where to build a Victory Garden raised bed

4 Steps to Choosing the Best Spot for Your Raised Bed Victory Garden

 

So, you’ve been dreaming about installing a Victory Garden in your yard but you aren’t sure where exactly to put it. Maybe you’re a novice gardener and just have no clue how to get started. Or maybe you’ve been gardening since you were little but your new home doesn’t have a garden and you’ve never had to install one before.

No worries! Where to put a raised bed is the number one question we get as we gear up for our own garden building program here in Milwaukee every spring. It’s an important question and we want to be sure that every gardener gets off to the best possible start, so we’ve assembled the top 4 most important things you should consider when picking a spot to place your new garden bed!

 

1. Here Comes the Sun!

Victory Garden raised bed filled with sunflowersThe most important thing is to make sure your garden will get plenty of sunlight! While some crops will tolerate shade better than others, most vegetable plants will need a good 8 hours of sunlight to grow strong and healthy. You’ll get the best results if your garden faces east, south, or west here in Wisconsin to capture that sunlight. North-facing gardens will be best for leafy greens, beets, carrots, and other shade-tolerant crops.

You’ll also want to consider where the shadows fall in your yard as well. With all the tree-lined streets and multiple-story structures in the city, sunlight patterns can drastically change throughout the day. So take note throughout the year where those fall so you can plan your garden accordingly.

 

2. Have You Ever Seen The Rain?

Water is a delicate thing to balance in a garden. On those long, hot summer days your plants are going to need some extra water to stay healthy. But, on the flip side, you don’t want to have your plants flooded. So find a spot where the rain can reach your garden but be sure that there are no gutters that empty right into bed that will bowl over your delicate plants and wash your topsoil away. 

Convenience is also a factor here. You will probably have to manually water your garden a lot throughout the growing season when it doesn’t rain enough. So make sure you have a plan for that beforehand! Will you be using a hose or watering by hand? Either way, you want to be as close as possible to your water source so it isn’t a hassle to do it! You won’t want to be lugging cans of water across a huge lawn or rolling up long hoses to mow your lawn. 

 

3. All About That Base!

Victory Garden Beds being built in front yardThere are a couple of things to consider in regards to the ground you want to put your bed on. First and foremost, you’re going to want to pick the most level spot you can!  This is the path of least resistance. You CAN certainly garden on a slope but then you have to pay more attention to rainwater runoff and may have to spend more time and money to build special frames to keep the bed in place. 

Another thing to keep in mind is whether you are building on top of soil or concrete. There are pros and cons to both. When you put a bed on concrete you don’t have to worry about a weed barrier, removing turf grass, or laying down a weed barrier. You also don’t have potentially contaminated soil to deal with from whatever the prior use of the land is. But, you can only grow crops with shallow root systems. Whereas when you grow on top of soil, you can grow crops with deep roots (think potatoes, daikon radishes, corn, tomatoes, and more!). In either case, be sure to add great soil to your raised beds with lots of compost amendments! 

 

4. It’s Alright! Take It Easy!

Victory Garden Raised Bed in front yardThis last one is all about convenience. Ideally, you want to place your bed somewhere you can access all four sides of the bed. That way you don’t have to try to reach all the way across over top other plants to tend to them or harvest and risk damaging those crops. Prioritize sun, water, and level ground first though! You can always add a nice trellis to the backside of a bed to make it easier to access those crops when you can’t get around to all four sides. People also forget about mowing their lawn! If you need to mow, make sure you can fit your mower of choice around the bed or you’ll be sad later!

Finally, another thing people forget to consider is just the convenience factor of placing your bed somewhere you and your family frequently hang out! While you don’t want your bed to displace your family’s barbecue area or become a tripping hazard when playing games, you also might not want it to be tucked in some far-flung corner of your yard no one ever goes to. While that might be a good use of the space, it will only work out if you remember to care for it! Some busy families find that they forget to water or weed or harvest if the bed isn’t clearly visible and accessible from the main areas you already use. If that won’t be a problem, go ahead and use those obscure spots though!


That was a lot of information! We know it sounds complicated, but just take a moment to skim the tips again and remember that it all boils down to four things: Sun, Water, Level Ground, and Easy Access. Go take a look at your yard and we bet you’ll find several spots that would be a great place to build a garden! Honestly, once you get started gardening you’re going to find that you need more than one raised bed anyway!

Now, if you are ready to put in a garden but don’t want to do all the heavy lifting, check out the Great Milwaukee Victory Garden Blitz! We’ve built over 5,000 raised garden beds across Milwaukee County, so we’re pretty much experts at this by now! We’ll come out to your yard with all the supplies to build your bed in the perfect spot you selected, fill it up with organic soil, and drop off a welcome kit with seeds and other garden goodies!

ORDER YOUR BLITZ GARDEN AND SOIL HERE

VGI, Urban Agriculture, and Climate Change

Hello Friends of VGI! 

My name is Will, and I’m a grant writing intern for Victory Garden Initiative this summer. It’s been a fantastic experience so far, as I’ve gotten to know many of the passionate gardeners and volunteers who make VGI’s impactful work possible.

