too.  Wooden timbers that serve as the framework can be used for attaching “chicken wire” or “hardware cloth” around the perimeter of the raised bed to keep out the rabbits.  Pocket gophers digging underneath?  Put down a layer of hardware cloth on the ground, before you add soil.  Deer?  You’ll need a taller fence.  Bears?  Try a solar powered electric fence!

    Watering?  Yes, a raised bed is your friend.  You can water it directly with a garden hose.  Or, install a simple drip irrigation system or just lay in a soaker hose and cover with mulch or garden fabric to reduce weeds and prevent evaporation.  Simply plant through the garden fabric and weight it down with stones and you’ll be gardening on Easy Street.

    Raised beds are more and more popular for home gardeners.  The soil warms up quicker in the spring, allowing for earlier planting.  You get to “build” your soil, which will improve drainage and increase yield.  The smaller size allows for more intensive gardening, and it’s easier to maintain than a large garden.  Give it a try, you’re sure to be happy with raised bed gardening!

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