Raised gardens are fairly easy to build and maintain. It’s simply a container above the ground filled with fertile soil and plants. The myriad benefits are: (1) its relatively small in area; (2) maintenance without bending over to the ground; (3) fewer weeds; (4) longer growing season; and (5) full control over the quality of the soil.
The containment box can be constructed of almost any wood, like aspen, although cedar and redwood are best. Length of the garden is only constrained by the space available, but width shouldn’t exceed 4 to 5 feet to facilitate the gardening of the plants. As to depth of soil, most plants need 12 inches for their roots, so 15 to 18 inches of soil is optimal.
The beds should be composed of topsoil, compost and other organic materials, such as manure. An appropriate recipe for a 4-by-8 foot bed is 8 cubic feet of topsoil, 6 cf of peat moss and 4 to 6 cf of compost or manure. Although not necessary, many gardens have a screen on the bottom to deter varmints from below.
My interest in raised gardens (and authoring this article) was piqued by meeting a young man, Andrew Zopf, who made a raised garden out of dead aspen trees from his parents’ backyard and beyond. Andrew was inspired by Miss Gay, his AP Biology teacher in Steamboat Springs, and dreamed of having his own garden. He began by hiking up a hill and locating some large logs, trimming the large branches and then hauling them back down the hill to the garden site. Quite a task because most logs were 5 to 6 inches in diameter and a total of 5 beds were constructed. When Zopf started stacking the logs, it became evident how difficult it was to level them on top of each other to achieve a dirt deterrent seal. This created a new appreciation of the original settlers who built houses using this method.
The garden beds were built over an old compost pile, so it had a good base. Unfortunately, there are tall trees nearby, and the beds receive only 6 to 7 hours of sunlight, whereas the ideal situation is direct sunlight all day.
The project the first year was somewhat expensive since it required purchasing all of the dirt, plants and seeds. The watering system consists of a drip line from his parents’ house with a mechanical system to control the water to the desired areas. Zopf readily admits he has made mistakes but is learning from them. Nevertheless, he has seen the fruits of success through the growth of his garden.
We encourage everyone to use the Colorado State University Extension office for information. It is a free service and their Master Gardeners love to help.
Be an Andrew and “Just Do It.”
Claudia Dausman moved to Steamboat in 2002 and became a Master Gardener in 2011. Besides gardening, she loves her husband, her horses, knitting, and pickleball.