Congratulations! Your raised beds are finished and now the strawberries on those starts you planted are turning a beautiful, vivid shade of red.
You’re only days away from enjoying a delicious plate of sweet, mouth-watering strawberry shortcake. Yum!
However, it seems that every time you inspect your beds, you notice berries are missing! No, it’s not the neighbor – or at least we hope it’s not your neighbor – the likely culprits are birds.
While major strawberry producers understand berry loving birds will raid their crops, they factor that into their costs. They’re growing food on such a large scale that they can afford to lose some berries here and there.
However, you’re raising food in raised beds, so you need to hang onto every piece you get!
Whether it’s berries or tomatoes, a raised bed cover is worth the effort it takes to protect your hard won harvest.
Often, price dictates the type of material you choose for your raised bed cover. At the time of this writing, wood will cost you more than something like PVC.
However, if cost isn’t an option, there are many types of materials you can choose for your raised bed cover that will get the job done.
To begin, decide on a material for the framework for your bed cover. You have three basic choices, each of them with pros and cons.
Wood is the most natural option for a raised bed cover, however, there are some drawbacks.
Time is the biggest enemy of a raised bed cover made from wood.
Insects, sunshine, heat, and moisture can eventually damage the best rot-resistant wood. If you cover the wood with plastic or glass, it will protect the wood from the rain. However, the moisture in the air (trapped underneath the plastic or glass) can also cause the wood to rot.
While you can stain or seal the wood, if you don’t want chemicals near your garden, this may not be the best option for your raised beds.
Plastic is the best material to use for a lightweight, durable raised garden bed frame. If you decide to go with plastic, here are your options:
PVC (polyvinyl chloride) pipe
Made from a plastic polymer, PVC is probably the first thing you think of when considering plastic for your raised bed cover.
This material is used extensively in home and garden projects, including plumbing, irrigation, drainage, and landscaping. The great thing about PVC is that you can get it in different sizes and thicknesses, so you can make it as stiff or as limber as you’d like.
Its lightweight properties and resistant to rot make it a great choice for your raised bed cover.
You’ll also find plastic in board form. Often, these boards are made from recycled material, which is helpful for the environment. You can cut them into whatever size you need, so they’re versatile too.
If you combine a plastic frame with a glass cover, you won’t need to worry about weather damage or deterioration over the years. This particular combination is extremely durable, however, it has the disadvantage of not having the natural appearance of wood.
For a durable, rot-resistant frame, metal is the best option. Here are a couple of ways that metal can be used:
Metal poles can be driven into the ground like wooden stakes and will support any cover you choose. This is helpful if you opt for glass covers.
Use tomato cages in the corners and middle of your raised bed to act as supports for lightweight covers such as bird netting or row covers. Secure the covers in place with clothespins, twine or whatever type of fasteners you might have on hand.
While they are long lasting, metal frames are heavy and when untreated metals such as iron or copper are exposed to the elements, they can rust and/or tarnish over time.
Once you’ve decided on a framework, it’s time to pick a material for the covering.
Following are some of the more common choices, together with the pros and cons of each.
Netting is feather light, so it’s easy to move around to get access to weeding or harvesting your raised beds. It’s also a good option for keeping animals out of your fruits and veggies as the holes are too small for birds and squirrels, yet still large enough for pollinators to do their jobs.
However, pests can also access your raised bed so if you’re having issues with moths, cucumber beetles and other pesky bugs, this might not be the right option for your raised beds.
You’ll also need to add another cover if you want to keep a late spring frost from hitting your plants, adding to your costs.
Also, sticks and leaves often get trapped in the holes after strong winds or a thunderstorm, which can be a nuisance.
A common choice for a garden bed cover, plastic is easily found and serves several purposes.
A plastic cover keeps pests (both the animal and insect kind) out of your raised garden bed, leading to a better harvest without needing more plants.
Plastic also creates a greenhouse effect, trapping warm air inside, preventing frost from destroying your plants.
And last, a clear plastic cover will let the sun through, so your plants that need full sunlight will do well.
However, there are negatives to using plastic:
- ⬥ Pollinators cannot access your plants, so you’ll need to open the cover to let them in, or you’ll need to pollinate by hand.
- ⬥ On very hot days, the covers can overheat your plants.
- ⬥ The added heat and humidity that’s trapped can rot your wood frame more quickly.
- ⬥ The sun will degrade plastic over time, requiring more frequent replacement.
If you live in a hot climate or your frame is made of wood, you might want to choose something besides plastic for your cover.
Mesh materials made of metal have several advantages:
- ⬥ Animal pests, like birds, squirrels, and deer, are kept at bay.
- ⬥ Because it is the most breathable of all the cover materials, your plants are less likely to overheat.
- ⬥ The material is flexible and easy to work with, so you can bend it into any shape you need.
There are, however, drawbacks to using mesh:
- ⬥ It won’t protect your plants from cold unless you add plastic or row covers on cold nights
- ⬥ It won’t keep insects from attacking your plants
- ⬥ Some animals (e.g. a raccoon) could bend it enough to get into your beds
Mesh materials you can use include:
- ⬥ Chicken cage wire
- ⬥ Rabbit cage wire
A mesh material can protect your plants from animals, but you’d need to add row covers or plastic to protect them from the cold and frost. Remove them each morning you use the covers to prevent your plants from overheating.
While row covers are made for regular rowed gardens, they can be used in a raised garden bed. They will let light through to your plants, however keep in mind that some animals could potentially get through to your plants.
Finally, once you’ve decided on the materials you want to use, it’s simply a matter of measuring the size you need, constructing the framework, then adding the cover material and securing it in place.