I was going to title this “The Lazy Gardener’s Raised Bed” but then you would know something about me. When it comes to some aspects of gardening, I like to cut a few corners. Right now there is so much to do in my garden, I’m thrilled when an experiment in simplicity not only works, but works well. The other reason I titled this easiest raised bed is it is constructed out of items that I not only had on hand, but that I needed to get rid of, i.e., yard waste. You will, however, still have do some physical labor in creating the bed, but it greatly cuts down on labor required for other garden chores which you will see later.
To understand why I’m so excited about this method let me show you what the back of my yard looks like. This is after just one rainstorm dropping less than 2″ of rain. A week later the weedy grass is about 4″ high. I faced the same problem last year, but only worse. So as I hoe and cut the grass back, I rake it into piles. Through the latter part of last year, these piles just sat waiting for me to do something with them. At about the same time, I started reading about hugelkultur beds, which basically start out with a pile of wood, often covered with some sod and then soil. The benefits are that they maintain a great amount of water and never need fertilizing. Well, I didn’t have sod, but I did have some piles of tree & shrub trimmings that I would have to put through a chipper in order to add to the compost pile, so I decided to give it a shot with some modifications based on what I had.
I pulled over some tree branches and stacked them in a long row. Then I raked the clipped grass that had been sitting for about three seasons over the branches. Even though it had been sitting, it was only slightly composted. You can see by the photo that the texture was pretty coarse. There are even some whole clumps of grass in there. And yes, some weed seeds too. But, I didn’t want to chop it, sift it or wait on it to compost, so I piled it on top. On top of that I threw some of my native soil which is dune sand. (If you go to the beach, pick up a handful of sand and blow on it, the lightest of the grains that blow off is the soil I have in my yard. Sigh.) I topped it with a layer of straw and called it good.
Here is a picture of the bed with it’s wood core and with the grass and weed debris raked on top. You can see all of the clumps of grass and whole leaves. You can even see large twigs sticking out. As I’m forming the shape of the bed over the wood, I pack it down a bit with the back of the rake.
Here is what the bed looks like with added soil. You can still see some weeds and other debris poking through. Keep in mind, however, that because my soil is sand, it is working down in between the grass and the branches. So in addition to this starting to look a bit like a hugelkultur bed, it is also starting to sound a bit like a compost pile right?
And finally, here is the photo above without the text so you can see the bed when it is done and planted. I planted this bed up in the fall when the artichokes were about a 4″ pot size plant. Despite our lack of rainfall I have only watered the bed once per week when temps got into the 80’s and when the weather was cold, I went almost a month without watering. I also have added no fertilizer at all. Those artichoke plants look pretty good, don’t they? And remember how I said I used weeds that had some seeds? Despite our rainfall the weeds popping up are minimal and extremely easy to pull.
So to recap, yes, there is work involved in making the bed. But look at all the work I don’t have to do. I didn’t have to haul away all that yard waste. I didn’t have to shred or chop it to add to the compost pile, I didn’t have to purchase any soil amendment or fertilizer and I’ve easily cut my watering in half. And in addition to my penchant for cutting corners, I sometimes like to break some rules. I’ve always heard that if brown material isn’t well composted it will strip the soil of nitrogen until it breaks down. Well, it sure doesn’t look like that is much of a problem here. You are also never, ever supposed to add weeds to your compost so you don’t get weeds in your bed. Well, a good layer of straw means most of the weed seeds never feel the warmth of the sun and therefore won’t germinate. The trick is don’t ever turn this bed. Simply layer more compost or straw on it later and avoid walking on it. Tilling your soil just brings more weed seeds to the surface and if you are careful about not walking on your beds and compacting them, you don’t have to which means you do even less work. And just what do I do with all the time I have saved? I plant more things.