Raised bed gardening – the hoop tunnel is up!

I’m a little late with this post…even here in Alberta, I think most gardeners have their veggie seeds in and even most of the transplants planted out – although they may still be holding out on the tomatoes and pepper seedlings outside of the greenhouse.  I had promised way back at the end of March to offer up some notes on a lecture I had attended about raised bed gardening and here we are at the end of May and I’m just getting around to it now.  While it may be too late to apply some of these ideas this year, there might be a few things on this list to consider for the future!

Without further ado (I’ve “ado’d” enough with this one, I think!), here are a few key ideas about growing veggies in raised beds from Janet Melrose, the garden animator for the Calgary Horticultural Society and facilitator for the Community Garden Resources Network in conjunction with the CHS.  I’m not transcribing the whole lecture – I’d encourage anyone who lives in Calgary and area to attend any of Janet’s talks, as she has a ton of excellent information about gardening in the Chinook zone.

*On raised beds versus inground gardening:  Raised beds have warmer soil and warmer temperatures at the growing height and are less susceptible to cold traps and early frosts; however, the soil in raised beds is typically drier due to wind and heat exposure, which makes watering an issue.

*On combatting dry soil (also weeds!) with mulch:  Straw is an excellent mulch in raised veggie beds.

*On maximizing the limited space available in raised beds (and I’ll add that this goes for container gardening or any small space gardening):

  1. Sow fast growing crops
  2. Sow a limited number of crops
  3. Practice intensive gardening
  4. Sow crops with the largest production value per plant (my suggestion:  zucchini! LOL)
  5. Grow vertically
  6. Use the edges of beds for plants that trail
  7. Grow crops that have more than one edible part
  8. Plant crops that you can harvest more than once per season

Above all, grow crops that you like to eat and can use up!  I was laughing about this one because I’ve been guilty in the past of planting crops that I don’t necessarily need – for a couple of years now, I’ve grown beets and while I love them, we get about a gazillion pounds of them from our summer CSA share and by October I don’t really want to see another beet for at least a year.  Why on earth have I been growing them as well?  This year they were crossed off my planting list!

Another thing Janet recommended for raised bed gardening is something I’ve had on my mind for a couple of years now:  using row covers and hoop tunnels.  While construction was supposed to take place last year, I didn’t get around to it until a month ago (the story of my life, it seems!) but I’m quite pleased with the results!  (I must thank my hubby for all of his help with this – for the build, of course, but mostly for listening to me endlessly blather on about it).  😉


We used hula hoops for the frame (they’re cheap and strong and already circular in shape, plus they come in a wide range of funky colours) – the ones we bought were just stapled together, so once the hardware was removed, they were ready to go.  We had some old fibreglass tent poles which we took apart and jammed into the ends of the hula hoops to use as “stakes” to put them into the bed, but you could always do without that step.  The poles served to give the hoops a lift, offering additional height – not necessary with most of the crops I’m growing but if you’re planting vertically, it may be useful.

The upper stabilizer is just  a piece of PVC piping (again, very inexpensive), trimmed to fit the eight foot bed and fastened with zip ties.  We debated about adding more piping to each end of the tunnel but decided the whole thing was sturdy enough to skip that step – although we may put them in later on if we feel it is necessary.

Here it is with the row cover in place…the fabric is water permeable (but hopefully not hail permeable!).  I could have used any number of items to hold down the fabric – most gardeners buy pegs specifically for that purpose, but I had some large metal paper clips at home and so I just popped them on.  They will rust, of course, but they work very well.

My hoop tunnel with row cover - BCG - 21 May 2014

Do you grow your veggies in raised beds?  What are your tips and tricks for good harvests?



    • Thanks! The covers should help keep the temperatures a bit more stable (it still gets quite cool here at night) and it will definitely help with pests – this year the birds won’t get my shallots! 🙂 Some gardeners will use them to prevent insect infestations (especially cabbage moth) but I’m not growing any brassicas other than kohlrabi and have never had any trouble with them in the past. I will have to roll up the covers for part of the summer to allow pollinators in – I’m planting some flowers and herbs in there for them!

