Create Safe and Healthy Raised Vegetable Beds
Spring is here and it’s time to get the vegetable garden going! You may be considering building raised beds for your veggies this year to take advantage of the many benefits that they provide — accessibility, warmer soil in the summer and drier soil in the spring. However, before you start, make sure that the materials you choose to build the raised beds do not negate all these benefits by introducing toxic chemicals into your food growing space. For instance, treated lumber and creosote-laden railroad ties are a big no-no.
Here are some safe options to create a raised vegetable garden:
- Straw bale raised bed (nourishes the soil and sheet mulches grass areas as you grow)
- New or recycled, untreated lumber (no chemicals)
- Juniper landscape timbers (naturally rot resistant)
- Recycled concrete (divert these materials from landfills)
- Rock or brick (heat sinks which will warm the soil for you)
- Stacked sod removed from garden (avoid paying huge dump fees and compost as you go)
- Retaining wall pavers (another heat sink)
- Glass bottles (decorative and useful as they heat up too)
- Soil-filled bags (easy to place)
- Gabions (rock-filled cages that can be art projects depending on their contents)
- Or….nothing at all — just raised soil!
Filling Your Raised Bed
If you are using your existing garden soil for your raised beds, we recommend that you get it tested for fertility and contaminants. Lead is the most common pollutant in urban soils and a soil test provided by a lab can let you know if it is present in your soil.
Keep in mind that most bulk soil suppliers do not test their soil products and that means their soil may contain contaminants that could be problematic for growing food. If you are buying bulk soil or compost, be sure to ask your supplier about testing and where they source their materials. In Western WA, a few soil products have been certified for use in organic agriculture. Their consistent testing for heavy metals and other pollutants means you can feel safe using their products.