The Garden Bed
Choosing a garden bed
There are three main options for garden beds. These are:
- Planting directly into the ground;
- Planting into a raised garden bed;
- Planting in containers or pots.
Zero Waste Options
Planting directly into the ground will be the most eco friendly option because you won’t need to purchase and have waste from a raised garden bed or container. Most soils can be improved to be more vegetable friendly. However, whether this is a viable option depends on the weeds in the area and drainage. Soil can always be improved.
If you are considering a raised garden bed, look into wicking garden beds and see if this is an option for you. It is great water saving choice and reduces the frequency you will need to water the bed.
For more information check Wicking Bed/Self Watering Pots
If you are choosing to plant directly into the ground you will need to test the pH of the soil and assess the type of soil that you have (eg clay, sand, silt or a combination of them). You will also need to ensure that water drains well because most vegetables do not like wet feet!
Lastly, you will need to turn the soil over to a depth of 30cm for leafy crops or 60cm for fruiting crops like tomatoes and pumpkins, to ensure the soil is loose enough for crops to put down roots easily. This is also important if you intend to grow root vegetables like carrots, and want them to be straight!
An alternative to this is the "no dig method".
Minimal Waste Option
The most common choice for a vegetable garden is a raised garden bed. These can be 1 foot off the ground, up to hip height, depending on your space and needs. These are a popular choice as you can easily control the density and type of soil. If you are wanting to garden organically, then a raised or container garden bed is ideal as you can purchase organic beds and soil. Compared with planting directly into the soil in the backyard, you do not need to make the same soil assessments and preparations as mentioned above. Your carrots are far more likely to grow straight in a raised garden bed. However a raised garden bed will likely come packaged and not be plastic free. In choosing your raised garden bed, assess the packaging it comes in and whether you can source it wholesale without the packaging.
Types of raised garden beds include corrugated iron beds, plastic or timber beds. Timber beds may be a zero waste option (if you wood chip and compost any off cuts) if you have the skills to build the beds yourself. However bear in mind they will decay over time and need replacing. They may also have been treated so make sure you enquire about at your hardware shop and purchase an eco friendly option. The timber of the garden bed needs to be able to tolerate moisture, and NOT be treated with CCA (Copper Chrome Arsenate) which can leach trace amounts of arsenic into soil which could be absorbed by your crops. Try pine for a budget option or jarrah and cypress for longevity. Pallets in Australia have been found to contain CCA and so since you do not know their history, they are not recommended for vegetable gardens.
Many plastic garden beds are now made from recycled plastic, and are specifically designed to withstand the Aussie climate. Looks for ones made from non-leaching UV stable recycled polypropylene. Remember you need a bed at least 60cm deep for fruiting crops like tomatoes and pumpkins, but only 30cm for leafy vegetables like lettuces.
You can also purchase composite wood garden beds, which are a mix of wood fibre and plastic. They are resistant to warping, biodegrading and termites.
Corrugated iron beds have a longer life span than the previous options. Make sure you choose a bed where the walls are not too thin that they bend with the weight of plants or soil.
Container gardens could be a zero or minimal waster option depending on how they are packaged. Some vegetables have shallow root systems and will grow well in shallow planters, whilst you’ll want deep planters for root vegetables.
Upcycled Planter Ideas
- chest of drawers
- formula tines
- wine barrels
- plastic bottles
- wooden pallets
- watering cans
- broken buckets
- jerry cans (not ones that have had oil or petrol in them)
- laundry/kitchen sinks
Note: avoid tyres and paint tins. These have chemicals in them which will leach into your soil.