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Tips for Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening

It's too early to plant, but is the perfect time to be planning for your spring vegetable garden (and you can definitely start your seeds indoors now!)! With a record number of homeowners deciding to plant vegetable gardens for the first time last year (which made perfect sense during the global pandemic), many homeowners are craving more knowledge on how to grow their own food, with many wanting to grow in raised gardening beds. Today we will share many tips for gardening in raised beds, and we invite you to come by the nursery to ask us more questions, or reach out to us on Instagram or Facebook.

So, lettuce begin (did you catch that?).

1. Why should we use raised beds? This is a great question! You can definitely plant straight into the ground without a raised bed, but here today, this will be focused on the positives of raised bed gardening (which is also what I do each year in my backyard!), so we will list out many reasons to use a raised bed method for vegetable gardening.

One of the main reasons is that you can better control the soil. Who knows what the pH is of their soil? If I'm honest, me neither (although I do know mine is definitely more alkaline than acidic). How much clay is in your soil in your yard? I have it, too- welcome to Middle Tennessee! Having a raised bed helps you control what kind of soil your vegetables are growing in, resulting in a greater success of growing an excellent crop, and we all want that!

Another reason to use raised beds is if you have a small area to be able to garden. Raised beds look neat and tidy, and create a designated "zone" for your vegetable garden. There are established boundaries on where your plants can and cannot grow. If you are making several raised beds, you can also easily walk between each raised bed, which (especially if you have young children) lessens the chance of someone accidentally stepping onto plants or in a row of plants and their soil (such as directly in-ground).

Additionally, if you have dogs or cats that like to get into your garden, it can be easier to fence off or add protective features, such as netting or chicken wire, around your garden if need be, to keep pets and other critters (like hungry birdies!) away.

2. We won't get into specifics of how to build a raised bed (that's another long post for another day!), but here are some quick tips. You can make your raised bed/s out of many different materials. You can use natural wood, manmade wood, tires (yep, some people use tires! Shown above), galvanized tubs, or vinyl (just to name a few).

Ideally, you do not want a bottom to your raised beds. Many plants have deep roots and you do not want those roots to be bound by having a bottom to your raised bed. This will decrease production as well as hamper the health of your plant over the course of the growing season. Having, or renting, a small tiller would help immensely in breaking up the soil under where your raised bed will then be. If your raised bed is large enough, you can till directly into the soil once you've positioned your raised bed where you want it.

Tomatoes are a great example of a plant whose roots grow down very deep. When you plant tomatoes, you actually plant a large portion of their actual stem in the ground (not only the roots). This yields a higher crop and improves the stability and health of the plant. Watch this video for a how-to where you can see me planting tomatoes in my own raised garden bed:

3. What kind of soil does a raised bed need? You will hear a few different things depending on what website you look at, but a general rule of thumb is that you want 2/3 of your ratio to be topsoil (whether that is soil that you've tilled from your existing ground, or you add in topsoil- we offer great topsoil with no fillers, available in bags, here at the nursery) and 1/3 to be amendments. An excellent amendment, and one that several of us have used in our own beds, is Fox Farm Planting Mix.

This product contains earthworm castings; an almost, dare we say, magical fertilizer for growing vegetables. It also contains sphagnum peat moss, which is excellent for helping keep your raised bed uniformly moist in the hot summer sun.

4. What kind of plants can be planted in a raised bed? SO MANY! We are talking about warm-weather vegetable gardens right now (mainly because it's cold today and I'm dreaming about spring)- you can plant tomatoes, peppers, okra, herbs, cucumbers (although you may want a trellis for them), zucchini, squash, eggplant, watermelon, strawberries, and more (are you hungry now? Me too!). We are fortunate, in our climate, to be able to grow a wide variety of plants in both warm weather and cool weather.

Our frost date in Middle Tennessee is April 15th, which means that is usually around the time we stop seeing frosts and it becomes safe to plant vegetables outdoors. Please note that we can have a frost after this date, to where you would need to cover your plants if they are already in the ground. If you plan to build a raised bed this spring, we suggest having it built approximately a month or so before this frost date, so you can have ample time to amend your soil.

We offer a huge variety of vegetables in spring and encourage you to try growing a new vegetable this year that you haven't tried before. Ask us any questions on how to grow, as most of us at the garden center have been vegetable gardening ourselves for several years. We're happy to help, and I am glad you and I were able to dream about spring planting here together today! We look forward to seeing you soon at your local nursery.


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