The best fertilizer is the gardener's shadow. ~Author Unknown
Our vegetable garden is located near an old apple tree. When we first moved into the house there were two trees but the very first heavy winter storm left the weaker of the two uprooted so it was eventually taken out of the yard. Our daughter is at an age where she likes to spend time in the branches of the tree so it is not coming down anytime soon. Not to mention it is completely healthy and provides a nice bit of shade for the sand box and a lawn chair so there is really no need to do something so drastic.
I bring up the apple tree because for the past few seasons it has been robbing the outer edge of our vegetable garden of nutrients. The crops that are in that particular space have a poor yield and simply look to be in poor condition. We have tried to beef up the soil, which is really only feeding the tree, so we decided it was time to go in a new direction.
Last year towards the end of summer, maybe even in the early weeks of fall, my daughter helped me build our first raised bed for the garden. In our cellar when we moved in were some untreated boards sitting in the corner, since we are always trying to recycle and reuse we thought this would be the perfect experiment. Our house was the first house built on the street in the early 1920’s and the basement is an old stone foundation so it gets a bit damp down there. The boards were a little damp but for the most part in really great shape considering where they had been kept for who knows how long. We took the boards outside and let them dry in the sun for a day or two and then of course it rained. So after a few more days of drying out we went to town. We put on some cheap mask and we began by sanding the boards down, partly to get all the dirt off of the boards but also to smooth them down as much as possible so that in the future we could touch them while they were in the garden and not risk injury. Afterwards we measured the garden space available and cut the boards accordingly. No power tools here just sweat and more sweat. When it was all said and done the bed was about 7 inches high and was 3 feet wide by 6 feet long.
Yesterday my children helped me prepare the bed for its first planting. We removed about 3 wheelbarrow loads of dirt from the garden and put it in it. We also had a couple of bags of organic garden soil from the store as well as a manure and hummus mixture. We then added some compost from our pile of black gold (a mixture of green kitchen scraps and unbleached paper) that has been fermenting for about 3 years now and for a little flavoring I added some bat guano and bone meal. We decided to plant lettuce seed in it after witnessing the success our friends had last year in their raised bed.
Now there are a number of benefits to raised bed gardening. Due to the above average soil you can grow a crop a bit closer together than you normally would and still get great production. It helps to conserve moisture in the soil and chokes out weed growth as well when the plants are closer to one another. If you are really motivated you can turn your raised bed into a cold frame and extent your growing season. Cold frames are an interesting idea worth looking into especially if you garden in the northern climates. Another benefit of raised beds is that you do not need to walk on the soil to reach the plants and this has an immediate impact on the root system of the plant. If you happen to be a little older or physically unable to bend over you could use a raised bed that is nearly waist high, this would allow you to pull up a chair and tend to your plants with little stress to your body. There is also something very attractive to the eye as well when a raised bed or multiple beds are placed in a proper location on ones lawn.
There are a number of resources online if you are interested in building a bed or if you prefer you can simply buy one premade a put it together upon arrival.