Raised Bed Gardening
By Lois Hole
If there’s one thing about gardening that I don’t like, it’s the sore knees and back I sometimes get after stooping over my plants for a while. Fortunately, there’s a technique that can take some of the pain out of gardening—and it’s an especially great way to make the joy of gardening more accessible to seniors and the handicapped. It’s called raised-bed gardening, and the idea is simple: plants are grown in beds that are lifted to a height that makes it possible to garden from a seated or standing position.
It’s easy to create a raised bed. First, figure out a comfortable height for the bed. If the gardener uses a wheelchair, the bed should be approximately 76 cm high for ease of access. This is also a good height for gardeners who find it easier to work while seated. If you think you’d like to work standing up, about 90 cm would be a good height. The other dimensions are up to you; width and depth are dependent upon how much space you have in your yard, garden, or greenhouse. Just make sure that you don’t make your beds too wide to reach the middle without straining.
Alternatively, you could combine raised-bed gardening with square-foot gardening. Square-foot gardening is an orderly way of growing plants in a small space. The garden is divided into blocks, 4 feet on a side. Within each block are 16 one foot square areas; a different plant is planted in each square. One square, for example, might contain one tomato plant, while another might be home to 8 carrots.
Once you have decided on the dimensions of your raised bed, you need to select materials. Old tires, wooden blocks, bricks—all would make good walls for a raised bed. Arrange the building blocks in the pattern you’ve decided on (a simple square is the most common, and it’s the obvious choice for square-foot gardening) and fill up the empty space with a light peat moss/soil mixture. It’s important to use potting soil rather than regular garden soil for raised beds; potting soil has better drainage, won’t get packed, and warms up faster than garden soil. It also contains fewer weeds and soil-borne diseases.
The difference between caring for plants in an ordinary garden and caring for those in a raised bed is slight. Water regularly, early in the day; fertilize according to the needs of specific varieties (this is especially important when you use potting soil); and weed when they become a problem. Indeed, one of the nice things about raised beds is that since they are containerized, weeds are less of a problem than they are in traditional gardens. Those that do appear are easily taken care of with that indispensible tool, the garden fork. Raised-beds are just one way of showing that gardening is open to everybody.