Want to know how I’m growing 47 summer vegetable plants in 8 sq.m.? Here’s how!
Most people think that there are two options for growing vegetables at home: in containers or in the ground.
But there is a third option that is MUCH better than both of the above: raised beds. Raised beds combine the advantages of both containers and ground planting and avoid the pitfalls.
What is a raised bed?
A raised bed is a frame set down on the ground, then filled with a growing medium, in which the seeds and seedlings are planted. There should be at least 15 cm of soil above ground to grow summer vegetables – like tomatoes and zucchinis. (Root vegetables, like carrots and sweet potatoes, need more soil.)
The point of the raised bed is that the plants are not growing primarily in whatever local soil you have in your yard. If you’re growing on your balcony or patio, then you may not have a dirt surface, but a raised bed can still work if you take care of drainage.
How to Build a Raised Bed – The Hard/Expensive Way or the Easy/Free Way
In Israel, raised beds can be custom made for you by a carpenter or you can make them yourself out of lumber or pallet wood – if you have power tools and enjoy working with them. Both options cost – money, time and labor.
However, I prefer to do it the easy, free way and recycle old furniture or building materials to build my raised beds. I have been doing this for 10+ years in various apartments and it works great, but for some reason I don’t see gardening buffs discussing it so much on blogs and YouTube. They mostly seem to assume you’re going to build a raised bed or purchase one (ideally using their Amazon link 🙂 )!
My first raised vegetable bed was a wooden trundle bed frame I found next to the dumpster outside our Jerusalem apartment. It worked perfectly. Since then I have usually used discarded bookshelves. I spot them next to dumpsters all the time here in Ramat Beit Shemesh. About a month ago, when everyone was purging their garbage pre-Pesach, I picked up three to build my newest vegetable beds. (When I say that “I” picked them up, I really mean that I roped my husband into do most of the grunt work of shlepping them back to our place. Thanks Shmuel!)
I found two on the curbside while driving around the neighborhood. I wanted a third so I posted on a neighborhood list that I was looking to take an old damaged bookshelf off someone’s hands. I got plenty of offers!
Right now I have four bookshelf raised beds on my city farm. My three new beds are arranged in a “chet” shape, and the fourth older one is on the opposite end of the yard, next to the chooks. I have already grown two summers worth of fabulous vegetables in it. I feel so blessed to now have four times the growing space!
I also have a few other small raised beds built out of roof tiles, a bedside table, and an old cement sack. There is a a total growing area of about 8 sq.m.
That’s enough for 47 summer vegetable plants: 6 tomatoes, 6 peppers, 1 eggplant, 2 zucchinis, 4 cucumbers, 2 melons, 2 watermelons, 10 garlic, 4 potato, 4 ground cherries, 2 sweet potatoes, 3 green beans and a bunch of Jerusalem artichokes.
All that in 8 sq. m. !
How’s that for a tiny farm with big dreams?
Filling up Your Raised Bed with Soil
Even though the frames of my scavenged beds were free, filling them up with good quality organic soil costs money. It will take about 150-200 L of soil to fill a 2m.sq. bed. You have to get that from the nursery and shelp it home (if you have a husband around who is willing to lend his upper body strength to the project, this helps – Thanks Shmuel!)
Expect to pay 30-50 shekels per 50L of good quality organic growing growing mix (תערובות גידול)
For my raised beds, I slashed this cost in half by pouring in wood chips, leaf mulch, straw and manure on the ground level, and the soil on top. I got all that organic matter for free from a local sheep farmer, the KKL-JNF forestry dept. and the municipality’s park cleanup workers. That was a really fun adventure that I will write about soon.
The soil is a one-time cost. You don’t need to buy it again next year. But you will need to buy a bit of compost or other fertilizer, if you’re not making it yourself. Check out this recipe for homemade fertilizer.
Important note: before you start pouring in the soil, it’s recommended to place a layer of cardboard or newspapers over the ground. This will prevent weeds and grass from growing up into your beds.
Still need convincing that raised beds are the way to go?
5 Reasons to Grow Vegetables in Raised Beds
- You have instant ideal soil: Whatever soil you current have in the yard is probably not ideal for growing annual vegetables. There are so many problems that it might have: too much clay, too much sand, not enough organic matter, residual chemicals, too much competition from tree roots, too compacted, too alkaline. To solve these problems will take a ton of money, time and physical labor. Skip a lot of trouble by building a raised bed filled with a good mix of soil suitable for growing vegetables.
- Easier care: Usually you will have a lot less weeding to do in a raised bed and all ongoing care is easier when it’s off the ground – simply because it’s less far to bend down.
- Better tolerance for hot summers dry spells: Vegetables plants in containers are extremely vulnerable to dryness and heat. In the height of the Israeli summer, you may have to water 2-3 times a day. Plants in the ground are less vulnerable because the huge soil mass holds moisture better – and the same goes for plants in raised beds. A single daily watering should suffice.
- More Plants in Less Space: Due to the richness of the soil and its light, airy texture, you can plant seedlings closer together than is recommended in traditional row gardens.
- Better vegetable yields: Gardeners all over the world report that they get higher yields when they switch to raised beds. That means juicier and more plentiful vegetables to reward you! Of course, there are no guarantees and every garden has its challenges and flops. But raised bed really improve your chances, due to points 1-4.
So are you ready to build your raised bed and start growing summer vegies?
I can’t wait to hear how it goes!
My name is Naomi and this is my tiny little farm in the heart of the rapidly growing city of Beit Shemesh, Israel. I enjoy growing, making and processing as much of my family's food and household essentials as possible, while nurturing a biodiverse ecosystem filled with beauty and life.