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Raised Beds Produce Big Harvests
by John Harmon
April 16, 2000

This time of the year above freezing temperatures in the daytime can tend to get gardeners excited about planting. Even though we are still at least 6 weeks from being able to plant outside or work the garden soil the weather is nice enough to build yourself some raised beds.

With all the problems gardeners in the north have to overcome the biggest is probably the cold soil. Unless you're one of the lucky few who have good deep black soil on a south facing hill the soil never really warms up over our short summer. Raised beds can overcome the cold soil problem.

I had a chance to talk to Doug Phillips recently about his gardening efforts. Since Doug's not running for re-election he's going to have more time to spend growing good things to eat. Judging from the photos of his raised beds last year he won't be going hungry! Doug framed in permanent raised beds at his place out at the lake. One of the features I like about his beds is that they are high enough to work in without bending over too far.

You can build raised beds any size you want but keep in mind that you will want to be able to reach the middle from each side. Doug's raised beds are built from stout timbers. They will last for years in our dry climate. Beware of the temptation to use old railroad ties.

In an article in The Western Producer a couple of years ago by Sylvia MacBean about using railroad ties she pointed out that they are considered toxic waste. They are used all over the country by thousands of people for retaining walls, steps, raised beds and planters. The creosote they are soaked with never stops seeping out and can contaminate both soil and water. Roger Hodges, of the Saskatchewan environment department says not to use them where you are going to grow food. He said, "The material will leach as it was intended to do. It is an insecticide and can kills plants." He goes on to warn "Don't burn them either because of the chemical by-products that are released into the atmosphere." I recommend using just plain old wood. If you're worried about the wood rotting you can buy water based wood stain that is non-toxic or just line them with plastic.

When you're picking out a spot to build your raised beds choose a place that gets full sun for as much of the day as possible. If you have a choice line them up north to south or on a south facing slope.

Fill your beds with as much good soil as you can. Remember that you will probably be working the soil in your beds by hand so a good loose soil to start with will mean less work later.

Once you have your frame filled and in place you will want to be able to cover it. Doug used plastic pipe to form hoops over his beds. They look a little like covered wagons when the plastic is in place. Putting the plastic on a few weeks before you plan on planting anything will give the sun a chance to thaw and heat the beds. Once the beds are planted you can remove the cover partially or completely as the day warms up. On those windy cool days you can open just the ends for ventilation.

Raised beds will give you earlier harvests and better production because of the higher soil temperature and you can build them in places where a regular garden just isn't feasible.

John Harmon owns and operates Tropicals North. Write to John at The Real Dirt, c\o 211 Wood St., Whitehorse, YT., Y1A 2E4 or e-mail Website:

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