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When you suffer from health conditions that affect your mobility, gardening can seem like it’s entirely out of reach. If you struggle to get up and down, how can you plant your seedlings, weed out intruders, and handle all the tasks that keep a garden producing vegetables and flowers? Live in a restricted space like an apartment? Forget about growing veggies in a dirt patch outside! The answer is to look at raised garden beds.
Raised garden beds are large containers filled with dirt then growing medium. They can be as short as six inches or as tall as a few feet. You can even find varieties made out of bags you fill with dirt. How tall you need your raised beds based on your physical limitations. You can use everything from pots to bins to home-made containers. Plus there are lots of different raised bed gardening methods that you can try out and if you’re struggling for space vertical gardening options are an absolute raised garden bed hero.
My mother and I both suffer from Psoriatic Arthritis, which can directly affect the lower back. Ideal raised beds for us are between four and four and a half feet high – like these from Tractor Supply. At this height, we can sit in a folding chair as needed and still do all our gardening chores.
Raised beds are also an excellent option for places with shorter growing seasons. When you plant straight into the ground, it can stay cold deeper down. In a raised bed, the volume of dirt is smaller, and the sunlight can access it from different directions, which helps to heat it faster and keep it warmer longer. This extra warmth helps extend the growing season and gives people in cooler climates the ability to grow more complicated, heat-loving veggies like tomatoes and peppers without investing in a full greenhouse. Instead, you can cover plants with clear plastic bags during cooler periods.
Two gardening methods seem to work very well with raised beds. The first is the square foot gardening method. Square foot gardening is a system where you plant as many of a specific type of vegetable, based on its growth and spread, that can fit in a single square foot. For example, you can plant sixteen carrots, radishes, or onions in a square foot. You could plant nine parsnips or beets, you could plant four lettuce or bush beans, or you could plant one pepper, tomato or cabbage. Square foot gardening is a great way to increase the amount of produce your vegetable plants produce when your space is limited.
The other gardening system that works well with raised beds is straw bale gardening. Strawbale gardening is a multi-purpose gardening method. The height of the bales makes it a naturally raised bed option. The process of pre-composting the bales generates heat, which extends the growing season, and it reinvigorates your growing medium naturally. Straw or hay bales of any type, round or rectangular, will work as long as they haven’t been treated with any poisons. You can add them on top of your dirt base in a raised bed for extra height or just enjoy that they are naturally just under two feet tall.
Perhaps the best way to tackle raised bed gardening methods is to use all three approaches at once. Both straw bale and square-foot gardening are complementary to each other and work well as raised bed methods. Using the square foot method to increase harvest yields while planting in straw bales to extend the growing season means you’ll get more produce and be able to enjoy hothouse vegetables without much trouble.
Think outside the box! Don’t be afraid to mix and match for best results!
The added benefit of straw bale decomposition is also a frugal gardening choice. You will have to replace your bales every three years, however the decomposed and mulched hay is full of nutrition. You can also turn the bales out into your dirt and use them in other areas of the garden. If you want to replace your bales on a yearly basis, you can toss the used hay into the chicken yard for the birds to enjoy scratching and pecking.
A more modern form of raised bed gardening, hydroponics and aquaponics use raised plastic beds, no dirt, and nutrient rich water. Hydroponics is a raised bed growing system that relies on the user to add the nutrients to the water for the plants. Aquaponics uses a symbiotic system with fish. The fish provide nutrients for the plants and the plants provide oxygen and some filtering for the water.
Hydroponics is often considered easier for first-timers. It requires less work and there are many hydroponic kits available, such as this hydroponics kit from Tractor Supply. These are a great option for people anxious about building a system of their own; however, you can build a system on your own with a little bit of extra time and elbow grease.
Aqua and Hydroponic systems are a great option for places with short growing seasons because they can be set up indoors. It can be a challenge to grow larger crops such as tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers but it isn’t at all impossible. Plus, these systems recycle your water which saves you money and water in the long run. If you live in a place where watering in the summer is a challenge, a hydroponics system is definitely for you.