Recently, I built another raised bed for my personal gardening passion: vegetables. I combined two different growing methods, (hugelkultur and square foot gardening), into one raised cinder block system. Hugelkultur utilizes the characteristics of aged wood such as moisture retention, aeration, slow nutrient release as well as feeding/housing the many beneficial organisms necessary for healthy soil and plants.
Here is what I did:
- Built the block walls of the raised bed.
- Exhumed approximately one to two shovel depths of native soil from the bed’s center. I left a lip of undisturbed soil around the block wall so as not to destabilize the blocks.
- Filled the bottom twelve inches with extremely well-rotted wood from the wood pile I inherited with the house.
- Purchased a yard of good quality compost/topsoil and four bags of aged cow manure from a local garden center to amend the soil I had removed from the bed. The manure is an important nitrogen source. The fresher the wood used, the more crucial the nitrogen will be. Fresh wood, such as sawdust or wood chips, has a high carbon to nitrogen ratio. The soil microbes will go crazy stripping the available nitrogen from the plants, leading to mid-season nitrogen deprived tomatoes for a couple of seasons.
- Amended the native soil with compost, mixed the two in a wheelbarrow, and spread it on top of the wood. Stopped to occasionally to water the soil down in between the wood pieces.
- Filled the bed to capacity and marked square feet spaces with twine.
- The bed is now ready for planting; just waiting for Mother Nature to cooperate!
Now, you may ask why a raised bed versus a traditional garden plot? There are trade-offs with either method, so consider your situation before you begin. I chose raised beds for several reasons:
- I can better control the soil type by creating my own,
- Raised beds can reduce the amount of pest pressure, (or pressure from little feet shall we say),
- Raised beds provide better aeration and drainage, and
- Raised beds are easier on the body – I do not have to bend over so far!
Whatever you do, go grow some food!
Josh Steffen, Horticulture and Facilities Manager