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Ideas for Your New Garden Beds

“God loves the beautiful. He has clothed the earth and the heavens with beauty, and with a Father's joy He watches the delight of His children in the things that He has made. He desires us to surround our homes with the beauty of natural things.” The Ministry of Healing, p. 370

Whether you’re starting a new garden or improving an existing one, you’ll have to make quite a few decisions ranging from what types of beds and their sizes, to where is most convenient for veggies and for maintenance. Today, we’ll just cover some different types of garden beds—and please take note that what follows is an incomplete list!



Why beds?


Even if you choose to have permaculture in your garden, it is wise to organize it a little, to have defined places for annual and perennial plants, and for other things like paths or grass.


General advantages of beds:

  • They eliminate the need to step on growing ground and avoid soil compaction.

  • Soil amendments can be applied exactly where they are needed.

  • It makes the yearly garden planning easier (crop rotation, etc.).

  • Some types of crop protection can be more easily applied (net for cabbage family, for example).

Beds can be laid out at soil level or raised. With that said, let’s discuss the easiest type of vegetable bed.



Soil-level Bed or Flat Bed


Soil-level beds are the older type of beds, which also have some advantages:

  • easiest to prepare, requiring less effort and time to start

  • low cost, since little material is needed

  • don’t need to be permanent; space can easily be expanded or reduced at anytime

  • not so much watering needed because the soil is not drying that fast

  • soil keeps warm longer during autumn; this provides better conditions for winter gardening so lettuce, kale, and other veggies can remain – in the natural and cheap fridge ;) – during the whole winter season

  • soil level in beds will generally rise over time from the addition of organic matter


If the ground is not too compact, has good drainage, and is slightly sloped towards the south, there is nothing in the way of keeping your garden simple and effective.


Edging beds offers a more permanent solution as it clearly defines the beds, physically separating the growing area from the paths or the lawn. This is especially beneficial if you work with kids but also for maintenance, when cutting grass, keeping the corners of your beds free from weeds, mulching, and even for pest control. Even though it’s more expensive and takes more effort to build, your garden certainly looks much cleaner.



Hugel Bed


This bed is made atop composting wood debris and other organic matter that are built up in different layers. As it breaks down it improves soil fertility, water retention, and warms the soil. It does require some work to prepare this bed but it doesn’t cost a lot.


Some advantages:

  • improves heavy soil and provides long-term nutrition

  • faster soil warming

  • increased assimilation due to high CO2 emission (soil heat); this means more growth

  • retains water

  • no-dig method of gardening

  • need of water is decreased during the second year

  • recycling of organic materials from the yard



Some disadvantages:

  • cautious watering required during the first year

  • settles down a little more every year

  • limited time period of use; the warming effect is lost after 3 years, after 6 years it needs to be rebuilt


How to build it:

  1. Dig a trench approx. 30-60 cm deep, putting this soil aside (i.e. separate the soil, which you will use later, from the grass turf).

  2. Optionally, put a wire mesh at the bottom and sides of the trench.

  3. Place some hard wood in the middle of the trench; avoid freshly cut wood and use 2-3 year old (can be partially rotten) logs and branches.

  4. Lay the grass turf (upside down) on top; then some leaves, straw, rotted hay, old manure, and dried grass clippings. The layer should be about 15 cm.

  5. Lastly, add the set-aside soil, additional soil and compost; this should equal 30 cm.


Crater Bed


Crater beds are for gardens with a harsher climate, for areas that regularly experience long dry spells in summer. They retain heat and moisture, and protect sensitive plants from wind. In the center of the crater the soil is moist, even collecting some water. This helps it to keep cool in the summer and retain heat in the winter.


The bed diameter should be a minimum of two meters long. The walls on the sides should be at least 20-30 cm high; the north side can be greater. It is good to plant a few small trees or shrubs on the north side as a windbreak.


Some advantages:

  • Frost-sensitive plants can also be used; the bed can easily be covered, in spring or autumn, with a stake in the middle and row cover or plastic around it, like a tent.

  • It balances the temperature; in spring and autumn, when it is cold outside, the temperature inside the crater is higher than outside, and in summer, when it is very hot, the temperature inside the crater is lower than outside, due to evaporation.

  • It is divided into several growing zones and climates; this suits different plants and their needs.

  • Some stones in the crater can be used as heat accumulators, as they collect the temperature during the day and release it at night.



What is a Raised Bed?


The term “raised bed” is a bit confusing. If you add a few centimeters of soil to a garden bed that is at ground level it is already considered a raised bed. When most people talk about raised beds for vegetable growing, they mean a bed that has been raised with walls surrounding the soil, sometimes called a garden box or framed bed.



