I’m a landscape designer, but business has gone down lately, so I’m starting a new business designing and building raised beds for vegetables. Many of my clients want to do this, but they don’t have the time to build the beds. Can you offer me any advice?
There are several people in this business already. That said, there are many possible clients out there who want to put in raised beds for growing vegetables, but don’t have time for construction and need help getting started. Some clients are even willing to pay for upkeep also, especially professional people with little time to devote and often with children who want a garden. The parents think it’s a positive thing for the kids to be involved, and young children usually love helping with growing and harvesting vegetables. In some cases grandparents would love to have a vegetable garden to share with their grandchildren, but don’t have the strength to build the beds. Many retirement homes are now investing in gardens in raised beds for their residents to enjoy.
The most important suggestion I can make is to be sure the raised beds are in full sun. Vegetables need full sun. They will not grow in shade. Always study the exposure to make sure the box is not north of a house, a tree or a tall wall or hedge that would cast a heavy shadow in winter. Additionally, always nail 1/2-inch hardware cloth on the bottom. Even if there are no gophers, veggies will bring them eventually. If there are ground squirrels and no resident dog or cat you will need an entire structure, like a house, built of wood frame covered with aviary wire or hardware cloth and having a door with raised sill. (My Southwest book has a small photo of one of these.)
You will have to figure out what to charge per hour or per job, study drip systems and choose a good one, learn about irrigation systems, timing clocks, and hookups. You will need to figure costs of all materials and investigate quality topsoils. Bagged commercial potting soils usually do not work well in raised beds. It’s better to fill them with well-amended topsoil. Most importantly you need to amend the soil with fully composted organic matter and add adequate organic fertilizer recommended for vegetables every time you plant. In other words, treat the raised bed just as you would treat gardening in the ground.
About the full-sun aspect: Full sun means 6 hours or over of sun. It’s sometimes difficult to convince folks of this. In some cases boxes may be in full sun in summer but not in winter. If people insist, you will just have to tell them they won’t have success with veggies in winter. Instead, during winter plant something that is adapted to growing in what I call “sky shine”. Sky shine means under the open sky but in a shadow so that no sun hits the ground, such as happens during winter on the north side of a house or a tree. Cinerarias love this position. Plant them in October in sky shine. Feed them well and protect them from frost. They bloom in February. A vegetable crop to try in this position is collards. Collards seem to be able to survive in shade and just grow leggy until the sun comes back but meanwhile you can be harvesting leaves. Plants in too much shade often need more fertilizer.
If the house faces south, the front yard may be the best place for raised boxes for growing vegetables: Dig up the lawn and compost it, switch the water system to drip, cover the ground with water-permeable landscape fabric, cover the landscape fabric with gravel, and build the boxes on top. Edge with a picket fence and flowers. A gate with an arbor and climbing rose growing over it can make the whole installation prettier than a lawn. Good luck with your new business!
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