CHANCE: Tips to rescue your raised garden

April 10, 2013 

I went fishing and was loading my kayak when a goat walked up. It was someone’s pet and was friendly and let me pet it. I ignored it until it stuck its head into the open door of my truck and began chewing. Shooing him off did not work. Next he jumped into the truck seat. He wanted to drive. I told him the truck already had an old goat driving, but he did not understand.

When I pulled him out of the truck, his head came up unexpectedly, and he hit me in my lip with his horn. It did not hurt much, but it cut my lip, which proceeded to bleed profusely. I take a blood thinner, which made it worse. I grabbed a shop towel and began to apply pressure to the cut, but it continued to bleed and I still had to contend with the goat.

With one hand holding a bloody towel to my face, I finally shut the truck door only to turn around and find the goat in the seat of my kayak. Now he wanted to go fishing, and all I could think about was that I did not want him to leave “nanny berries” in my boat. About this time I began to wonder what goat barbecue tasted like.

Seems like I regularly need to be rescued. Fortunately a nice nurse who was taking her son fishing rescued me by giving me some gauze and a bright blue Band-Aid so that I could continue to fish. I appreciated her concern and help.

Some gardens need a rescue. Raised beds can rescue gardens with soil and location problems. Raised beds drain better, warm more quickly in the spring, are usually easier to work and are more attractive. You can improve the soil easily with organic matter and reduce soil compaction.

Bob Westerfield, University of Georgia horticulturist, shares some raised bed tips:

Build raise beds from wood, concrete blocks and other materials. Think about the length and height of your bed when selecting building materials. Typical raised beds are 6-8 inches high, 3-6 feet wide and 6-8 feet long. Make beds no wider than you can reach across.

It is better to use pressure treated wood than untreated wood to prevent decay. Chemicals used to treat the wood may concern some vegetable gardeners, although the risk is very small. Chemicals used for today’s pressure treated wood are less toxic than those used before 2004. If you are concerned, line the interior of the bed between soil and wood with plastic.

The risk of contamination is actually greater when cutting pressure treated wood, so use a dust mask and gloves. Do not use railroad ties since the chemicals used in them can continue to come out when temperatures rise.

Plan the size and shape of the bed, so it will be easy to water. Drip irrigation is better, since it reduces leaf wetness which leads to disease, but drip irrigation can be harder to manage.

A soaker hose snaked across the garden makes an inexpensive drip irrigation system. Use a hose timer, so all you have to do is to turn on the water and let the timer turn it off.

Till the soil under the bed, and then fill the bed with soil. This is your one chance to pick your soil, so spend some time selecting and mixing soil components.

Find a soil that is a sandy loam. In other words, it is mostly sand but has a little clay and silt. Soil from an old garden or farmer’s field may harbor pests. The best soil probably comes from wooded land, but even this is not perfect.

Soil test and add lime and fertilizer as recommended.

Add well-composted organic matter to the soil -- about one third of the volume of the soil. Homemade compost makes a great additive. For some other sources of organic matter, visit your garden center or visit

If you use fresh manure, give it 90 days to compost before planting vegetables. This should reduce bacterial levels and reduce the chance of food contamination. For more information, see

Willie Chance works with the University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture and helps to train the turf and landscape industry.

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