*Building My Raised Planting Beds*
By: Umbriel
21 August 2007

I decided I wanted a raised bed, to be a dedicated asparagus area with also being able to grow deep rooting crops with no troubles. After reading several articles in the Rubicon, I settled on using bags of premixed concrete, because it seemed the best way to get a good high bed, that would last.

I started by preparing the ground, tilling it to remove all grass and roots, then raking the area smooth and tamping it down. Next was to set out the first course. I decided on 10 bags long, with the ends being 3 bags wide. I used Quickrete, the large 80 lb. bags. After laying the first course out, I poked some holes in the bags, then watered the whole shebang. I wanted to make sure all the concrete mix was wetted completely. I used a soaker hose that I lay down the middle of all the bags so each one got water directly. This was allowed to cure overnight.

The next day, I set out the second course, after checking to make sure the first had all set up properly. The second course of bags were offset, so that the gaps would be in the middle of the first row, much like laying bricks. This time, instead of poking holes I cut a slit in each bag and watered with a trickle directly into each bag until the mix was saturated. I decided to try this, because one of the bags in the first row had collapsed from too much water. I think it worked much better, and the ground inside the planter wasn't such a mudpit. Again, the bags were allowed to set up overnight.

The third day, we had a lot of rain, so I waited to set out the last row. I didn't want them to become overly saturated and get some collapsed bags. The next day was good though, so the final row was laid out, and watered just like the second row had been. Once more, it was allowed to set overnight.

The next morning, I started removing some of the paper, and left the seams between bags alone since it was hard to remove there. Besides, it will decompose over time, so I don't really care about it being there. I put down a layer of yard waste bags, slightly overlapping them as a weed barrier. Being biodegradable, in a year or less they will be gone, and the thickness makes for a great barrier. Into the planter went bags of organic garden soil from Lowes, and a couple of containers of water retention gel crystals. The asparagus was planted and started showing the spears in a little over a week.

We liked the way it looked so much that we made a second planter as a herb garden, but not as big. The smaller bed was 3 bags square, and 2 rows high. I added flagstone we had to the top and mortaring it in place, and tucked in some creeping thyme plugs and irish moss into some of the gaps in the side walls (the gaps were deliberate, I wanted to plant these there) and packing in some soil tightly around the plugs. I used the same organic garden mix, and planted it with herbs. The one thing that it contained was chives, which I planted first in a large shallow round plastic planter, it looks like a large salad bowl. Then I sank it into the soil, leaving it about 1" above the surface of the soil. All in all, it looks great!

Lessons learned: be careful how much water goes into the bags because the paper WILL give way if the mix is too heavily saturated. Also, 80 lb. bags are heavy as hail, thank goodness my husband is a strong man. Use a sturdy garden cart to transport the bags, and get the cement delivered. Our order was 2 full pallets, plus 4 bags. We are using the pallets in the basement to store our buckets of grain on, just to keep them off the floor.

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