June 3, 2010

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Avid gardener Bill Orlowski has been growing vegetables for his family since he was a young boy growing up in Illinois. So when arthritis in his right leg left the retired Illinois state trooper stranded in his Marshall County garden without a way to get up, he knew something had to be done so he could continue his passion.

"I tell people that if you take gardening away from me, you just might as well bury me now," he said.

Orlowski went to work and built waist-high garden beds by putting a box container on stands. These ultimate raised beds allow him to continue to provide food for his family without having to kneel on the ground to plant, fertilize, water, weed or harvest.

"I can see how this has a lot of application because it minimizes having to crawl around on the ground," said Lincoln Martin, Marshall County agriculture and natural resources extension agent.

Martin, who works for the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, has worked with Orlowski and his wife, Sue, for years on many different projects. Orlowski is an Extension Master Gardener.

"If you have many experiences with the kind of challenge that Bill has had, it'll stop you from trying. So bringing this up to where you can work on it makes a lot of sense to me," Martin said. "There's a lot of thought and innovation that went into building these high-rise raised beds."

Orlowski began to experiment with the high, raised beds during the fall of 2009 by growing cold weather crops in one bed. The success of these crops gave him the encouragement he needed to build more beds this winter. With this being the first full growing season for Orlowski's beds, it is his first opportunity to test how the crops do in hot, humid Kentucky summers. He is growing everything from strawberries to onions in them.

While this is only his first full season, Orlowski has received a lot of interest from friends and family. He said this could potentially benefit a lot of people including those who have limited space or a medical condition that prevents them from gardening on the ground. With the beds built at 32 inches wide, the entire crop can be easily reached from one side of the bed.

Orlowski has developed a model for the beds and said these beds costs between $93 and $115 to build depending on the price the lumber yard charges for wood. He was able to minimize some of the cost by reusing wood from his former raised beds and resizing it to the dimensions he needed, which is something others could do if they had raised beds that are no longer in use.

Even though there is potential to grow a variety of crops in these raised beds, some crops still need to be planted at ground level because of the heights they reach by harvest time.

"If I planted tomatoes in here, I would need a step ladder to harvest them," Orlowski said.

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