Can I use painted boards for a raised bed garden?

by Kathy
(Glendive, Mt.)

I have painted boards available to use for a raised bed vegetable garden. Is using painted boards going to be toxic to my family?


ANSWER:

If you have the choice between unpainted and painted boards when building a raised bed garden, I would choose unpainted.

However, if you want to recycle these painted boards into your vegetable garden beds, as long as it is not lead paint, it should not be a problem.

If the boards are painted on both sides, you can cover the inside of the raised bed box with black plastic. Staple the plastic to the inside-top of the boards.

This way, when the paint begins to flake or chip off, it won't end up mixed into your garden soil. Remember to leave lots of drainage holes in the plastic if you cover the bottom of the bed with the plastic also.

If the boards are only painted on one side, put the painted side to the outside of the planter box.

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Is a plastic liner necessary in a raised garden bed?

by Laura
(Lubbock, TX)

I noticed in one of the pictures on your website that you made a raised bed using garden blocks - Did you put plastic on the sides to keep the soil from washing out? It definitely looked like a lovely raised bed with those blocks and I might like to build one of those beside our house.

ANSWER:

Hi Laura,

No, we did not use a plastic liner inside the blocks. They fit together in such a way that no soil "leaks" out at all.

However, we covered the ground with a thick layer of old newspapers as a weed barrier.

We could have used landscape fabric instead, but the newspapers were free!

This will prevent weeds sprouting up through the garden right away. The newspapers will gradually disintegrate, but by then the weed seeds in the ground will not be likely to sprout due to lack of sunlight!



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Raised Bed Garden Over Septic Drain Field

How deep should a raised bed over a septic system field be to avoid seepage into vegetables?

Is there still a danger if I use garden fabric to line the bed or should I make the bed off the ground which is much more difficult to make?


Answer:

According to the county extension service, it is not recommended to plant a vegetable garden over a septic drain field.

There is a risk of contamination if you plant the garden directly in the ground.

Also building a raised bed over a drain field is not recommended as adding the extra soil for the raised bed can interfere with the process that takes place within the septic system.

I don't know what to tell you about building a raised bed off the ground over your drain field. I recommend that you talk to your local county extension agent to see if it would be acceptable.

Perhaps you can come up with a container garden plan that will solve the problem?

Please let us know what you find, as I am sure there are other gardeners with the same question.

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Using Tires as Raised Garden Beds?

by Margaret
(Ireland)

Can old rubber tires be used as raised beds for vegetable gardening? If so what sort of preparation would they need...cleaning, or lining? I like to recycle where possible and I have access to quite a lot of tires.
P.S. These beds would be used for vegetables and fruit...thanks.


ANSWER:

Yes, many a gardener has successfully used old tires for vegetable gardening.

If the tires are dirty, you can clean them with soap and water. You do not need to line them.


Tires filled with straw are an especially great way to grow potatoes! You put a thin layer of straw on the ground, then lay the seed potatoes on the straw. Cover them with a layer of straw. As the plants begin to grow, add layers of straw half-way up the foliage until you reach the top of the tire with the straw.



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Really Above Ground Gardens

by Richard

I am no longer physically able to work on an in-ground or just above the ground garden, so I am interested in a garden that can be built and put on something like sawhorses.

I can build the boxes of any various sizes and also the sawhorses, but I am not sure as to:

1.) what to use for the bottom;
2.) take care of drainage;
3.) how to take care of the soil on a 'really above ground' garden?

Of the past planting seasons I had, I used to till the garden; bring in 'real' manure and re-till the garden and let set fallow for one season. Hence the question #3. How to do this for an up and off the ground garden.


Thanks,
Richard


ANSWER:


1. You could use boards for the bottom of the boxes, and leave about a quarter to a half-inch space between each board to allow for drainage. You could cover the inside bottom of the garden box with landscape fabric, or a fine mesh screen so that the soil doesn't wash out through the cracks.

I will leave the size of the boards to you, because it depends on how big the boxes will be, how deep, and therefore how much weight the boards will be supporting.

