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In 1999, Ellen Smith moved from a small yard in Arlington, Va., to a farm in Pittsford, N.Y. Her dream of having a large vegetable garden, unencumbered by space limitations, had finally come true. However, she soon discovered that a large garden comes with a price. There was so much work to do preparing, planting and maintaining the garden that tending it became more of a chore than a pleasure.
But things began to turn around in 2004, when she purchased four Grow Beds. Ellen wanted to see how well vegetables would grow in the beds versus the ground. She was amazed. "It didn't seem to matter what I grew in the raised beds. Broccoli, pole beans, everything just grew better there than in the ground. Plus, it was easier to weed, neater and took less time to maintain," she says. "The black plastic around the sides heats up faster in spring, giving me a longer growing season. And that's important in upstate New York," she says.
Ellen was hooked. She now has 12 raised beds where she grows tomatoes, beans, peas, carrots, eggplant, melons, potatoes, sweet corn and even small fruits. The only vegetable or fruit that's still in a regular in-ground bed is the asparagus. Ellen has converted her entire vegetable garden into raised beds and loves it. "I even grow blueberries in the raised beds."
Ellen's raised-bed garden provides her family with fresh fruit and vegetables throughout the growing season. She also cans and freezes the extras and gives produce away. One of the keys to her success is compost. "I use manure from our chickens and horses to build compost piles," she says. Each month she starts a new pile and turns the old ones. By the time she has created the fourth pile, the first one is finished and ready to use. Ellen lets the chicken manure age for a full year to kill off any potential diseases before mixing it in the compost pile. "Once the compost is done I spread it on the raised beds," says Ellen. "It works great."
Ellen loves to experiment in her garden. "I use the Weed Mat landscape fabric around my eggplants, tomatoes and peppers," she says. "Unlike plastic, the weed mat lets water and air through, but still keeps the weeds down and heats up the soil," she says. Ellen also has gotten creative with her hinged Tomato Cages. "In spring I place the tomato cages on their side around the tomato plants and drape clear plastic over them to create a cold frame," says Ellen. "I'm able to plant my tomatoes three to four weeks earlier than normal," she says. She just has to remember to roll up the plastic on hot days and throw a blanket over the cold frame on chilly nights. "I like using the tomato cages in this way because they're stronger than the regular wire hoops usually used for grow tunnels. Once all danger of frost has passed, I simply tilt the cages upright so the tomato can grow inside," she says.
Potatoes are another of Ellen's favorite crops. This year she is stacking two Grow Beds on top of each other to create a 20-inch high potato bed. She's eager to see if she'll get more spuds in this extra-deep bed than she gets growing in a regular Grow Bed.
Ellen's experimenting doesn't end in her food garden. She uses recycled rubber Edge Border Mulch to keep grass and weeds from encroaching in her beds, and wanted to see how the Gardener's Supply edging compared with the edging she could purchase locally. "The local brand was less expensive, but it didn't work as well," says Ellen. "The local brand is narrower. When I ran the lawn mower wheel on top of the edging, it left behind an unmowed strip of grass. The Recycled Edge Border is wide enough so I could cleanly mow right along without leaving any grass strips," says Ellen.
Ellen is so convinced raised bed gardening is the way to go, that she's now planning to convert her flowers beds to raised beds as well. "I will never go back to growing in traditional garden rows," she says. "I'm such as believer that I sold our rototiller so there's no going back now!" she exclaims.
Last updated: 7/9/19
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