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Imagine a dinner table laden with vegetables grown in your own garden—pretty spectacular, right? Nothing compares to the satisfaction of planting and nurturing your own edible harvest, or to the pleasure of tasting nutritious, sun-ripened herbs and vegetables that you’ve grown with your own hands. But the idea of starting a vegetable garden can be overwhelming for beginner gardeners, which is why we’re addressing five key questions that will help you get started.
#1. Should I use raised beds, or plant directly in the ground?
Almost any experienced gardener will tell you to “start out small and build on your success,” and we couldn’t agree more. In-ground garden beds require knowledge related to native soils. In North Texas, for example, we must contend with clay-like soil that requires fertilizers and soil amendments if our plants are going to thrive. Raised garden beds, on the other hand, allow new gardeners to work with quality pre-packaged soil mixes. These mixes can be poured directly into a raised bed frame to spare back-breaking digging and tilling.
There is the initial cost for the raised bed frame to consider, but the benefits of raised beds outweigh the downsides. These frames last for many years and can be moved as the light conditions in your landscape change. They also provide better drainage than traditional gardens and allow gardeners to exert greater control over the self-contained space.
#2. What should I look for in a raised bed frame?
Most raised beds are 12” deep, with easy to assemble pre-made kits available in a variety of sizes. 3’ x 5’ and 4’ x 8’ are easily manageable. If you prefer to build your own, you can construct beds from raw wood. Remember to use untreated wood so no chemicals leach into the soil—cedar is a good choice thanks to its durability and natural insect-repelling properties. You can also find small, sturdy raised beds on legs, which are a great choice for gardeners with limited mobility or apartment dwellers starting a garden on a patio or balcony.
#3. Where and how should I place my raised vegetable bed?
Location is everything in gardening! Vegetable gardens need at least six hours of full sun (eight hours is ideal), and you’ll want to find a place with easy access to a garden hose. After choosing a location you’ll need to prepare the bed area. Put down several layers of newspaper topped by a layer of weed-block fabric to prevent existing weeds and turfgrass from spreading into the bed. Construct the raised bed frame on top of the fabric, then trim any excess newspaper and fabric around the outside edge.
#4. What can I grow in a raised bed?
Almost any sort of herb and vegetable will thrive in a well-built raised bed with healthy soil and a layer of mulch, which protects the soil surface, keeps out weeds, and holds in moisture. Root crops—those that develop under the soil like onions, potatoes, carrots, and radishes—thrive in raised beds. Tomatoes, which may require extra time and attention, are easy to reach in a raised bed. It’s important to always keep in mind the size of a full-grown plant. For example, one 4” pot of lettuce, when fully grown, will be 12” tall and wide. Broccoli and cauliflower grow to two feed wide! Though your vegetable garden may look sparse when you first plant, small veggie transplants will eventually flourish, and the bed will fill out.
#5. How do I maintain my raised garden bed from season to season?
In the Dallas area we’re lucky to have two growing seasons: planting in early spring for an early summer harvest, and in late spring for a fall harvest. In between planting seasons, you may need to add additional soil mix as the soil in the bed compacts. Each time you plant you’ll want to add mulch around new planting to protect the soil surface (it’ll also make your beds look fresh & new!). Towards the end of winter, just before spring planting begins, add organic soil amendments like worm castings to boost the health of your soil.
All that’s left is to plant, harvest, and enjoy! Still have questions? Come see us and speak with a Garden Advisor for more advice on growing your own veggies!