by Bill Holton, VisionAware Contributor

Close up of a Gardener Planting Flowers

Raised Bed Gardening for Visually Impaired Gardeners

Raised bed gardening is an accessible way for blind and visually impaired gardeners to grow lots of veggies or flowers. Using this method, even renters with vision loss who can’t dig up the yard can raise a green thumb and a tomato or two. In its simplest form, a raised bed is like a flower box without a bottom. You never step foot into the raised bed; instead, you do all of your work from the well-defined outer perimeter.

Constructing Raised Beds with Vision Loss

Using Cinder Blocks

The simplest, least complicated way to build a raised bed is to locate a flat piece of ground that gets plenty of sunlight and obtain enough concrete “cinder” blocks to form a 4 foot square. You can even run two courses of alternating bricks (think Legos).

Using Wood Assembly Kits

Wood is also a popular material for constructing raised beds. You can purchase a “some assembly required kit” such as the Greenes Fence 48-Inch by 48-Inch Cedar Raised Garden Bed available from Amazon for $37.85. (Note: I offer Amazon listings for products mentioned for ease of ordering, but they are also available elsewhere, including your local garden center.) Or you could choose to buy your own lumber and connect the corners with wood screws or, even easier, using premade fixtures, such as Raised Garden Bed Corner Brackets for 12-inch high beds

Using Stacked Boards

You can even stack two runs of boards one atop the other creating a raised bed between 20 inches and 24 inches high. The higher the bed, the less you’ll need to bend and stoop; even higher raised beds can be created for wheelchair users. Naturally, for these, you will want to leave a lot more space between raised beds.

A woman in a wheelchair outside working in a raised garden

Lining Your Raised Bed

Now that you have assembled your raised bed, line the inside ground of your new plot with cardboard or garden cloth. It will eventually deteriorate, but it will last long enough to stop any grass or weeds from entering your garden soil. It’s best to use fresh garden soil, which you can buy from your local home improvement shop. Also, pick up several bags of compost to supply an extra boost of organic fertilizer. Some people add peat moss to help the soil retain moisture. However, harvesting peat is environmentally unfriendly, so instead, consider using coconut coir, which is made from renewable coconut husks. It arrives in bricks that you soak in water until the coir has swollen to up to 10 times its original size. It is a great peat moss replacement.

You can likely fill one or two raised beds with store-bought garden soil and compost. However, I often wind up with five 4- by 8-foot beds, three of them 12 inches high and the other two 24 inches. So you may be better off looking for someone in your area who can deliver several square yards of garden mix and compost.

Doing the Math

Here’s the quick math. One 4- by 4-foot by 12-inch raised bed holds 16 cubic feet. Lengthen that same bed to 8 feet, and it holds 32 cubic feet. There are 27 cubic feet in a cubic yard.

No Need to Weed!

The good news is that once your raised bed is filled, it will never need to be tilled. A bit of loosening with a hand shovel is all you will need to do to prepare your raised beds for subsequent seasons. Weeding is practically non-existent, so no pulling up seedlings because you learned too late it wasn’t a weed.

It’s Time to Plant

Now that you’re ready to plant, here’s another gardening technique that adapts itself nearly perfectly to “out of sight” gardening, square foot gardening. Its chief proponent is Simon Hamilton, who wrote the book whose latest edition is called “The All New Square Foot Gardening Guide: Grow Organic Fruits and Vegetables in Less Space.” It’s available on Digital Talking book (DB 69864) and also on Kindle. (Tip: Do not purchase the commercially available audiobook version—it is highly abridged).

Basically, square foot gardening is a high-intensity growing method with different plants grown in separate 1-by 1-foot squares. Which means your 4- by 4-foot raised bed will enable you to grow up to 16 different veggies.

Setting Up the Plot

A close up of two hands planting a small tomato plan in dark soil

To make things easy, set screws every foot around the raised bed perimeter. Run twine between the screws. This marks off the 16 individual growing plots, and if you note which seeds or seedlings you plant in each, you will never lose track of what’s where even without the plant sticks you can’t see.

Some of your individual plots will take only a single plant, such as a Roma tomato or eggplant. You may be able to squeeze four, even six, bush green bean plants into a single square. Beet patches may hold up to nine of those red beauties, and a square devoted to radishes may have room for up to 16.

Sewing in a Straight Line or Row

Here’s a tip on how you can sew those seeds in straight lines and rows. Because you’re only growing in 1-foot squares, it’s a simple matter to create a set of seed planting templates. If you’re handy with tools, you can use a drill and one foot squares of plywood to make the template or ask a neighbor or friend to drill them for you. I found some plasticize phone packing material and cut it into three, 1-foot squares. I then poked four evenly spaced holes into one, nine into a second, and then 16 into a third.

A picture of Bill's raised bed garden

Now, I want to plant my radish patch. I have a 1-foot square and, as the book says, I can plant 16 radish seeds. I lay my template in position on the garden bed—it’s easy to position because each square is marked with twine. I push a stick through each hole or just push into the dirt with a finger. I finish by dropping a seed or two into each template hole, then remove the template, and brush soil out across the holes. My seeds are evenly distributed, and I know what should be growing there because I have marked it down.

With raised beds, I never accidentally step into the garden. I know exactly what each plant is, and if I use a hose to water, it’s very easy. I have no weeds. That is due to the cardboard I put in the bottom which stopped them from growing. Also, the soil I put inside had no weed seeds to germinate.