Why hello there, mountain gardeners! This month I’m exploring garden beds and how they can help your garden thrive in our ever-changing valley climate.
Both backyard gardeners and market enthusiasts love raised beds. There are a few advantages and disadvantages you may want to know about before creating your next veggie patch.
Awesome things about raised beds:
• They are an easy way to create new gardens in small spaces and can be a creative outlet in developing your own oasis.
• Raised beds can provide improved drainage if you struggle with clay-heavy soil.
• They can extend your growing season by reducing the risk of frost.
• A copper strip on the bed rim can help reduce slugs.
• Tall raised beds with a metal mesh bottom liner can help protect your veggies from being munched by gophers.
Raised beds are a great way to create areas of low soil disturbance. This helps to protect the subsoil environment and create habitat for a host of beneficial insect species.
The not so great aspects:
• Creating raised beds can be expensive! Buying soil and material can make for a pricy veggie patch. I like to create my raised beds using upcycled cut offs from the local mills. I also keep a large compost and leaf pile prepped the season before, so I have materials on hand to fill the beds with.
• Raised beds have a lot more surface area in contact with the air and therefore dry out much quicker. Mulch and row cover can help mediate this problem, but they still require more watering.
• Be mindful of what you make your beds from. I love seeing raised beds made from recycled materials! However, some materials may leach unwanted chemicals into the soil. You are what you eat!
Hugelkulturs have become an obsession of mine. For those of you unfamiliar with a hugelkultur, they are large garden ‘mounds’ that are created by burying woody materials. Some beds are made by digging down to bury the wood, so the beds themselves are then level; but I prefer the larger mounds that are up to 7’ tall.
Hugelkultur mounds can take a few years to develop, but the main idea is that the buried wood creates a rich soil environment that requires little to no irrigation, a source of nutrients from the decaying wood and plant materials, and lots of habitat for beneficial insects and microbes.
Another advantage is that hugelkulturs create multitudes of different microclimates: cool and warm, windy and calm, full sun to fully shaded, moist and dryer spots. They can even be shaped to create “sun pits” to create a space for heat loving plants, such as fruit trees. These beds can create excellent homes for a diverse selection of both annual and perennial crops and are ideal for food forests!
Here is a great article covering all the amazing ways a hugel bed can benefit your cold climate food production: richsoil.com/hugelkultur/