Create a Simple Raised Vegetable Garden

INSIDE : Learn how to create a simple Raised Vegetable Garden to grow delicious veggies, greens and herbs in your own backyard this summer season.  No need for extra frills, this simple method will provide big healthy produce to enjoy for months!

Simple Raised Vegetable Garden

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I have grown a vegetable garden in one way or another since I was out of college.  I have grown veggies in so many different methods.  I’ve done :

The beauty of growing your own food is you can go as simple or as complex as you want… but almost all methods still will yield you delicious food!

This year with most of the world staying home more and doing less time casually shopping at grocery stores, creating a vegetable garden not only makes sense food-wise, but gardens can bring so much enjoyment to your daily life.  Personally, I take multiple trips to my raised garden each day to check on the plants, see how they are doing, do a little weeding and give them a drink – it fills my heart to grow plants.

Here is an updated picture of how my garden looked as the season went on…

Lush Green Vegetable Garden

I’m also a huge indoor houseplant lover (did I mention I was a practicing landscape architect for 8 years) and have an entire page dedicated to Plant Care.

Today I will be sharing with you how my simple 4’x4′ square garden works.  I would love to have an arched trellis and for it be full of flowers and veggies and to take up more space, but that is not practical for me right now – and maybe it’s not practical for you either.  

We live in the high desert of New Mexico and our backyard space is small – but I am making it work and the plants are thriving.  I’m here to prove that although big and fancy can look beautiful, small and simple works just as well!

Why do I need a raised vegetable garden versus in ground?

You definitely do not need your garden to be raised to have a successful crop of plants.  I have done in ground vegetable gardens a few years and if your space allows it, its a great option.  However, there are a few benefits I believe in doing a raised garden.

Raised gardens are so nice if you have a limited amount of room.  They can help in keeping the weeds from nearby pathways from creeping into your veggies.  There isn’t quite as much bending and leaning over since the garden is at a higher level.  Raised gardens have less soil compaction because you are typically amending the soil quality and adding in a little bit of new soil each year.  And less compaction is better for water drainage and easier for plant roots to thrive in.

What type of structure do I need for my simple raised vegetable garden?

Any time of material will work for a raised bed.  Many people opt to build a simple wooden rectangle or square structure for their space.  Cedar is a good wood for it’s durability outdoors.  Living in the desert, however, most wood gets so badly abused by our intense sun that other materials suit us better.

Using galvanized steel horse troughs is a route I always have thought looked so lovely and I like that they can be moved around (if you remove the dirt from them).  I’ve also heard wonderful things about Vego Garden Beds and my friend Tasha has loved them.

Oddly enough, the previous owners of our home had four white vinyl raised beds on our roof when we moved in.  So bizarre to non desert dwellers, but many of our rooftops are flat.

We have four of these White Vinyl 4’x4′ beds (or this one, or this one).  I carried one down from the roof for this year’s garden.  We don’t have room for the others right now.

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How much sunlight does a vegetable garden need?

Ideally your vegetables will need about 6 to 8 hours of sunlight.  So, when you are trying to determine where to locate your garden, be sure to watch your yard for a few days to see which parts receive the most sunlight.

What do you put on the bottom of your raised vegetable garden?

There are numerous ways you can handle the bottom layer of your vegetable garden.  For my garden, I had to rake 3″ of gravel and rock away to even reach the dirt.  Our ground here in the High Desert is basically decomposed granite from the mountain, so I knew I didn’t want to even deal with it.

Botton of a Raised Vegetable Garden

After I relocated the rock, I cleared a flat surface and then placed brown paper grocery bags in long sections on the ground.  I left about 6-8″ of the bag wrap up the inside of my raised bed to help hold in the soil.  

The brown paper bag will eventually decompose with time and water, but I don’t think there are many weeds in our dirt that I would need to worry about.  If you live in a non-desert location, using filter fabric is a great way to go.  It doesn’t break down over time, but still keeps weeds out and allows water to move through it.

How deep should a raised vegetable garden be?

