by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
Did you know that one half of households in the United States now grow vegetables? Oklahomans are no exception, and each spring we look with anticipation at all the plants and seeds that are available in our local garden centers. There is nothing that tastes better than a fresh vegetable picked from your own garden and eaten on the spot!
Successful gardening, whether flowers, vegetables or trees, depends on good preparation, and the first step to growing delicious veggies is to test your soil. A healthy vegetable garden requires well-drained, loamy soil that contains plenty of nutrients. Testing your soil will tell you what nutrients it has. Soil tests can be obtained from your local Cooperative Extension Office, and cost only $10. They will provide you with an analysis of how much nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium your soil contains and whether it is acidic or alkaline, its pH. This is important information to have as you prepare your garden beds.
To prepare a soil sample to take to the Cooperative Extension Center, get a clean bucket or pail. Using a spade or shovel, dig from the surface to about six inches and take several samples, about 12 – 16, around the area you want to test. Mix these samples together in your bucket and then put about 3 cups of this soil in a clean container. A clean plastic bag works great. Take your bag of soil to the extension center with your $10. They will send your sample to the Soil Testing Laboratory at OSU, and the results will be mailed to you in approximately two weeks. In those results, they will make recommendations on the amounts of fertilizer to use and any other soil amendments you need to add.
Here are raised bed examples using landscape timbers and edging stones.
If you don’t want to test your soil or garden in a bed in your yard, raised beds are a great alternative. In a raised bed, you can control the soil structure, pH and fertilizer nutrient levels. They are great for areas with poorly drained or tight clay soil, because you can add soil purchased or composted and create a great environment in which to grow your veggies. Other benefits are that you can grow vegetables in a smaller space, and it is easier to water and harvest raised beds.
There are many materials that can be used for a raised bed; redwood, cedar, vinyl, and composites are all good options. Stone, concrete or landscape blocks also make great borders for raised beds, as do bricks. Landscape timbers and old railroad ties will work; if you use railroad ties, make sure they are not oozing black creosote or smell intensely. A group of half barrels is also great, especially for a patio! You could even use a child’s swimming pool, provided you poke holes in it to allow for drainage. Make sure you have a minimum depth of 8 inches of soil, but 10-12 inches is better. You can fill your bed with packaged garden soil or buy garden-ready soil in bulk from one of your local merchants.
Take care when choosing a location for your raised bed; make sure your bed gets at least 6-8 hours of sunshine a day. Locating the bed close to a water source is a must, especially for our hot summers here in Oklahoma. Do not place your bed underneath a tree within its root zone, the spread of the branches. Tree roots will compete with your vegetables or plants for nutrients and moisture.
Railroad ties work for raised beds as long as they are not infused with creosote or other materials.
Preparation of your beds before the growing season is full upon us will ensure you have the best environment to produce the kinds of crops you want. What varieties you choose make a big difference, since you want to grow plants that are best suited to Oklahoma. In upcoming weeks we’ll discuss varieties of vegetables you can grow in Oklahoma!
To see many examples of raised beds for all kinds of plants, visit the Master Gardener Demonstration Gardens at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds, southwest corner adjacent to the gravel parking lot. And for more ideas about gardening and to obtain top quality plants, be sure to attend the Spring Garden Party on April 16 in the demonstration gardens. We will offer how-to classes, activities for kids and the best plants to purchase for your gardens. Also, remember that you can call the County Extension office with questions or submit them online at the Cleveland County Master Gardener website at clevelandcountymastergardeners.org.
Concrete blocks also make great raised beds!
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