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#11 Raised Beds

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Benefits of Raised Beds

A raised bed is a bed that has been raised above the surface of the ground and that allow for in-soil, above-ground planting.  Raised beds can be boxed or unboxed, and edged with a variety of found materials, such as bricks, stone, wood, or cinderblocks.  However, it is important to evaluate that source and safety of any found materials, as debris such as bricks and wood can contain toxic substances and contaminate soils.
Raised beds allow urban farmers to grow food despite soil contamination, and to plant atop blacktop or concrete, without undergoing costly excavation projects.  Raised beds, and portable beds or containers in particular, also help urban farmers deal with temporary land tenure, and require less investment than in-ground planting.
Though more time consuming and expensive, boxed raised beds are generally more aesthetic and are more easily protected against rodents, such as by lining their bottoms with hardware cloth or chicken wire.
For information about other above ground planting techniques, see also Factsheet #12, Container Gardening.

Finding Affordable Supplies

Supplies for building raised beds can be expensive, and urban farmers might save money by considering alternative suppliers of tools and materials.  Again, all found or salvaged materials should be evaluated for their safety.

Tools

Tool libraries exist across New York State and often allow urban farmers to borrow tools for no cost (for more information about tool libraries, see Factsheet #29, Affordable Supplies).  Urban farmers might also use services such as Craigslist or Freecycle (both online) to source free or inexpensive tools, or rummage at salvage yards and stores.

Materials

Craigslist and Freecycle, as well as salvage yards, can also be good sources of affordable materials for constructing raised beds.  Organizations offering deconstruction services often have affiliated salvage stores, which might sell reclaimed wood or other usable architectural pieces.
Salvage stores in New York State include:

Green Eco Services, a privately maintained blog, provides a list of stores selling reclaimed wood and salvaged building materials in New York.  This listing, however, is not maintained and all businesses should be contacted before visiting.  This list is available at http://www.greenecoservices.com/reclaimed-wood-salvage-fsc-timber-ny/.   When sourcing materials for raised beds, avoid any painted or treated wood, which may contain toxic substances.

How to Build Raised Beds

There are several online resources for farmers interested in building their own raised beds, as well as commercial do-it-yourself kits for easy assembly.
One of the most comprehensive online resources for farming with raised beds is The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation’s “Permanent Raised Bed Gardening” manual, a guide to all aspects of raised beds, including information on bed layout and site selection, site preparation, bed designs and assembly instructions, soil preparation, irrigation recommendations, plastic mulch application, planting techniques, fertilization, and more.  This manual is available at http://noble.org/ag/horticulture/raised-bed-gardening/.
The Essential Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter and Willow Rosenthal (Penguin Books, 2011) includes an entire chapter devoted to constructing raised beds, detailing how to build both boxed and unboxed raised beds appropriate for urban environments.
YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/) also features several videos about using raised beds in urban farming, such as those offered on the Garden Girl TV: Urban Sustainable Living Channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/GardenGirltv/.
 
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Tara Hammonds

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