Gardening in a Raised Bed
Garden Guide: By Mary James Photography by Bob Wigand
Gardening in a Raised Bed
WHEN FRANCESCA ODDO wanted to grow a traditional Sicilian flower and vegetable garden, her son and daughter-in-law, Frank and Susan Oddo, built five raised beds of interlocking block on a terraced slope outside their Elfin Forest home. Because Francesca is in her 80s, the couple made them 18 to 24 inches above ground to be easy to tend.
Master Gardener and master composter Beth Jurecki wanted to grow edibles even though her Carlsbad garden was slated for a makeover. She opted for a curvilinear raised bed of inexpensive rice straw-filled wattles (traditionally used to prevent erosion) that she can compost when the new design is ready.
Judy and Bob Wigand decided on a “family plot” in the rear of their San Marcos home after her 40-year-old son confessed he had always wanted to grow vegetables. Their quartet of raised beds of pressure-treated Douglas fir produced a shared bounty of lettuces, tomatoes, squashes, herbs and gourmet ‘Sugarbaby’ watermelons.
For these and many other San Diego gardeners, raised beds solve a variety of problems while allowing them to tap into the biggest gardening trend of recent years — cultivating homegrown produce.
Most often raised beds compensate for poor soil since they are filled with the nutrient rich, friable soil edibles demand. Drip irrigation or hand watering is easily targeted and wire or nylon mesh barriers minimize pillaging by gophers and birds.
Raised beds also can be shaped to fit into gardens of all sizes. Experts generally recommend a width of 3 to 4 feet so crops are easily tended and harvested, and a depth of at least 12 inches for roots to stretch and sprawl.
The Wigands used 2-by-12 lumber to form their 4-foot-by-8-foot beds, securing the corners with wood screws. Jurecki staked the wattles in place for her 13-foot long bed. At the Oddos, cement-block beds ranged from 10 to 30 feet long to fit the terraces. Other hardscape options include brick, recycled concrete or urbanite, stacked real and faux stone, wood alternatives like Trex and even scrap metal.
Pick a site in full sun, remove rocks and weeds and spade to loosen existing soil. Multiple beds can be arranged in attractive patterns with paths between of gravel or straw.
Purchase a soil rich in organic matter that drains well but doesn’t dry out too quickly. Depending on size and number of beds, it may be economical to purchase it by the yard from Hanson A1 Soils, Great Soil and the like. Bagged planting (not potting) mix also will work, though it costs more. If desired, enrich with worm castings or homemade or purchased compost.
Remember that there are two vegetable-growing seasons in San Diego — warm and cool season.
Whether planting from seeds or vegetable starts, raised bed gardening is “a wonderful family experience,” Judy Wigand says. “You learn a lot about each other even as you get to share baskets of produce. It’s good times in the garden.”
Vegetable Growing Tips
From Pat Welsh, author of Pat Welsh’s Southern California Organic Gardening (Chronicle Books, $32.50)
For crunchy, sweet leaves, give lettuce seedlings plenty of water and fertilizer. Slow-growing leaves are tough and bitter.
Thin vegetable seedlings according to package directions to prevent overcrowded, stunted plants.
Plant corn in blocks of several rows so that pollination will occur. Feed with fish emulsion or other liquid fertilizer when the corn tassels out.
Carrot, celery, parsnip and parsley seeds are slow to sprout. Speed the process by pouring boiling water on the sown seeds before covering with soil.
Early March, after the danger of frost is past, start planting warm-season crops like tomatoes, green beans and New Zealand spinach. Wait until April for heat-lovers like eggplant, peppers, melons and pumpkins.