Margaret Lauterbach

Margaret Lauterbach: Consider gardening with raised beds

Even if you're totally able-bodied, there are benefits for you if using raised beds.

Since I garden from the seat of an electric scooter, I've found gardening at ground level is very difficult, even with extended-handle tools. We raised the beds in my tomato patch just eight inches, and that made a huge difference. Now I can weed and lay mulch without difficulty.

Most of my beds are about seventeen inches high, two courses or layers of 2X fir. Based on my experience, I'd strongly urge anyone who'll build raised beds two or more boards high to line the interior seam between boards with aluminum flashing to prevent weeds from taking hold between them. Weeds rooted there are nigh impossible to remove.

Most gardeners know soil in a raised bed warms up faster in spring, and drainage is fast and easy. For another, raised bed planting, weeding and harvest are easy on your back. The Celebrity line of scooters works especially well for gardening, since you can turn the seat to face your beds. The problem with these scooters, though, is that the tiller's position prevents rolling ahead close to a bed or object you want to control; you always have to work from the side of the scooter.

If you or a relative is contemplating buying a scooter, the wide but small tires are difficult to have repaired if you have a flat, but you can get solid (non-pneumatic) tires. They give a rough ride, but it's worth it not to worry about flats. Also, a four-wheeled scooter is more stable than a three-wheeler, but it requires more turning room than the three-wheeler.

Now there are commercial raised beds that are waist high, some available locally via North End Organic Nursery (NEON), and perhaps other nurseries in the valley. Those advertised at NEON's website show beds that, once soil is loaded, they're stationary, but some available by mail order (Gardeners Supply) sport wheels. With wheels, one could move the bed to follow the sun.

I think you'd have to have a very short bed for wheeling around though. The weight of soil would threaten the integrity of the structure, and certainly would not be friendly to any able gardener's back.

Planting these high raised beds in bed-fashion means no rows, so no room for weeds to take root. You can grow a lot in a tiny space this way, leaf tip to leaf tip at least.

Beware of some compost

If you're buying compost, manure or straw for your garden, test for herbicides containing Clopyralid, Aminopyralid or Picloram BEFORE you spread it on your growing area. Transplant a vulnerable plant into your new compost, manure or straw. If a properly planted and watered plant such as a tomato wilts and dies within a few days, do not spread that compost, manure or straw on your soil. The plant may begin to fail within 24 hours. Usually the vendor doesn't know whether it contains any herbicide, but it only takes about 4 parts per million to toxify your soil or compost for years.

Give spud seeds some sun

If you haven't planted your potatoes yet, you'll get a bigger harvest and faster growing plants if you "chit" the potatoes first. That is, expose seed potatoes to sunlight or artificial light, turning tiny sprouts greenish purple. Long white sprouts won't speed up the growing process though.

Shredded bark available

Boise Community Forestry division of Parks and Recreation have a large quantity of shredded bark at their Orchard and Dorman Street. location. Call them at 608-7700 for information about help loading your pickup or a trash barrel of this excellent mulch. Charge is $15 per yard or $3 per trash barrel.

Once you lay any mulch like this, you should water it to prevent wind from blowing it away, although this shredded bark doesn't blow around easily. It will hold moisture in your soil, and as it decays it will be drawn down to root level by micro- and macro- critters, enriching and improving your soil.