August 22, 2019

Using raised beds and rain barrels in sustainable gardening

Observer photo by Deborah Miuccio Growing vegetables and herbs in raised beds can make gardening easier and more fun.

Observer photo by Deborah Miuccio
Growing vegetables and herbs in raised beds can make gardening easier and more fun.

By Deborah Miuccio
Special to the Observer

There is something deeply satisfying about eating food you’ve grown yourself. What’s more, backyard produce tastes better. Freshly picked vegetables contain higher amounts of vitamins and minerals than food trucked in from far away. Kids who refuse spinach at the dinner table will gladly eat it right out of the garden. New studies have found that contact with soil can even make you feel happy and relaxed, because it contains antidepressant microbes that can stimulate serotonin production. Gardening sustainably—without using pesticides or synthetic fertilizers—results in healthier plants for you, as well as for the natural ecosystem in your garden.

 Gardening can be hard work, but growing in raised beds makes it easier and more fun. With raised beds, you can start with the ideal soil for planting. If you’ve been discouraged by rock hard clay, or nutrient-deficient sand in your backyard, you can create the perfect environment for growing healthy, abundant crops in a raised bed. Adding compost rich in organic matter will provide your plants with the natural fertilizers they need to thrive. Green Mountain Compost is a great local source for compost and soil, and can be purchased in several retail outlets in Williston.

In addition, soil in raised beds warms up and drains faster in the spring, so you can start your garden earlier. Weeding is much easier in raised beds. The soil is looser and the weeds pull right out.

Ready-made raised beds can be purchased in different materials, such as rot-resistant cedar or recycled plastic. You can also build one yourself. Aluminum raised bed corners make installation simple. If you have trouble kneeling or bending, you can still enjoy gardening with elevated raised beds, which allow you to garden from a standing position. Place your raised bed in the sunniest spot in your yard where it will get at least six to eight hours of direct sun. Don’t put your garden too far away from your home or a water source; out of sight is sometimes out of mind. There is no need to lay fabric under your raised bed. You want to allow earthworms and other beneficial organisms from the native soil to mix in with your garden.

Why collect rain water? 

Why collect rain when we’re not in a California drought? Here are three reasons:

It saves money on water bills

It prevents excess water from picking up debris and pollutants, which then flow into streams and Lake Champlain

It provides an excellent source of water for your plants

Rain barrels are easy to set up. If you have roof gutters and place a rain barrel under a downspout, you’ll be surprised at how quickly it can fill up during a Vermont spring. Most come with a mesh screen to keep out mosquitoes and large debris. Be sure the overflow outlet is leading away from the house.

You can use water from the rain barrel to wash your car (and your dog), but its best use is for watering the garden. Plants love rain water. It doesn’t have the salts and chemicals in treated municipal water, which can build up in your soil overtime and interfere with healthy growth, and studies have found that for most types of roofs, runoff is safe for your garden. But don’t wash vegetables with water from the rain barrel: use potable water for that.

Rain barrels can be purchased at your local garden center, or you can make your own. Voyager House middle school students from Williston Central School, led by CVU student Kellie Weening, will be auctioning rain barrels they painted to raise money for the non-profit organization Pure Water for the World. (See page 5)

Happy gardening!

Deborah Miuccio is a member of Sustainable Williston. Sustainable Williston ( works on issues like clean energy, water quality and planting trees, and writes about a different sustainability topic for the Observer each month. Some current happenings include the Birth Tree Project and the June 25 Sustainable Energy Series presentation at the library from Drive Electric Vermont, with several different electric car models available to examine up close.

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