Growing vegetables and other types of produce in raised bed gardens have become quite popular and with good reason. Raised bed gardens can provide a steady stream of fresh produce with less time and labor requirements than a traditional in-ground garden, but they’re not without their drawbacks.
Raised bed gardens begin with a border. Like the three little pigs, most are constructed with wood, some are made of brick or stone, and there are even somewhere the entire garden is nothing more than a bale of hay and a little potting soil. And just like the fairy tale, if you want to keep the big bad wolf at bay with a raised bed garden that will last long, look good, and provide less stress, then get out the checkbook and go with brick or stone.
Wood is a more affordable than brick or stone but has its own limitations. It obviously has a shorter lifespan and its appearance may deteriorate faster than the wood itself. So what type of wood is best? In most cases it’s cedar. Cedar is naturally resistant to decay and will keep its appearance longer than treated wood but it, as us southerners say, ain’t cheap. Treated wood, because of its availability and price is the most popular, but one thing has always concerned me… chemicals. Wood with chemicals plus soil equals wood with fewer chemicals and soil with more chemicals.
Here’s a quick history lesson on wood preservatives. Prior to 2002 most wood preservatives were arsenic based, that’s right, ARSENIC. Not surprisingly, it took the geniuses in Washington, D. C. until 2002 to figure out that arsenic + wood + garden soil wasn’t a good idea and then they not so promptly banned it as a wood preservative. Today most wood preservatives are copper based. I’ve personally talked with an engineer at Osmose, one of the leading wood preservative companies, and she has assured me that copper based treatments are 100% safe and will not leech into the soil. Geez, where have I heard that before? How many times have we been told that something is safe only to learn that it’s unsafe a few years later? A treated wood border on my raised bed garden? No thank you, that is if I had a raised bed garden, but more on that later.
So now that you’ve invested your time and money into your nice new border you need to put something inside those borders that your plants can call home, in other words, dirt, or something similar. It can be a mixture of topsoil and compost, or better yet, a lighter, longer lasting, better draining planting mix as was discussed in a previous blog. So grab your checkbook one more time, put on your back brace and some old clothes, crank up the tiller, borrow your buddy’s pickup truck, and head to the nursery to, as we say down south, pick me up some dirt….oh yeah, don’t forget to shut off the tiller before you leave. We’ll talk more about this dirt stuff and the pros and cons of raised bed and container gardening in part two of Raised Bed vs Container Gardening, and the Winner is…Raised Container Gardening. Now y’all comeback, ya heah.