Like many of you, I often experience anxiety and personal inadequacy in confronting the existential threat of climate change. The popular literature and news coverage on climate change frequently focuses on the pressing need to quickly transition to renewable energies and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels–policy and market solutions that can feel out of our control. Although the clean energy transition is important, agriculture, and its related food system components–processing, packaging, distributing, consumption–are often overlooked in the climate conversation. 

I wrote this blog post with the goal of understanding the links between climate change and VGI’s work in building communities that grow their own food. I hope it provides you with solace and a sense of purpose as you go about cultivating your own food garden. 

 

The Need for Urban Agriculture: Feeding a Growing Population While Confronting Climate Change

The United Nations predicts that, by 2050, the world population will be 9.8 billion, increasing to 11.2 billion by 2100 (United Nations, 2017). By 2030, two-thirds of the global population will be living in urban centers (Lederer, 2016). The global food system that will need to feed this growing number of people currently produces 19-29% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, with agriculture contributing 80-86% of those emissions (Vermeulen, Campbell, and Ingram, 2012). 

Climate change will affect industrial agriculture’s ability to feed these hungry mouths due to increasing temperatures, droughts, and excessive rainfall (RUAF Foundation). Considering the large number of people to feed in metropolitan areas coupled with climate change’s ongoing threat to conventional agriculture and food chains, there is an opportunity to rebuild localized, sustainable food systems within increasingly dense cities. Populations that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and an undemocratic industrial food complex must be at the forefront of any substantial conversations around change within the food system. In developed countries like the United States this means historically marginalized communities of color suffering from injustices like food insecurity and agricultural pollution. Community-based urban agriculture constitutes an equitable solution to these issues. 

 

The Benefits of Urban Agriculture: Adapting to and Mitigating Climate Change

Producing food in urban centers provides climate resilience for cities ranging from interconnected issues such as environmental sustainability to food security. 

Urban agriculture cultivates an alternative to the environmentally unsustainable production practices used by the modern industrial food complex. Permaculture, a type of regenerative agriculture that works with nature instead of against it, is used by Victory Garden Initiative at its urban farm and through its programming. Instead of the chemical and energy intensive monoculture schemes common in modern agriculture, urban agriculture systems like permaculture promote a diverse array of crops and sustainable resource management. Victory Garden Urban Farm, for example, promotes ecological sustainability by reducing food waste–a potent source of greenhouse gases–and improving biodiversity, erosion control, soil health, and water quality–environmental qualities that are vulnerable to climate change–through the application of permaculture principles in an urban setting. 

Urban agriculture also shortens food supply chains linked to dense urban centers. In the case of a major climate disruption to rural agricultural lands such as a flood or drought, in which prices for staple foods rise, sustainable urban agriculture can provide a safety net. Communities that currently experience food insecurity and spend a large percentage of their income on food, such as Milwaukee’s Harambee neighborhood where VGI is located, will be disproportionately affected by an increase in price levels due to decreases in agricultural yields from climate change. When urban areas such as Harambee grow their own food, the core mission of Victory Garden Initiative’s transformative work, food price volatility from climate change is less disruptive. Food sovereign communities are not as beholden to the market forces leading to food insecurity. These communities will also experience greater availability of fresh fruits and vegetables during the growing season, as well as greater transparency over the foods they eat. Increasing the consumption of agricultural products produced in urban centers also reduces greenhouse gases emitted by the importing of these same goods from rural areas. Food sovereignty is food justice, as urban agriculture can empower communities that, due to institutional factors, have been historically discouraged from growing their own food. 

Urban agriculture helps a city achieve greater environmental sustainability in other ways, simultaneously improving public health measures. Urban agriculture increases vegetation cover, thus decreasing urban heat island intensity. Urban heat islands suffer from high air conditioning costs, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, heat-related illness and mortality (Environmental Protection Agency, 2019). The same vegetative cover that maintains cooler temperatures in urban environments also helps with stormwater management. The greening of urban areas through agriculture, such as food gardens–like the raised beds installed during the annual Great Milwaukee Victory Garden BLITZ–and urban farms like VGI’s on Concordia Ave., can act as a rain catchment system. This type of green infrastructure will become critical as cities cope with increasing annual rainfall and flash floods due to climate change, which can overwhelm the local water management system and lead to a decrease in water quality from stormwater pollution and runoff (Denchak, 2019).

This post is by no means an exhaustive list of the climate benefits provided by urban agriculture. Given climate change’s complexity, we are still trying to understand how we can best mitigate its effects through changes both big and small. Who knows how climate change will affect Victory Garden Urban Farm’s crop production in 10 or 20 years. What is clear is that encouraging people, especially in cities like Milwaukee, to grow their own food will be a powerful weapon of collective action in the climate fight. For this reason, VGI is committed to engaging with people on the connection between climate change and urban agriculture through all of our programs and community-based work.

 

Cheers,

Will

will@victorygardeninitiative.org

 

Sources:

https://onedrive.live.com/View.aspx?resid=AC95BE3DFDE921E7!3786&wdSlideId=1303&wdModeSwitchTime=1563288279529&authkey=!AFTueVEck_Zfhhc

https://apnews.com/40b530ac84ab4931874e1f7efb4f1a22

https://www.epa.gov/heat-islands

https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/world-population-prospects-2017.html

https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-environ-020411-130608

https://www.nrdc.org/stories/green-infrastructure-how-manage-water-sustainable-way#important