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Consider raised beds in the garden

Geauga County Master Gardener volunteer Matt Valencic has a suggestion for first-time vegetable gardeners: Consider planting in raised beds.

There are a number of reasons, he said. Among them:

Soil is confined to each bed; soil warms faster for earlier planting; row covers can be used to extend the growing season; working the soil and weeding is easier; and the garden looks neat.

It’s a topic that the retiree from South Russell has presented at the Great Geauga County Fair.

Valencic offered these notes on creating a raised bed vegetable garden:

LOCATION — Build on a flat to gently sloped area that receives eight or more hours of sunlight each day May through August. The area should have good air flow, be close to a water source such as a spigot, and not on land that stays wet and spongy after a rain.

DESIGN — Beds should be square or rectangular, but no more than 4 feet wide so that the middle can be reached by hand without stepping on the soil. Common lumber sizes make beds of 6, 8, 10 or 12 feet long the easiest to build.

MATERIALS — For a wooden bed, use treated or untreated lumber, 4-inch zinc-plated corner braces and fasteners. For a concrete block bed, 8-inch-by-16-inch blocks (18 blocks are needed for a 4-foot-by-8-foot bed), concrete caps and mortar mix to cement caps to blocks.

SOIL — For boxes 4 feet by 8 feet and larger, buy bulk garden mix, then modify, if necessary, with compost and fine-shredded bark mulch. To mix your own soil, mix native soil with organic material such as leaf compost, peat moss or composted cow manure, and fine-shredded bark mix.

“Get a soil test before planting to learn pH and any nutrient deficiency / excess,” Valencic said. “Don’t guess — soil test.”

FILL — Fill the box with soil and supplements, then mix uniformly with a garden fork or similar tool. Then have the soil sampled for pH balance and adjust. The ideal pH level for vegetables is 6.2 to 6.8.

PLANT — Plant seeds at the appropriate times and distances as listed on seed packets.

“To get the most out of the limited space, go to www.squarefootgardening.org to learn about spacing vegetables in the bed. Plant roots need a minimum amount of space to produce the best results,” Valencic said.

“Tall plants should be located on the north or east side, so they don’t shade other plants in the afternoon. Vining plants (such as cucumbers, peas and squash) can be trellised on the north or east sides of the bed to save horizontal space. If you like ‘raised rows’ for things like bush beans, you can still do that in a raised bed.

“Closely — but not too close — growing plants shade the soil and help reduce weeds,” he said. “Check your garden every day for insects, diseases and soil moisture. Catching problems early makes them easier to resolve.”

FOR HELP — The Ohio State University Extensions in each county have Master Gardener volunteers to answer questions. In Trumbull County, call the extension office at 330-638-6783 or watch tutorials on the Trumbull County Master Gardeners page on Facebook; in Mahoning County, call the extension office at 330-533-5538 or visit mastergardener.osu.edu; and in Geauga County, call 440-834-4656 or email mggeauga@yahoo.com.

bcole@tribtoday.com

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