By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao

Raised bed gardening is a form of gardening where plants grow in soil that’s higher than the ground. This is done by enclosing them in containment units made of wood, rock, or concrete. 

This practice is useful in areas with limited space or those with soil that’s not suitable for planting. 

Ethel Robiz Fortaleza, an urban gardener from Quezon City, uses this gardening method to grow different kinds of herbs and vegetables in the comfort of their own home.

Fortaleza’s raised garden beds are made of concrete.

To make a raised garden bed, here’s what you need to do:

1. Choose the material for the bed’s enclosure. 

Currently, Fortaleza uses concrete for the enclosure of her raised beds. 

“They used to be made out of palochina wood, which was easier to set up but it was not as durable,” the urban gardener said.

2. Determine how much space you have and how much space should be allocated for the raised beds. 

According to Fortaleza, the ideal measurements for raised beds are four feet by four feet (4 feet x 4 feet) and eight feet by 4 feet (8 feet x 4 feet) 

“You need a space of two feet or four feet in between the beds to walk through the raised beds. In our case, it is a mix of one foot and one and a half feet because we wanted to fit four raised beds,” she said. 

3Estimate the cost of constructing the beds. 

Constructing raised garden beds can be a do-it-yourself product for handy individuals. Choosing to hire a carpenter to get the work done is also an option. 

4. Put soil in the constructed beds. 

“We bought garden soil and mixed it with dried chicken manure, homemade compost, and dried leaves from trees and other plants from our garden. The first time we did this, after mixing thoroughly, we let it stand for about a week before planting,” Fortaleza said.

5. Plan what to plant 

Weeks before setting-up the new raised beds, Fortaleza started germinating or growing seeds to prepare for planting. 

“In planning what to grow, it’s important to learn about companion planting, crop rotation, as well as the proper amount of sunlight and water that each plant needs among other things,” she said. 

Benefits of raised bed gardening 

With raised garden beds, digging is not necessary when gardening. Compost and other soil elements used to fertilize the soil can be applied on the surface, thus saving time and effort. 

Fortaleza said that using this method of gardening promotes good drainage in the soil while avoiding any contaminants found underground, and it is easier to manage because it can be easily covered to keep pests and diseases away. 

Weeds can easily be dealt with as well since raised garden beds are densely planted, thus only giving little to no space for unwanted growth. If weeds do grow, they can be easily pulled out from loose soil used in the beds. 

“A personal advantage is I have something to sit on when working in my garden. Finally, it does look more pleasing to the eyes,” she added. 

Presently, her garden grows sweet potatoes, kangkong, gabi, tomatoes, lemongrass, papaya, ampalaya, mustard greens, alugbati, radish, pechay, pepper, lemon, and basil. 

Fortaleza’s gardening journey

Fortaleza’s gardening journey began in 2001 when she and her husband, Wilson, moved into a house with a 35 square meter ornamental garden that had a tall pine tree and avocado tree growing in its surroundings. Overgrown plants were spilling all over and there was a carabao grass lawn that needed trimming.

In order to tidy up the area, Fortaleza started pruning and replanting with one of their housekeepers who was very enthusiastic to help out with the job. 

To her excitement, the plants grew in their garden and Fortaleza decided to venture into urban gardening. She started by experimenting with herbs and growing them from seedlings.

The urban gardener also practices container gardening.

“I started with mint and basil. I was successful the first time. I was so amazed that I was able to grow mint from seeds because mint seeds are very, very tiny and it was not as easy to start with seeds compared to cuttings,” she said. 

With some background from her late parents who were urban gardeners and through consulting her husband who grew up on a farm, Fortaleza was able to grow mint and basil from seeds. 

Hungry for more, she then bought pots, potting mix and seeds which were purely composed of herbs such as parsley, lavender, sage, marjoram, tarragon, cilantro, and many more. 

“Honestly, I felt I was a child again; full of curiosity and enthusiasm, anticipating the time I would be spending in the garden and thinking about what I would do and plant next,” she shared. 

As a beginner, Fortaleza learned a lot about gardening from reading materials online. 

It is important that one gain knowledge from actual experience. What you read or watch or share with you does not always happen as exactly as they say in the book, document or video. Rather,  use these as guides to your progress,” she advised.  

From herbs, Fortaleza’s garden flourished and now grows a variety of crops, trees, and even ornamental plants, showing that starting out small can eventually lead to beautiful results.