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Cultivation with elevation — the joys of raised beds

  • Deena Lashway talks about how easy it is to weed her raised bed garden at her home in Williamsburg. STAFF PHOTOS/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Air vents in the taller raised beds in Deena Lashway’s garden at her home in Williamsburg. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Deena Lashway with her raised bed garden at her home in Williamsburg. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Deena Lashway talks about how easy it is to weed her raised bed garden at her home in Williamsburg. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Vegetables from one of the raised beds in Deena Lashway’s garden at her home in Williamsburg. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Deena Lashway in a bar garden she started in plastic bins inside with holes in the bottom that were then easy to move outside. This one contains plants that help keep the mosquitoes away. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Deena Lashway has a mixture of lower and higher raised beds in her garden in Williamsburg. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A bar garden Deena Lashway started in plastic bins inside with holes in the bottom that were then easy to move outside. This one contains plants that help keep the mosquitoes away. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Lashway in a bar garden she started in plastic bins inside with holes in the bottom that were then easy to move outside. This one contains plants that help keep the mosquitoes away. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Pin Wheels help keep animals out of the raised bed garden at Deena Lashway's home in Williamsburg. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Deena Lashway with her raised bed garden at her home in Williamsburg. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A herb garden Deena Lashway started in plastic bins inside with holes in the bottom that were than easy to move outside. This one contains plants that help keep the misquotes away. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS



For the Gazette
Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Gardening isn’t new to Deena Lashway, but she says that her love for planting, maintaining and harvesting her gardens has grown by leaps and bounds since she discovered the benefits of raised-bed gardening.

“I am the gardener in the family,” she said with a chuckle. “Now I am out here so much that my kids recently said, ‘Mom, do you love your garden more than us?’”

While Lashway, 40, said that her love for her children is unwavering, she admits that her six new raised beds provide her with joy and relaxation as well as a nice harvest of produce.

At her home in Williamsburg, she has eight raised beds of different sizes. Six are dedicated to growing a variety of vegetables and flowers while two are designated for herbs and flowers.

Lashway said her journey into raised-bed gardening began two years ago with the construction of two unique structures she calls her “herb bars.”

Resembling a rustic wooden poolside bar, these 7-foot-long multipurpose structures serve as a conversation area, complete with bar stools, countertop and large built-in planters that run the length of the bars.

“I use them for herbs that I cook with as well as plants that repel insects while we are out here,” Lashway said.

Lashway started all of her herbs from seed and then simply transferred the containers right into the herb bar where lemongrass, sweet basil, purple basil, mint, peppermint, spearmint, rosemary, thyme, sage and tarragon now flourish.

Having the garden built into the outdoor furniture nicely incorporates the herbs and flowers into the overall decor of the family’s large deck and pool area.

The success of the herb bars was the catalyst for the construction of six more raised vegetable beds.

Before building the beds, Lashway had to decide on a location.

“I didn’t want them right next to the house, and they had to be someplace where there was enough sunlight,” she said.

Lashway chose to situate a combination of higher and lower beds in the center of her back lawn, which is surrounded by cherry, birch, hemlock and oak trees.

The tall, natural wooden walls and the well-maintained bed give the large yard a nice visual interest and a homey, welcoming, feeling.

“I saw the design for the tall beds in a magazine and showed it to my husband and he built them for me,” Lashway said.

Larry Lashway 43, is the owner of Lashway Lumber. He said he sourced the material from overstock wood at his mill, situated on 20 acres right next to the couple’s home.

When constructing the low beds, he used 8-by-8 pieces of oak that had been ordered by a customer but never picked up.

“Some people use smaller pieces of lumber, but I like the bigger look,” he said. “It won’t bow out, it’s sturdy, and it looks like it’s not going anywhere.”

The three low beds are built in an end-to-end row, and are 8 inches high and 4 feet wide. One is 12 feet long, while two run 14 feet in length. These are planted with tomatoes, zucchini, squash, and cucumbers, as well as insect-repelling flowers like marigolds and nasturtium.

“I put all of the things that take up space in the lower beds,” she said. “In the taller beds I have my spinach, lettuce, bok choy, broccoli, beets, leeks and radishes as well as thyme, sweet basil, lavender, parsley and cilantro.”

Made out of 2-by-8’s, the tall beds are 32 inches high, 4 feet wide and 8 feet long. They have a thick layer of rock for drainage, which is covered with wire mesh. On top of that is 10 to 12 inches of organic garden soil that Lashway says was provided by a friend of hers.

Larry Lashway said he added an extra drainage feature to the tall beds to make sure that excessive moisture would not be an issue.

“I cut some holes in the lower portion and covered them with wire to help with the drainage,” he said. “I hadn’t seen that in any other design plan, but it made sense to me.”

Why raised beds?

Planting in raised beds has several benefits for both the plants and gardeners.

Because it is above ground, the soil in raised beds warms up more quickly in spring so planting can often begin earlier in the year.

Raised-bed soil is also less compacted than ground soil. The looser soil makes it easier for plants to root and grow and also makes weeding easier.

“I haven’t really gotten a lot of weeds in the beds, but when I do I can easily get my hands in there and weed, and also really work the soil,” Deena Lashway said.

Loose soil is also good for water and drainage. Water can quickly seep into the soil, preventing runoff and getting to the plant roots. It also allows for the drainage of excess water, thus preventing soggy, waterlogged soil.

“I have to say that the higher beds do suck up a lot of water,” Lashway said. “I have been very consistent with watering, though, so things are doing fine.”

Perhaps the biggest benefit to the tall beds is the ability to plant and harvest without having to constantly bend.

“I would get really sore working in a regular garden. It is definitely more physically demanding to be on the ground,” she said. “This is just a perfect height. It’s easier to reach everything and I can garden longer.”

Lashway says that because their property is surround by woodlands, she was a little worried about various animals helping themselves to her vegetables.

To scare away birds and other wildlife, at various intervals in her garden, Lashway has placed small pinwheels that spin in the breeze.

“I haven’t really had any problems, except for the broccoli,” she said pointing to a section of green stems with nipped tops and ragged edges.

Looking at the angle where the broccoli heads had been severed from the stem, it was apparent that the local deer also appreciate not having to bend to get their veggies.

Lashway says that when it comes to gardening, she is learning as she goes.

“I’m sure that I may have done some things wrong, but I am having fun with it,” she said. “It is great therapy, almost meditative, and you really just fall in love with it.”