Growth Mindset Gardening: Raised Beds for Beginners
Updated: May 5, 2020
About two months ago, my toddler and I were learning about plants through our homeschool preschool curriculum (you can read about that here) and I wanted to make it into an even more hands-on learning experience so my husband and I decided to build our own raised garden beds. I have not had much luck with growing things in the past, but now that I am a SAHM, it's all about trying to keep the toddler engaged in meaningful ways so I thought I'd give it another try. What made it truly authentic is that my toddler and I were learning something new, together.
We started with two raised beds for a vegetable garden. I received some excellent advice from the Instagram community, made some mistakes and learned from them, but on the whole, our little gardening project has been successful thus far. Here are my notes:
Plant marigolds around the edge of the bed to keep aphids and other pests away. I did this and we have not had a significant problem with bugs.
Check out the square foot gardening method. This is recommended as an easy way for backyard gardeners to maximize space and productivity. I took the concept and adapted it work for me. Our beds are 6' X 3' X 6" and I didn't want a "middle" row that I couldn't reach so I made my squares 18" X 18"
Remove the existing grass before setting the frames. We did not head this advice and naively believed Google when it told us that we could put down weed barrier on top of the grass. Suffice it to say that it did not; every day I pull up a few little shoots of grass before they spread, but it's manageable.
Buy more soil than think you need (or be sure to calculate correctly). I thought I had estimated the amount of soil we would need and at first it looked like enough, but after a few weeks and few hard rains, it settled to just over half the depth of the frame. So now after I harvest something, I add more soil to that part of the grid before I plant something new.
Follow instructions with regard to spacing for best results. As far as planting, I pretty much just followed the instructions on the seed packets. One thing I was hesitant to do was thin the seedlings. Call me sentimental, but I had sprouted these seeds, and now I was supposed to throw some away? What I realized quickly, however, was that growth would slow or plants would yellow if they were too crowded.
Our Garden Grows
A week or so later, we added a flower bed for pollinators against the side of our house and later I propped up a wooden ladder (a failed DIY project) for a container herb garden.
Recently, we realized we needed more room for summer vegetables (and our spring planting wouldn't be ready to harvest for a while) so we decided to add two more raised beds. I thought I would document the process to show other people interested in starting their own backyard garden how simple it really is.
Note that there are many ways and types of building raised garden beds. We chose our design for the simplicity and cost-effectiveness. You may decide you want to have deeper beds, but six inches is supposed to be sufficient, as long you have good drainage.
Here is what we bought to build and fill one (1) raised bed (linking to Lowe's for reference). For each additional bed, you'll need more materials, but the landscape fabric, screws and twine should last for several beds.
(1) Roll of Cotton Twine
Saw or Jigsaw
Cut one 6' board in half (to make the short ends)
Use two screws in each corner to join 3' boards to 6' boards in a rectangle.
Place frames in desired location and remove grass underneath with shovel or tiller
Lay landscape fabric under frame and anchor with fabric staples
Fill with soil and tamp down with spade
Measure and mark off 18" lengths and drill screws into edge, leaving 1/2" above surface
Tie cotton twine to screws across length and width to divide into sections
Decide what to plant based on your gardening zone, season and what you like to eat!
Building one raised bed (and the frame for a second) took my husband and I about an hour while the baby played nearby and the toddler napped. It really is that simple!
If you are thinking about starting a backyard garden, it really isn't as much "work" as you might think and it is so rewarding to watch things grow, day by day and week by week. To see our weekly updates, you can follow along on Instagram or facebook.
See also: Growth Mindset Gardening: The Power of "Yet" and Playing Preschool: Unit 14: Plants