Building an above ground garden can prove to be a fun, satisfying and creative activity that is great for a number of different locations. Not to take the shine away from the traditional In-ground garden which is extremely therapeutic in its own way, but above ground gardening is popular for the many advantages it offers which include:
- Better manageability
- Accessibility for the gardener
- Protection for the plants especially from foot traffic
- Good drainage and better growth
- Controlled nutrient rich environment
- The possibility to grow variety
The concept surrounding above ground gardening refers to the growth of crops in soil filled, raised garden beds. These beds typically have no tops, no bottoms and their boards are made of timber. There are a few options in the market now when it comes to choosing the special type of timber that can be used to build the raised garden beds; from regular pressure treated woods to more expensive woods like Cedar. The aim here is that the wood lasts long.
Some raised garden beds by design, are completely elevated from the ground. These are usually referred to as Elevated Raised Garden Beds. I know, it’s a mouthful and frankly a little confusing.
The above ground gardening concept is methodically different from container gardening and In-ground gardening. So, whether you are new to gardening or a connoisseur of the art, this can be an interesting experience for your gardener’s journal; real or imagined.
Let’s take a look at what it takes to build your own above ground garden. These are some steps that will guide you through the process:
- Select and prepare the location
- Assemble and place the raised garden bed
- Fill in soil
- Add plants or seeds
1. Select a location.
The position you choose for your garden should be flat, sunny (A regular supply of about 6-8 hours of sunlight) and soft. To make the area less compacted, especially if you are using an area already occupied by grass or weeds, a sheet of cardboard or a piece of tarp can be placed over the area. In about 6 weeks or less, the grass will die off and will be easier to remove. Otherwise, you can just get in there with a garden fork and loosen up the soil…you will want to go about 6-8 inches deep to improve rooting.
2. Assemble the bed kit.
This stage is pretty straight forward. Most raised garden bed kits (And there are a wide variety of them) come with a manual that details step by step instructions on setting up the garden bed.
If however, you prefer to build the garden bed by yourself, it will be prudent to note that the elevated raised garden beds need extra support at the bottom as per the amount of soil that will be contained within the bed. Building this type of raised bed garden can be tricky and needs precise measurements so most gardeners go for the already made garden bed kits with instruction manuals. But, if you are up for the challenge, here are some pointers.
- First, the dimensions. The whole idea backing above ground gardening is that the garden should be easier to manipulate. Therefore, the dimensions will be tethered to this aspect. The raised garden beds are usually between 3 to 6 inches wide so one can actually reach the middle of the garden from one side. The length can vary greatly, from a length of 6 to 8 inches. The depth can range from 6 to 8 inches (from the ground) as well. This will depend on how high you need your garden to be.
- Fit in stakes at every corner of the area set out for your garden bed. The stakes lend support to the entire frame. Additional stakes can be placed a few feet apart for long beds.
- About ¾ of the stake’s length should be in the ground and make sure all stakes are level. This helps to form an even bed.
- Set the lowest boards of the garden bed, placing them a few inches below ground level. They can be attached to the stakes using screws or galvanized nails. If you want the garden bed a little higher, additional boards can be placed on the lower boards and attached to the stakes as well.
Before putting up the bed boards line the bottom with a weed blocker or landscape fabric to act as a barrier between the bed and the ground beneath to keep out weeds. Don’t worry the fabric is porous so it does not affect the passage of water for drainage.
3. Add soil.
The soil is added to almost fill up the bed. Ratios of the soil components can vary depending on the needs of the plants you will be growing. However ideal soil component ratios can be:
- 60% topsoil, 30% compost, 10% potting mix.
- 50% top soil (healthy loam), 50% compost.
The compost usually goes in first and it can range from mushroom manure to animal manure…screened manure is best This part of the soil is quite important and without the right kind of compost, most raised bed gardens tend to be a complete failure. The compost can be added over time too.
Next, comes the top soil, then the potting mix (if you decide to go with that). It is advisable to use screened top soil to avoid the tiresome battle with weeds and pests.
The soil components are mixed up to form a rich environment for your plants to grow.
Raised bed gardens have very good drainage and plants tend to grow a lot faster and better in these controlled environments so the soil will dry out faster. The amount of water needed will depend on the plants in your garden and the season…the water needs of the plant will definitely increase in the summer. Generally, if the soil is dry up to an inch into the garden bed, then its time to water the plants.
4. Add the plants or seeds.
Finally, you can add your plants or seeds. Again, this depends on what you want to grow in your garden. You will want to note plants that can or cannot grow together in an enclosed space. For example, while mint smells amazing and will be great to have in the garden (if only for one to stop and sniff every 5seconds) it is a runner. This means, if it is planted in a bed with other kitchen herbs, it will over populate the bed and can limit the growth of the other plants which can cause them to eventually die from a lack of space and other resources. So, positioning is key. This can also be a really fun activity if you are making a flower garden. Playing around with the flower arrangements can lead to great personal satisfaction and breath-taking beauty when they eventually bloom.
There you go! Your own above ground garden. Do not be afraid to try out other ideas, especially with steps 3 and 4. Get a few things wrong, get a lot of other things right and have a good time. Sit back and watch nature take its course.