  1. I love the idea of using hula hoops. They’re perfect for this purpose.

    I plant in raised beds too, though they are much smaller than what you have here. Happy gardening.

    • Our beds in the community garden are pretty big – 8 feet by 3 feet. There are a couple of smaller beds that are raised even higher for better accessibility as well, which is a good option for some of our members. I really love the idea of raised beds – you can control the inputs a bit better than for inground gardens.

      • That is a nice size. We have two 4 x 4 beds in the back for vegetables, and a 4 x 16 foot bed out front for flowers. You’re right, you can control the soil and also contain the growing.

  2. Love the idea of the hoops. Something is chomping on my spinach and since my raised beds are fenced, I don’t think it’s rabbit or deer. Wonder if the hoops and reemay will keep bugs away. Thanks for sharing this information!

  3. I was wondering what was used for the hoops, thanks for sharing.

    I only grow veggies in raised beds, both in Alberta and BC. My only “trick” is in Alberta I wish for no hail while in BC I wish for more rain.

      • My husband deals with insurance adjusters all the time regarding roofs and exteriors, evidently we are in what they call a “hail belt”; not a great area to be in if you like to garden.

  4. Read up on your blog…missed too much in the last few months! Hope to visit more often again. Your gardening is awesome as usual.
    Nowadays my veggie garden exists of a few lovely pots with strawberries and swiss chards and rhubarb;0)
    hugs Johanna

    • As I mentioned the other day, I’m so happy you’re back! And excited to hear about all the happenings in your life!

      Mmmm…fresh strawberries and rhubarb – it sounds like a pie is in your future! 🙂

  5. It is an informative article and I could use some of those tips you have mentioned all the way in Australia. Thank you for sharing it.
    Do not worry about not posting on time (I am in the same club) and take it – Better late than Never!

  6. Love the hula hoops – thinking outside the box. 🙂 We have double raised beds, use purchased hoops with row covers and have now moved to slitted plastic covers from Fedco. Next, we are going to make taller hoops with PVC and plastic. 🙂

    • I do think PVC would be considerably stronger than the hula hoops, although the design of the structure itself is a sturdy one. I’m a bit concerned how this will stand up in one of our really wicked storms, I guess time will tell. I really like your idea of taller hoops.

  7. Love the hula hoops and metal clips. Very creative. I like plants that can be eaten top and bottom (like beetroot) and also broccoli is great because even if you don’t get the broccoli itself you can always eat the leaves and the stem.

  8. We have raised beds for our veg and fruit. We Keep the soil fed with pelleted chicken manure and use comfrey tea, plus mulch heavily with our own compost. We rotate, especially onions, potatoes and brassicas. And yes I am guilty of growing stuff we do not eat, I have several courgette plants ready to go in and no-one likes them at home!

    • So many excellent ideas! And a good reminder that crop rotation is a good practice in raised beds as well – that’s something I’m not sure we are all thinking of at our community garden and it might be something to address, especially given the reoccurrence of pests in the Brassicas and onions.

      LOL – I love your comment about the courgettes! My hubby doesn’t like them either, unless they’re baked into chocolate cake. 😉

  9. I also love the hula hoops. The community garden in my neighborhood has been busy planting this week. They have raised beds. Happy gardening 🙂

  10. BRILLIANT!! WOW I am going to have to try this. What is the fabric that use over it. I need something to cover the cabbages to keep the bugs out but I don’t know what I am supposed to use.

    • The fabric is made of spun-bonded polypropylene – it is available in different weights. The one I have on there right now is a fairly heavy weight to keep the heat in with our chilly weather. But you can get a lighter weight that you can leave on all summer for insect control. Most garden centres will carry it and some hardware stores.

      Have a great weekend!

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