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Getting your Raised Bed Started

Editor's note: It's Build-a-Garden season again, and we're happy to share the first of several related posts from BaG coordinator Kathleen Banfield. We hope this is helpful to current and former participants in the Build-a-Garden program, or anyone else with a raised bed!

Read your Growing Guide

(or download a copy)

Five years ago, I had never tended a garden in my life. I was lucky if I kept a houseplant alive for more than a month. Farming overwhelmed me. When the The Food Project's Urban Learning Farm was built in 2007 and I was charged with the task of taking care of 22 raised beds, things looked bleak. Five years later, I'm hooked on growing my own food and found it surprisingly easy to learn. The Growing Guide was key to my success. I literally followed every word of it, and I encourage you all to do the same, especially if you're at the beginner level of square foot gardening!

Prep your Bed

Add compost to your raised bed. Turn it into the existing soil to loosen it up and get ready for planting. If you plan to pick up free compost from us at City Farm Fest, you can still loosen up your soil and add compost later (to unplanted squares as you plant them).

Make a Grid

raised bed grid
raised bed grid
To maximize space, we recommend the square foot growing method. The easiest way to use this technique is to make a visible grid on your raised bed. Before planting, measure and mark off each foot along all sides of your bed frame. Next, hammer in nails at each mark, and then string the bed. It's so simple and we promise it will make life much easier as a beginner gardener! 

What to Plant & When to Start: April

Early April: spinach, cilantro, peas (plant at base of trellis), bok choy, radishes, swiss chard

Mid-April: beets, lettuce, onions (by transplant)

Late April: carrots, kale

Don't forget to gently water the area that you seed. Keep the area fully moist until the seeds start to sprout/germinate. Check to be sure the garden is fully watered by sticking your finger into the soil and checking for moisture 1" deep.

Plant in Succession

Plant crops in succession for a continuous crop. For example, if you plant radishes on April 1, plant more radishes during the week of April 19, and again in mid-May. Crops that grow fairly quickly can be planted every 3 weeks. Think spinach, cilantro, radishes, beets, carrots, and beans.


(recommended for advanced gardeners)

Another way to save space, interplanting is when you grow two or more types of plants in the same space at the same time. One way to do this is to plant slow-maturing plants with those that mature quickly. For example, you can plant radishes between carrots in the same square. The radishes will be ready to harvest before the carrots need extra space. After harvesting the radishes, the carrots will mature and use the extra space.

There are many other combinations to try and the benefits are endless. Interplanting herbs with certain types of flowers might help deter pests from the garden, or attract beneficial ones. We encourage you to explore this topic more, or start by planting carrots and radishes in the same square!

Trellis Building

Some crops need to climb up a trellis, like peas and pole beans. Other crops like cucumbers can also be grown vertically (it saves space!) but are not required of the plant. If you plant peas this month, plan to build a trellis on the north side of your raised bed (west side works fine as a second option). To help you figure out which direction is north, remember that the sun rises in the east, and sets in the west. There are many ways to build a trellis so we encourage you to use the internet for ideas.

Here is one quick, simple method to try:

Materials you will need: 2-3 wooden slats at least 6 feet in length, screws, trellis netting (small packets are available at Home Depot for less than $5), a drill


Drill wooden slats directly into the raised bed frame on the north (or west) side. You will need one slat on each end of the bed. If your trellis is along the long side of your raised bed, consider adding a third slat in the middle.
Next, drill screws into the slats about 6-9 inches apart. You can also use eyehooks instead of screws.
Tie the edges of the netting around the screws of one slat, and then pull the netting tightly across to the other slat and tie again.
Check out these websites for sample photos. The top slat shown in these photos strengthen the trellis and help it last longer.

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