Question: We are planning on growing vegetables in raised garden beds for folks in assisted living communities. We would appreciate some advice on why type of vegetable plants we can grow. Our beds will be 12-18″ deep.
Answer: The depth of the boxes sounds fine for most veggies, as long as they are well-draining. If these are self-contained (like large pots), not just frames on the ground, don’t over-plant them. Also be sure to fertilize and water on a regular basis. There is a lot of helpful information on growing veggies in pots in this blog post. If these are on the ground, then the plants will extend their root systems into the ground if they need to. So you might want to loosen the soil in that area prior to building up the planters.
The biggest thing to look for when choosing vegetables for raised beds is the mature size of the plants. With tomatoes, check for ones that are considered “determinate”. Determinate means they will reach a predetermined mature height and stop growing taller, thus keeping a more compact form. Some of the cherry and paste-style tomatoes will fall into the determinate category. An “indeterminate” plant will keep growing and growing.
The mature height for plants like peppers, eggplant, okra, and broccoli will be three to four feet, depending on the variety. For sweet peppers check out, California Wonder (the largest open-pollinated bell pepper). Or even something a little different like our Merlot Sweet Pepper. Under the hot pepper category, try Garden Salsa, Tabasco, or the customer favorite: Anaheim Chili Red Hot.
Onions, parsnips, and turnips don’t get tall but do require some room for the bulb to grow. To get “bunch” onions it is just a matter of maturity. Once the onions start to grow and get to the point where they need thinning, growers will typically pull them. Then they bundle them in bunches, and take them to the markets. Commercial growers generally go for a white Lisbon onion but you could try our Yellow Granex or Texas 1015Y Super Sweet varieties or even Red Burgundy. For cabbages you might try the Fast Vantage, as it matures early, which is great for more northern gardens.
Strawberries have very particular needs and like to have room to send out runners to create new plants. They would need to have a space that is only for them. Read our information on the strawberry page before incorporating them into your garden.
A good idea to get more vegetables in a raised bed garden is to incorporate a vertical element in the center of the beds. You can add a bamboo and grips climbing frame or a ring. Or even use garden netting to grow beans and peas. Then surround the outside with low-growing plants like lettuce, spinach or herbs.
Good luck with the gardens! I am sure the residents will enjoy them, especially when harvest time rolls around.