How to Start a Raised-Bed Veggie Garden

New gardener Reed Davis chronicles each step, misstep, and big juicy victory as he turns a small patch of soil into a bountiful vegetable garden

Sharon Cohoon
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Growing dinner

Reed Davis is rarely stumped by the eternal question “What’s for dinner?” He just walks to the vegetable garden at the edge of his Los Angeles property, sees which crops are ripe, and starts cooking—in summer, that might be a chilled gazpacho topped with chopped cucumber, say, or a ratatouille to take advantage of the glossy eggplants.

An avid cook and a vegetarian, Davis knows that a dish is only as good as its ingredients. That’s why he recently decided to plant his first edible garden, calling on friend Conor Fitzpatrick (creator of MinifarmBox raised beds) to help him through the process. On a sunny, narrow stretch of land, they installed Fitzpatrick’s modular boxes and then planted them, Davis taking notes and photographing each step along the way. In spite of some glitches—like squirrels eating the watermelons—the project’s success became abundantly clear within a few months. “I get so much produce out of the garden that it makes me giddy sometimes,” says Davis.

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The long, skinny strip of brick-hard soil seemed an unlikely spot for a garden, but it gets sun all day. Plus, being downhill from a tall wall, the location is out of view if it looks messy.

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Raised garden beds fill the yard. “Growing crops in boxes makes everything easier,” Davis says.

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The garden plan

In this 10- by 60-ft. garden, small square planter boxes contain low-growing edibles. A long raised bed with a trellis sits against a sun-warmed wall and holds heat-loving and vining crops. Davis keeps a beehive (for pollination), but it’s not essential.

Each 4- by 4-ft. box can accommodate 5 or 6 low-growers. Davis mixes basil, crookneck squash, eggplant, peppers, and zucchini, plus taller tomatoes.

Adding a trellis to a 2- by 24-ft. raised bed allowed Davis to grow vining crops (beans, cucumbers). He puts big crops like artichokes at the side, places low-growers at the front, and adds flowers (such as calendula and marigolds) for color.

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The process, from prep to harvest

Davis and Fitzpatrick started the garden in spring, and the first crops ripened that summer. Rich, fluffy soil helped the plants grow their best, while the beds’ arrangement and a 3-ft.-wide gravel path kept the garden tidy.

Step 1 (spring): Set up raised-bed boxes

We choose five cedar boxes from MinifarmBox (), and they click together, easy breezy. For each square box, we stack three 4-ft. square frames. Fitzpatrick custom-built a 2- by 24-ft. box to go along the wall, with a mounted trellis for vining crops.

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Step 2: Fill the boxes with compost

Fitzpatrick recommends E.B. Stone Flower & Vegetable Planting Mix, so that is what we use. It contains bat guano, aged chicken manure, earthworm castings, kelp meal, fir bark, and other cool-sounding ingredients. What wouldn’t grow in this stuff?

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Step 3: Automated watering

I travel a lot. So we put in drip irrigation from a kit that’s customized to fit the boxes. With a drip system, my vegetables will get water regularly and reliably, and they’ll be happy.

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Step 4: Planting seeds

I sow artichoke, bean, cuke, and herb seeds and plant eggplant, pepper, squash, tomato, and zucchini. The first tomato seedlings soon croak; seems I was planting the seeds too early, when there wasn’t enough heat. But the next tomatoes, which I plant a bit later, take off.

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Step 5 (summer): Harvest

Wow. My basils are bushy, the beans are ripening, and tomatoes are turning red. I’m getting more produce from this modest little garden than I ever expected. Bushels of beans, enough cucumbers to pickle up a mess, and an enviable abundance (around 200 pounds-worth) of tomatoes--enough to whip up a different tomato dish every night.

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From-the-garden recipes

Fresh Tomato Basil Pizza

This simple pizza was inspired by a trip Davis took to Italy—and by his bumper tomato crop. He makes his own crust; feel free to use your favorite recipe or store-bought dough, as we have here.

Recipe: Fresh Tomato Basil Pizza

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Easiest Garden Gazpacho

Davis makes this soup when his summer garden is at its peak. Chilling melds the flavors.

Recipe: Easiest Garden Gazpacho