Raised beds protect plants and can provide easier access; some are self-watering

Raised garden beds for sale at Village Home and Garden in the village of Galway on April 2.
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Raised garden beds for sale at Village Home and Garden in the village of Galway on April 2.

Now that the weather is getting warmer, home gardeners are champing at the bit to get started planting and there’s no hotter ticket than raised beds.

“I can sell these six for sure,” said Dan Sollecito, owner of Galway’s Village Home & Garden about the six galvanized steel raised beds he stocks. “People will buy three of these and stack them out and put lettuce in one, maybe tomatoes in the others. It’s really, really surprising how productive they are.”

A raised bed for those who haven’t used one, is putting some kind of barrier around a planting area that’s inches above the ground level.

That barrier can be anything from a galvanized bottomless oval, such as what Sollecito sells, to cedar planks, bricks, or any polymer or composite material most often put into a rectangular shape. Many raised beds come as kits and for those who want to garden at closer to waist level, have a platform that the box rests on and is filled with garden soil.

Smaller planters such as half a whisky barrel are also used by many to grow a single large plant such as a tomato as well as round galvanized fire rings and heavy duty landscape fabric filled with soil that involves no construction and stretches to six or eight feet long. 

There are many advantages to using raised beds.

“It’s a less permanent solution than to garden. You’re not digging up the whole yard, especially if you change your mind,” said Keri Medley, one of the growers at Brookside Nursery in Ballston Spa. “It’s simpler and easier to manage a smaller space, especially if it’s at waist height. You’re not down on the ground if you have trouble with your knees. You can control the soil quality and the nutrients you put in.”

Aissa Murray, another grower at the nursery, added that “height can also work against problems with pests or rabbits. And if people have balconies or patios, the raised beds can work well.”

Self-watering

In the last two years, self-watering raised beds have become popular. Rather than being bottomless, these are containers, which have a bottom, where a flat reservoir sits connected to a tube. Instead of watering directly into the soil, water is put into the tube which channels through the reservoir. The plant’s roots then take up the water as needed.

The raised beds are made of the usual materials from plastic to metals and come in varying sizes. Locally, the raised beds average at 24” x 20’” tubs or 24” x 45” rectangles with the larger coming with a platform.

There are many advantages: consistent watering means fewer plant problems such as root rot from too much water or fungus on leaves from water spray; the beds can be put anywhere, especially on patios or balconies; you don’ t have to drag hoses around; and you water less.

All these benefits are something Ian Dufrain of Schuylerville discovered when he began using these self-watering beds.

“I’d been gardening for five years, but when my work schedule became too sporadic, I began with three of the 24” x 20” tubs two years ago. It was also to make it easier on my family to water the plants,” he said. “The tubs were a convenience for everyone.”

He followed the instructions given with the tubs, especially since they advertised to be used on one’s patio, and planted tomatoes, which turned out great, he said. He especially liked that he didn’t have to dig up his backyard and only had to use standard garden soil. He decided to get more tubs.

“I put them on a table in the backyard about knee height and planted blueberry bushes,” Dufrain said. “Those were great for that season but then I discovered mice were growing into the root system.”

Undeterred, he bought another five tubs, which gave him a total of 10 self-watering raised beds.

“I put in more tomatoes and they worked out great, as well as peppers and zucchini. I had a greenhouse then and let them vine out, but a storm blew the greenhouse away,” he said laughing.

To get started for this season, he’s had three tubs in his bedroom and began planting onions, garlic and potatoes.

“This will be the year to experiment,” Dufrain said with a laugh.

 

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