2. I think the drainage question is answered above.

3. You can add some fresh compost, and/or well-aged manure to the soil each year. You can mix some granular fertilizer into the soil each year. You can make a "manure tea" to fertilize with occasionally.

Hope this helps...
Send pictures!

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Row Spacing and Direction in Raised Beds

by Adam
(West Virginia)

I have two 4'x12' raised beds (boxes) and I am getting ready to plant vegetables. How close do I put the rows? Do I go the 4' way or 12' way? I am just starting and want to do it right. Please help.

ANSWER:

Hi Adam,
It is usually better to plant your garden (in-ground or raised bed) with the rows running from east to west. Taller plants should be on the northern side, and shorter plants on the southern side of the garden.

This prevents the taller plants from creating shade for the shorter plants. Almost all vegetable garden plants prefer full-sun for maximum growth and production. That is why it is more important that you plant taller plants on the northern side of the garden, than whether the rows run length-wide or across the beds.

The spacing of the rows will be determined by the individual space requirements of the vegetables that you are planting.

The seed packets or seedling plants that you purchase will give you spacing requirements for that particular plant.

Smaller vegetables such as carrots and green onions require just a couple of inches for each plant. But a tomato or zucchini plant may require up to 4 or 5 FEET of space!

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Raised Bed Vegetable Garden

What type of wood is best for the border or frame when building a raised bed vegetable garden?


ANSWER:

Cedar is one of the longer-lasting types of wood to use for a raised bed garden frame. But if it isn't possible or practical to use cedar, you can use any other type of wood. It will have to be replaced as needed over the years.

If you use pressure-treated wood, or recycle some older painted wood, you can staple heavy-duty plastic to the inside of the boards to keep the chemicals or paint chips out of your garden soil.

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When is the best time to start a raised bed garden?

by Colleen
(Stockton, CA)

When is the best time to plant a raised bed garden? Can it be planted earlier than an in-ground garden? How do I know when the soil is the right temperature?

Answer:

Hi Colleen,

Some early vegetables such as peas, lettuce, and onions can be planted early; almost at the end of winter depending on your climate zone.

However they will need to be protected in the event of a hard frost or snow event.

You can put a frame over your early garden bed, and cover it with clear plastic. This will provide extra warmth during the day for your early crops, and offer some protection from extreme cold at night.

Raised bed garden soil will warm earlier than the soil in your yard; that is one of the advantages to having a raised bed. Raised beds can be planted several weeks earlier than in-ground gardens.

If you cover your raised bed with a sheet of black plastic at the end of winter, it will help bring the soil temperature up even earlier.

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Railway Ties in Vegetable Gardens

by Joyce
(Canada)

I've heard that railway ties in vegetable gardens can be dangerous because the chemicals in them leach into the soil. If that's true, what do you suggest as an alternative to making raised beds that won't blow the average family budget?


Hi Joyce,

I have heard both sides of the railway ties issue. So avoid them if you can. But if railway ties best fit your budget, unless you are a purist, I would probably go ahead and use them.

You might also consider 2 x 6 or 2 x 8 lumber (untreated if you are concerned about the chemicals).

One year we found some great cedar boards that someone was giving away that made perfect borders for our raised bed garden.

If you have access to something like Craigslist or even classified ads, check the section on "free if you come pick it up", as sometimes people are giving away materials such as cement blocks, bricks, or wood that can be used for your borders.

Hope this helps!
Charlotte

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What type of soil should I use for a raised bed?

What soil mixture should I use for a raised bed?

Answer:

Garden soil mixtures usually are a combination of compost, peat moss, vermiculite, sand, and other organic materials.

Many garden supply centers sell a garden soil mixture in bags. However, it will be quite expensive if you have a large raised bed, and need many bags of soil to fill it.

We went to a local business that sells bark dust and compost-type materials, and bought a yard of their garden soil mixture for our raised bed. We brought it home in the back of our truck.

It is usually much less expensive if you can buy it by the yard. If you don't have access to a pick-up or trailer to haul it, you can have it delivered.

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Raised Garden Beds

by Ken Murray
(Yacolt, WA)

What is the minimum depth raised garden beds should be? Can I make them 10 inches and be OK for all types of vegetable plants?


