July 31

Eight benefits of raised beds


[Hi, it’s Marion. This article was originally published in the Kodiak Daily Mirror, the hometown newspaper for Kodiak, Alaska, as part of my weekly garden columns, written each week since 1986].

Not sure what to plant this year? New to gardening in Kodiak’s coastal climate? Then this column’s for you.

I decided to approach today’s article from the perspective of a Beginner’s Mind during this weekend’s Spring Women’s Show. When I signed up to attend, my goal was simple: Answer gardening questions. Here’s a sampler:

“We moved to Kodiak last fall and don’t have a clue what grows here.”

“We’re in our new house and we want to grow veggies, but our yard is just gravel right now.”

So let’s begin with raised beds…

Raised beds are the way to grow. By raised beds, I am referring to hilled-up soil as well as boxed-in soil.

Raised beds (especially boxes filled with soil) sets you up for success better than in-ground gardening.

Raised beds are awesome because they…

+ Provide a manageable way to garden in small spaces intensively.

+ Reduces soil compaction and plant damage: Especially from foot traffic. Think children and pets. The idea is to walk on the paths, not on the soil.

+ Allow for a longer growing season: They warm up more quickly in the spring (assuming you prepare your soil with lots of organic material). This allows for a longer growing season and better growing conditions. And if you’re building raised bed frames with wood, it’s much easier to attach hoops for covering with plastic and other protective materials.

+ Means less weeding and maintenance: Once the soil in a raised bed has settled in and stabilized, compaction is almost non-existent so the need for seasonal deep digging or tilling is nil.

+ Provide better drainage: A well-prepared raised bed allows the soil to drain better than in an in-ground garden. In Kodiak, our native soil is known as “butter clay”: Low pH, sticky, mostly volcanic-based, drains poorly, and lacks organics. And when you fill a raised bed with compost, mulch, old manure, seaweed, and so on, you’re able to grow crops that would otherwise not fare well.

Post this on your fridge: Healthy soil contains 5 to 10 percent organic matter.  

+ Allows for more spaces to grow: Flat land is at a premium on The Rock. Raised beds can be built on slopes as terraced gardens, on parking lots, and on gravel pads.

+ Make it easier to manage water, mulching, and soil amendments. They can be more carefully controlled, which means less waste.

+ Finally, raised beds provide easier access for aging gardeners and folks with disabilities. Raised beds, at the proper height, can improve access for wheelchairs, or for gardeners who have a hard time bending over.

All these good things allow for more intensive spacing between plants, which means more food on the table.

Are you feeling behind?

Haven’t built your raised beds yet?

Here are 3 steps to get growing when spring gardening is staring you in the face:

  1. Build your boxes. Aim for 12 inches deep.
  2. Now fill it 3/4 full with chunky stuff such as kitchen scraps, some local soil, well-rotted manure, broccoli stems, seaweed, vacuum cleaner lint, guinea pig cage bedding, coffee grounds… you get the idea.
  3. Then top it off with good soil and compost, and plant.

What veggies grow well in Kodiak’s coastal climate?

After a year like 2020, I feel like we could all use some “easy wins” in our lives. Especially if our “wins” are tasty, delicious, and good for our bodies and our families!

To help us fill our plates with more vegetable wins here is my Top 40 list of vegetables ideally suited for cool climates. And if you have a greenhouse or hoophouse you can cast your net even wider and include cucumbers, summer squash, peppers, and tomatoes.

1. Kale: You can’t go wrong with kale. Our cool climate produces sweet, tender leaves, unlike the tough, stringy (boil-it-to-death) kale grown in hot climates.

2. Broccoli: All varieties love Kodiak.

3. Carrots: All shapes and colors do well here.

4. Potatoes: Be sure they are certified seed potatoes. You have your choice of color and shape (gold, blue, white, red, fingerling, giant, regular), storage quality, and timing (early, late, mid-season). Also, check for resistance to scab.

5. Swiss chard: A 1915 seed catalog said: “Swiss chard produces more food for the table than almost any other vegetable and it also requires less care; it yields a constant crop from July to winter.”

6. Onions: It’s all about day length. Long-day onions (the kinds that store well and make you cry) are more dependable and cold-hardy than short-day onions such as Vidalia and Walla Walla Sweets.

7. Lettuce: All lettuces adore cool weather. Mix up your own blends and grow gourmet, cut-and-come-again salad greens.

8. Spinach: To grow a continuous crop of spinach, sow seeds every couple of weeks. Smooth leaf varieties are easier to clean.

9. Radishes: Every variety is a winner, raw or cooked.

10. Peas: For a reliable crop, stick with snap peas and snow peas, not shelling peas.

11. Garlic: The hard-neck varieties are more cold-hardy, produce larger cloves and have a lot more flavor than the soft-neck kinds. Plant in the fall for next season’s harvest.

12. Mustard greens and Asian greens: All types thrive here. One of my favorites: Wrinkled Crinkled Cress.

13. Turnips: Hakurei turnips are so sweet you can eat them raw…

14. Beets: Beets require light, slightly sweet soil, and plenty of sun. A few favorites: Bull’s Blood, Red Ace, Detroit Red, Chioggia (striped).

So there you have it. I hope this helps. Remember, you don’t have to get it perfect, you just have to get it going.

Until next week, thanks to everyone who stopped by my booth at the Spring Women’s Show. Your stories and comments are what keeps me going for almost 25 years of writing these weekly columns…

Garden job jar:

  1. We need your plants: Donations of rhubarb, clumps of raspberries, gooseberries, and currants, perennials, indoor plants, and seedlings are needed for the May 8 plant sale. All proceeds go to benefit KMXT.
  2. Begin hardening-off seedlings before transplanting them outside. Avoid direct sun on your seedlings at this point.
  3. Clean and oil hand tools. Collect rainwater. Celebrate spring bulbs.

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