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Ten Expert Tips for Raised Garden Beds and Planters

Start Simple

Part 1 of 2

A new book by TV personality and landscape designer Carson Arthur offers beginning gardeners honest and often hilarious advice about producing their own food—including what not to do. Carson Arthur is in the middle of garden show season when he takes time away from his busy schedule to speak with me about his suggestions for growing the best food at home. His new book, Vegetables, Chickens, and Bees, hit the shelves in February of 2019 and has already topped the favorites list of many gardeners.

Part of Arthur’s appeal is the way he shares his #gardenfails along with his successes. “I want growing food to feel accessible,” he says. “The number one reason people don’t garden is that they think they can’t.” He compares his method to the chef in the children’s movie Ratatouille, who says over and over again, anyone can cook. “Anyone can grow food,” Arthur says, “as long as you know what the food needs to grow. If you can make the food happy, it will happily grow—and off you are.”
But in order to succeed, new gardeners benefit from some advice. Ever generous with his knowledge, Arthur shared the following tips for those of us who, like him, grow their food in raised garden beds.

1. Start simple with herbs.

ARTICLE Ten Expert Tips for Raised Garden Beds and Planters Edit

If you’re new to gardening and want to start out small, you might find yourself tending a single raised bed or deck planter as a way to get your feet wet. With limited space and time, you might also be tempted to cram in as many plants as you can—to the detriment of those you choose. Everyone grows tomatoes and eggplant and peppers in deck pots, right?
While those are rewarding plants to grow, they also require a lot of care and attention, not to mention water, especially if you’re growing them in pots. Instead, Arthur says, start with something simpler—and easier. “I tend to drive people towards plants that are going to survive—like perennial herbs. Things like thyme are so simple to grow once you get them established. Things like mint, same thing. Very little water, very little care, so much so that you need to pay attention because they’ll take off on you. But when it comes to growing, dead simple.”

2. Understand the needs of your plants.
If you’re ready for something more challenging and you have the time to care for a larger selection of edible plants, Arthur has this advice: “The things that people get wrong the most often, especially first-time growers, is misunderstanding the needs of the plants. We know plants that produce food, like tomatoes and peppers, need a lot more energy from the sun, a little bit more water, and a lot of nutrients in the soil.”
Before you choose plants or seeds for your bed, do some research. How much sunlight do your beds get throughout the day? Are there amendments you should be adding to your soil before you sow your plants for the year? Thinking about the answers to these questions will help you avoid some of the gardens fails Arthur talks about—and get the best results possible.

3. Plant leafy vegetables in the shadier areas.

ARTICLE Tomato and Leafy Greens Edit

If, like many gardeners, your plot is challenged by shade at certain times of day, fear not. Some of the easiest vegetables to grow don’t mind a little shade.
“Anything big and green and leafy does better in low sun situations,” Arthur says. “So lettuces, spinach, kale… Their leaves work just like little solar panels, so their ability to turn sunlight into energy is significantly better than a plant that has small, skinny, tiny leaves.” Choose a leafy salad mix or stock those shade-dappled beds with enough leaf or head lettuces to supply your family’s salads for the season. Many fabulous greens are now available.

4. Start with the right soil.
If you’re gardening in raised beds or patio planters, chances are you’ve purchased a soil mix to fill the space. That’s a good thing, because one concern Arthur has for people, particularly those in urban centers, is that their backyard soil might be contaminated.
“The reality is that more contractors are burying garbage than ever before, and oftentimes people purchase a property that—while it’s new to us—may have had a previous owner and you don’t know what was done in your area. If you’re growing food in the backyard, unless you get that soil properly tested, you’re really gambling with what’s in the ground.”
Plants absorb nutrients and other ingredients from the soil and pass those on to the edible parts of the crops we eat. That’s why Arthur opts for raised beds in his own garden. “It allows me to control exactly what’s going on in that space. I don’t have to worry about what was there before. I don’t have to worry about nutrient levels, because I am starting fresh with the soil that I want to put in.”
For the best all-around soil to get your beds off to a good start, Arthur recommends triple mix. This commercial term refers to a soil that has other things mixed into it, like manure, sand, perlite, or vermiculite. “Put your triple mix in for the first year,” Arthur says. “Everything will be happily growing and you won’t have to add anything.”

5. Track what you plant from year to year.
Keeping accurate records about what you put in each bed from year to year will help you make informed decisions about what amendments your soil needs each time you plant. Since each plant has different needs, Arthur’s book provides a handy table for exactly what sort of amendments plants remove from your soil—and what you need to put back in.
Tomatoes, for example, like calcium-rich soil, so treating a bed previously used for tomatoes with calcium before planting another crop is a good idea. Sketch out a simple map of your plantings and store it in a safe place for future reference. Review each year before you plant.

An excerpt from the blog “Earth Easy” by Shannon Cowan. For the full article please visit: “10 Expert Tips for Raised Garden Beds and Planters.

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  • Earth Easy
    The blog editor at, Shannon lives on six acres of land with her husband, daughters, and backyard poultry flock.

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