The minimum soil depth for your garden should be 6″, no less than that or the roots will struggle to grow properly.  Typically for most vegetables about a 8-12″ depth is adequate.

Raised Vegetable Garden soil depth

My garden is about 12-14″ deep this year since I had to dig down about 3″ below grade to remove all the rocks we previously had located there.

What can you plant in a small raised vegetable garden?

This year my raised garden is a precious little 4’x4′ square and it is amazing how much can fit into the space.  Before I started planting anything, I drew a to-scale sketch of the square and then all the veggies I was planning to plant this year.

Vegetable plants

It’s helpful to write down all the mature sizes for plants in a notebook to help with this step.  Next, start drawing in circles to represent your plants.  I am doing four tomatoes, four bush green beans, a precious little snap pea trellis and four cucumbers that will be growing up a leaning bamboo trellis.

Simple Vinyl Raised Vegetable Garden

Will things be a little tight?  Yes.  Is it okay to grow and learn with your garden each year?  Yes.  Gardens should be fun experiments, nothing to stress about.

What is the best way to water a raised vegetable garden?

Being in the desert, almost all of our plants need an irrigation system of some kind.  I use a few low flow drip emitters and then do supplemental watering by hand with our garden hose.  The veggies in pots are also watered by hand daily.

Can you plant vegetables in pots?

100% yes, you can plant vegetables in pots!  For many years, I grew tomatoes in plastic pots and also herbs in stacked pots and they both grew wonderfully.

This year, outside of my raised garden I have a little potted garden growing veggies that I ran out of room for.  I have a pot with carrots, two pots with onions, two pots with tomatoes and two pots with zucchini.

Vegetables in Pots

I like growing things in pots because you can always move them around to give them optimal sunlight.  And if you have an early freeze or high winds, etc… you can always bring them indoors for a day or so.

My only note on vegetables in pots is that they do tend to dry out faster than plants in raised beds or in the ground.  I typically water my potted vegetables once a day here in New Mexico once the summer heat really kicks in.

Can you grow larger plants like zucchini in pots?

The answer is yes!  I have done quite a bit of research on this topic because of my space constraints I didn’t want my zucchini plants taking over my entire raised bed – so I was on the lookout for alternative growing options.

Zucchini in a pot

I have both my zucchini plants in plastic pots.  One plant I am using a tomato type cage and making sure each day as the plant grows and matures that I keep it’s leaves moving up the cage rungs.  You can read more details about how to grow zucchini in pots here.

My second zucchini plant is in a plastic pot with a bamboo stake as you can see below.  As the plant is growing and producing flowers, I have been cutting off the bottom hollow leaves/stems.  As well as securing the main stalk of the plant to my bamboo stake.  Zucchini plants have one stem but typically they spread and grow all over the ground, in theory mine will be doing the same thing but in a more controlled vertical fashion!

Can you grow cucumbers up a leaning bamboo trellis?

Another space saving trick I am using this year, is using a leaning bamboo trellis for my cucumbers to wrap and grow around.  My garden is about 12″ from our stucco wall, so I tied together bamboo pieces with twine to create a leaning trellis structure.  

Bamboo Trellis

As my cucumber plants grows, I will be training it to grow up the structure.  As the fruit appears, in theory I will be able to just pluck it right from the trellis.  I just can’t wait.

What tools do I need for a vegetable garden ?

You can really get by with just a very few essential items, but it’s always fun to have a fun few extras, too.  My essential veggie garden tools are a hat, a nice pair of hand pruners, a hand trowel, bamboo stakes, natural twine or garden twist tie and vegetable fertilizer. But you can check out ALL my favorite garden tools and supplies here!

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My fun extra vegetable garden tools are a pair of garden gloves, a garden kneeling mat, a garden handbook and garden tags.

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PHEW!  Okay, 1500 words later and hopefully you are well on your way to setting up a lovely space to grow and enjoy food all summer long.  Let me know if you have any other questions in the comments and I will try to continually update this post with new information!

Happy growing.

Raised Vegetable Garden in Backyard

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Looking for more Vegetable Garden posts?  You will love these.

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