ANSWER:

Hi Ken,

Yes, you should be fine with 10" beds. Usually raised beds are between 6" and 15" tall.

There is no exact height requirement. However, some deep-rooted vegetables such as beans, tomatoes, and squash may be happiest with a bit more depth.

You can always work the ground soil under your raised bed 6" or so to provide more growing space for the deep-rooted vegetables.

It would also be a good idea to add some compost into the soil underneath the bed if needed, before building your raised bed frame.

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Wooden Raised Garden

We recently built a raised bed garden from 2x8 and 2x12 wood planks. Is there anything
that can be put on the inside of the box (garden side) that will protect the wood but not contaminate the produce?


ANSWER:

You can staple black or clear plastic to the inside of the wooden box to protect it somewhat from excess moisture. Some gardeners also line their raised beds with landscape fabric.

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Raised Bed

by Lake Ladies
(Conway, AR)

I have a raised bed for the first time (4'X20").

I have been told to plant a row of squash down the middle and watermelon, cantalope and pumpkins down each side in rows.

Will there be enough room for all these plants to produce as they all take up a lot of space?

Answer:

I think you will likely only have room for one hill of each of these plants in your garden. Even the smaller varieties of pumpkin, watermelon, cantaloupe and squash tend to take up a lot of room once they are growing.

You can plant 3-4 seeds of each plant in a little mound or hill in your garden. I would place the hills in the center of your garden bed, and plant one hill of each vegetable evenly down the length of your garden.

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Using Aged Sheep Compost for Raised Veggie Beds

by Wayne
(Brighton, CO. USA)

How much sheep compost can be added each year to a 4' x 16' raised bed? How long should I wait after rototilling it in six to eight inches before planting seeds and small transplants?

My soil is quite clayey and I am also rototilling in mulched leaves and using clean grass clippings as top mulch for transplanted Tomatoes/Peppers/Zucchini/Snow Peas/Beans/etc., as made available from neighbors.

A local sheep feed lot has developed a commercial composting venture and I just bought a pickup truck load of one year old compost to improve soil quality.

In Colorado, the middle of May is our typical last frost but I like to use a few 'walls of water' to get an early start to a couple of tomato and pepper plants.

I would appreciate your thoughts on the quantity (in inch depth per square foot) and how long to wait before planting seeds and transplant.

Thank you,
Wayne

ANSWER:

A two inch layer in depth per square foot of aged sheep compost per year should be sufficient.

If possible, add the sheep manure compost in the fall, and let it mix into the soil over winter. You can till it into the soil in the fall, or wait until the spring. It might be too late for this year, but starting this fall, you can add the compost for next year's garden.

That way you will be sure not to burn any of your garden vegetable plants if there is a "hot" spot in the manure compost.

For this year, I would just go ahead and plant any of your vegetables at the appropriate time after you have the compost well-mixed into the soil.

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Raised Garden Beds

by Ana
(Albany, Oregon USA)

How deep does your raised garden bed have to be?


ANSWER:

There isn't an exact depth that is required for a raised bed vegetable garden. A raised garden bed should be at least 6 inches deep. Many raised beds are 12-18 inches deep. If you want to be able to sit or kneel on the edge, it will be easier if it is 12 inches or more.

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Growing Strawberries; Raised Bed vs. Container

by Rusty
(Oklahoma)

Hi. I have three 4x8 raised beds. I am planting corn, peppers, bush beans, spinach, carrots, okra and squash.

My wife wants to plant strawberries, but I was afraid I would have to dedicate one of the 4x8 beds just for the strawberries.

Do strawberries do well in a container such as a half whiskey barrel? I will have 25 starter plants.

I wasn't sure if I would have enough room to plant the strawberries in my raised beds with all the other vegetables.

Thanks,
Rusty


ANSWER:

I agree that you likely won't have room to plant strawberries in your raised bed along with all the other vegetables you have in mind!

Strawberries will do fine in a half-barrel, or other containers. There are also special containers called "strawberry jars" that are specially designed for growing strawberries.

It's challenging to find room for all the fruits and vegetables we like to include in our gardens. You might need to add some more raised beds for next year if you have room!

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