Advantages of Elevated (Raised) Garden Beds


  • better control over condition, quality, and texture of soil (can hold different types of soil allowing to match the soil to the crop)

  • roots have more space to grow (at least initially, later they also increasingly compact)

  • mostly better drainage

  • easier to exclude pests (screened bottom + net on top = not so easy to reach)

  • less weeds because of controlled or chosen soil

  • more aesthetically pleasing garden, since it’s tidier and more organized

  • encourages the soil to warm up earlier in spring; it can be planted earlier


Disadvantages of Elevated (Raised) Garden Beds


  • more costly to build

  • requires more (basic) handy skills and tools to build

  • lifespan depends on the materials used

  • limited shapes and curves for your beds

  • soil dries out much faster in summer

  • requires more watering than a soil-level bed

  • warm soil is not good for the roots, except in early spring

  • perennials have a harder time to survive since the soil freezes deeper in winter and plants do not have water anymore

  • drip irrigation is more difficult to install

  • soil cools down quicker in autumn; this is less optimal for winter crops



Raised Bed


A raised bed is at least 15 cm high; most of them are about 30 cm. There is no bottom to it, so roots, nutrients, and microorganisms can choose where to be. It is beneficial to have a screened bottom to prevent certain pests from coming in through the inside of the bed.


The materials mostly used:

  • the best wood being larch, locust tree (Robinia), oak, cedar, and Douglas fir

  • cinder blocks (bricks)

  • cement panels

  • wood composites

  • metal or steel

  • masonry

  • rock

  • galvanized culverts

  • stock tanks

If you use wood, you can use thicker boards or even roundwood timber. There is a debate about using pressure-treated wood because it releases copper; older wood was also treated with arsenic…



Tall Raised Bed


A tall raised bed is quite some work and costs even more to prepare. The bottom is the same as a raised bed but the walls are higher, about 70-80 cm high. The greatest advantage is the need for less bending, so disabled and elderly people stay blessed through their gardening.


You can use various materials:

  • wood such as larch, locust tree (Robinia), oak, cedar, or Douglas fir

  • cinder blocks (bricks) or cement panels

  • metal frames (aluminum or steel)

  • stock tanks or IBC containers

  • old pallets


If wood is used, it is good to cover the inner side walls with a garden bed liner. The bottom needs to be open for drainage (in addition to a mouse grid against mice, mole crickets, etc.).


There’s a special way it needs to be filled:

  1. The bottom layer is best filled with large rotting logs, twigs, and tree branches; deciduous wood should be used (wood from trees with leaves, not with needles). You can also add some larger gravel or stones for better drainage and to supply some minerals to the decomposing wood.

  2. Next, fill with leaves, grass turf (upside down), grass clippings, hay, straw, manure, or smaller branches.

  3. Lastly, add different layers of sandy soil, coarse compost, ground soil, seeding soil, or fine compost.


Through this method, the tall raised bed produces its own heat and nutrients, having decayed and decomposed all the materials at the bottom. After about 3 years the “heating” stops or decreases, of course. The disadvantage is that through this process the bed “loses” 8-10 cm of soil a year, so you’ll need to re-add soil. After 6-8 years, you should remove all of the soil and add anew. You can use the removed soil as a good humus for the rest of your garden!

One more important thing—avoid planting anything that tends to accumulate nitrate, like spinach, lettuce or Swiss chard, during the first year!



Cold Frame


With a cold frame, it is usually possible to start seeding about 2 weeks earlier than outdoors–a good choice if you don’t have that much space on your windowsill. ;)

It is a bed made out of wood or cement and only a few feet tall. It is covered with a removable hinged top, glazed with glass, fiberglass, or plastic. Typically it doesn’t use a heat source nor does it produce heat by itself.



Hot Bed


Hot beds are basically the same as cold frames, but with the possibility to prepare them for having self-heated soil. Perhaps you’re familiar with this method from your grandmother because this was the only way they could start planting earlier back then.


Steps:

  1. In autumn, dig a hole 60 cm deep in the shape of your frame.

  2. Optionally, you may add a layer (5-10 cm) of leaves.

  3. In spring, you’ll need to get a compacted layer of 40 cm fresh manure (the best is from horses).

  4. Place the cover on top and wait one week for heat to generate.

  5. Tramp down the manure once more and add approx. 20 cm of fine soil for seeding on top.

  6. Optionally, between the manure and the seeding soil, you can add another layer (5-10 cm) of leaves.


After 2 days it should be warmed up and you can start to seed your seedlings.


The hot bed must be renewed each year in order to have enough heat for the plants. It is actually quite high maintenance, requiring constant care that the little plants don’t get burned, meaning it must always be ventilated (by opening and closing the lid).It also requires a lot of care when it comes to watering because it can quickly become rotten or diseased, due to the temperature and condensation



Beds Not Only for Vegetables


God, our Creator, has not only given us vegetables to grow. He’s given us many different beautiful flowers, shrubs and trees. Sometimes we are too stingy with the space in our garden and want to use every square meter for crops.


Ellen White had a mixed opinion and she encourages us to have ornamental plants and lawns around the house as well: “Nearly all dwellers in the country, however poor, could have about their homes a bit of grassy lawn, a few shade trees, flowering shrubbery, or fragrant blossoms…”


I like the argument for having decorative plants in the garden. She continues, “… And far more than any artificial adorning will they minister to the happiness of the household. They will bring into the home life a softening, refining influence, strengthening the love of nature, and drawing the members of the household nearer to one another and nearer to God.” The Ministry of Healing , p. 370


I hope that each one of you who creates a garden will also feel some of this softening, refining influence in your homes, and through strengthening the love of nature, your love to God and to each other will grow as well.


 

Christina Brandtner had the privilege to be trained as a gardener in an old little garden market. She has worked at TGM Austria for more than 10 years and is still gaining knowledge and practical skills in gardening and in working with students.

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