Starting a raised bed garden

I adore the look of a raised bed kitchen garden — the food is so easy to harvest when the beds are up off the ground, it’s easier to plant into, it’s easier to weed, and if you use the Blue Borage method of hugelkultur-in-a-raised-bed, then there is the added advantage of really good moisture retention that means your raised beds won’t need as much watering as your typical raised bed garden.

Another advantage is that if you don’t have any sort of garden with soil you can actually dig into, then growing ABOVE ground is the only option you have. Perfect for apartment dwellers, workplaces with a balcony, or if you are worried about toxic soil where you live. (See examples below from Icebreaker and the Auckland Women’s Centre)

They are also the aesthetic preference for a lot of people who like their edible gardens to look nice and tidy — like Mrs D’s bird sanctuary and Green Bay Primary School, pictures below.

Two examples of a raised bed container garden where there is no soil to dig into the ground.
Raised beds at the Auckland Women’s Centre in Grey Lynn, Auckland. This property used to be a landfill, and the soil is toxic… this means we can only grow food in the raised beds.
Raised beds at Green Bay Primary & Intermediate School. A very tidy method of gardening.
The kitchen garden at Mrs D’s bird sanctuary — the perfect size for growing salad greens, spinach, herbs, soup vegetables and a few edible flowers.

I got these three beds custom made as an experiment to see what difference it makes to apply biodynamic soil conditioner CPP (Cow Pat Pit preparation) on a monthly basis. But rather than do two beds side by side, I was also curious about the effect of in-ground worm farming on the soil and the plants, so I kind of had to get three beds made.

Raised beds in their first home, all set for filling with soil

They were positioned side by side, in similar light conditions (as near as I could get, anyway)

The next step is where my methods are quite different to standard landscaping consultants. Rather than bring in expensive garden mix, I choose to fill these beds with logs that are breaking down, half-finished compost from green waste on the section, and layer in a little bit of aged chicken manure, aged horse manure, and some of the native garden soil that has had years and years of biodynamic preparations added. Savings: approx $500.

Once filled, we planted identical plants in each bed, and started observing how the plants responded, and then how the food tasted from each bed. You can see some nice comparisons over on my Instagram highlights (look for the stories that have the little ‘3 beds’ title)

It’s SO lovely to have an experiment that feeds you, right? I encourage all my customers to set up their own ‘citizen science’ mini experiments to explore the questions they have about various gardening methods.

Here’s how the three beds were looking in the final photoshoot at Titirangi, before I started dismantling 11 years of gardening:

If you’d like to be part of the second round of experimentation with these raised beds, then come along to the workshop on August 21st, in Te Atatū South, where we will be setting up the hugelkultur beds inside the boxes, filling them with soil from the Titirangi garden, and then planting up with a fresh set of edibles and flowers for spring.

Tickets are available here — there’s a 25% discount if you bring a friend with you.

Bonus: when you register you’ll get a couple of Blue Borage online courses (in lieu of workshop handouts), and a follow-up Zoom call a few weeks after the workshop to answer questions about using these methods in your space.

If you have any questions about this method of gardening, do get in touch by email at katrina@blueborage.co.nz or send a DM on Instagram.

Happy raised bed gardening!

~Katrina🌱

Ideas for innovative edible gardening solutions using biodynamic methods to make ‘soil with soul’ is what New Zealand needs right now. To see the full range of online courses go to https://blueborage.teachable.com/courses or get in touch by email at katrina@blueborage.co.nz

Compost Coach based in Titirangi, West Auckland, New Zealand. Using biodynamics to help home gardeners make top quality soil. https://www.blueborage.co.nz/