Raised Bed Gardening
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Judy and Jeff White hit gardening pay dirt when they lived in Las Vegas. Because of the poor ground for growing in that part of the country, the Whites felt they hit the planting jackpot when they found success by planting in raised beds. They have continued gardening that way ever since.
Now living in northern Illinois on 5½ acres, they have added about 10 raised beds a year until they reached the 98 they have now, growing nearly everything above ground.Date Published: March 17, 2015Date Updated: April 17, 2015
The Garden Beds
Jeff built the beds about 20 inches tall and in rectangular sizes of 4×4, 4×8, or 4×12 feet out of new treated lumber, which is now considered safe by his local Extension service.
Most of the beds are lined up in rows of rectangles, although occasionally he arranges some in the shape of an L just to add some interest. Trellises are attached for climbing plants.Date Published: March 17, 2015Date Updated: April 17, 2015
Around the beds, Jeff puts down a layer of gravel for drainage, and every year he tops that with straw.
This gravel/straw combination allows water to drain down so the couple aren’t walking in mud while they are gardening, and the straw softens the surface of the gravel so their feet don’t get sore.
Jeff built a tall fence around the area of the yard where the beds are to keep varmints and his dogs out.Date Published: March 17, 2015Date Updated: April 17, 2015
The Garden Soil
Jeff fills the beds with mushroom compost that he buys from a local supplier, and he plants directly into the compost.
Sometimes when he gets the compost, it is so hot, it is steaming. Spreading it out in the beds helps it to cool down, he says.
Once he can stick his hand into it, he knows it’s cool enough to plant in.
The compost is so soft that planting is a breeze. “I can literally plant with my hands,” he says.
Compost settles down as it matures, so Jeff just tops the beds, if needed, each year to fill the beds back up. He does not work the new layer in. That destroys soil nutrients, say Judy and Jeff, both Master Gardeners.Date Published: March 17, 2015Date Updated: April 17, 2015
Judy spends the winter months charting out where all the plants will go. “It's a lot of fun, ordering everything and finding new things,” she says.
She gets lots of seed catalogs for crops like green beans, carrots, and peas. But when she needs to put in plants (such as onion sets, green peppers, or tomatoes), she always uses a grower from her region.
“It’s important to get these plants from a supplier that grows in your zone,” says Jeff, explaining that using plants grown in the same climate as yours leads to better success.Date Published: March 17, 2015Date Updated: April 17, 2015
Garden Cloth for Weed Control
The Whites use garden cloth on top of the compost to keep weeding down during the growing season.
They cut holes in the cloth to put in plants, and use long, narrow rectangles for plants grown in rows, such as carrots.Date Published: March 17, 2015Date Updated: April 17, 2015
Raised Box for Blueberries
Blueberries and cranberries get their own raised boxes, as they require special acidic soil.
The Whites can treat the soil successfully in these raised beds, resulting in a bountiful harvest, difficult in most northern Illinois soil.
Throughout the season, Judy practices rotation planting, which means as some plants finish their harvest, she pulls them out and puts something else in their place.Date Published: March 17, 2015Date Updated: April 17, 2015
Flowers scattered throughout the beds not only brighten up the garden but also help attract bees to pollinate the vegetables and fruit.
Three hives of Italian honeybees behind an outbuilding provide enough honey for the Whites and lots of their friends.Date Published: March 17, 2015Date Updated: April 17, 2015
A Place for Fowl
Seventeen Barred Rock hens, a rooster, and three Guinea fowl strut their stuff in a corner of the yard.Date Published: March 17, 2015Date Updated: April 17, 2015
Enjoying the Raised Bed System
Both Judy and Jeff grew up in the country in northern California and wanted the same kind of lifestyle when they settled down in Kirkland, Illinois.
In addition to lots of gardening, they enjoy a creek at the end of their property and have room to raise and play with their five Labrador retrievers in assorted colors.
Enjoying the ease of the raised bed system means the Whites can have a huge garden and still have time for plenty of other country activities.
“We’ve been gardening all our lives, but I wouldn’t be able to continue to garden if the beds were on the ground. Now, I’m planning on doing this at least until I’m in my 80s,” says Judy.Date Published: March 17, 2015Date Updated: April 17, 2015
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