Country Moon

My friend Susie and I love to garden, grow things, preserve and nourish. We were recently scouting out different greenhouses and she mentioned that she was considering raised beds in the future instead of planting a traditional garden. I have also toyed with the idea so I wanted to research some of the pros and cons.

Raised gardening beds are more than just adding more soil to rows in a garden. Quite simply, they consist of walls made of various materials surrounding soil with vegetables, herbs and flowers planted inside the structure. They are also known as garden boxes and framed beds.

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Perhaps the biggest pro for raised beds is that you can make them as high off the ground as you wish and this prevents so much bending over or crawling on your knees. Some other pros to raised beds are:

  1. Raised beds can be as compact or as large as desired to fit any backyard or city lot. They can also be placed anywhere, regardless of the soil type. This is especially important if you have poor soil or contaminated soil. Since you add your own planting mix, it makes no difference what the bed sets on.
  2. They allow people with disabilities or who are less mobile to garden because tending to them is less strenuous.
  3. The soil in raised beds warms quicker in the spring than garden soil does, allowing for earlier planting and subsequent earlier harvesting.
  4. In areas with heavier soil types like clay, raised beds will drain better and soil will dry faster for planting. However, this can also be a two-sided sword because if they drain faster, they will also require more watering during the season.
  5. With more than one raised bed, each one can be filled with different types of soil and different fertilizers and nutrients can be used and matched to the different crops. Since the soil is contained, these beds may also help to concentrate the compost and fertilizer and keep them from being washed away. Especially if your garden spot is on rolling or hilly ground, raised beds can prevent erosion.
  6. Bottoms can be screened to prevent gophers, moles and other critters from wreaking havoc with your crops.
  7. On the same note, they keep kids and pets from stepping on plants.
  8. Gardens look neater, soil is kept in place and pathways are kept cleaner. Yes, this is a benefit but there is also a downside here. You trade off cultivating for weed eating around the beds. Personally, I like the look of a well-rototilled garden.

Now for the cases against raised beds:

  1. Unless you use the same dirt that is in your garden now, you have to buy dirt whether you choose top soil, peat moss, a mixture or something else; there is still an expense involved.
  2. Add to this the expense, in both money and time, to buy the material and build the raised beds.
  3. Soil dries out faster, which was pointed out as a good thing if you have clay soil, but in sandy soils, this is definitely not an asset. Because of this, raised beds usually require more watering.
  4. They are less sustainable because of buying and transporting the soil and walls.
  5. Since soil warms faster in raised beds, it is good in the spring but summer’s heat may be a problem for some plants. On the other side of the coin, the beds also cool down faster in the fall.
  6. They may actually require more space since the runs between the beds have to be wide enough to accommodate wheel barrows and other equipment.
  7. Drop irrigation is harder to install.
  8. Perennials have to be hardier because raised beds get colder in the winter.
  9. They restrict root systems on plants like tomatoes where roots grow several feet in all directions.
  10. Squeezing more plants into a tight space reduces air circulation and increases moisture levels which increase the risk of diseases.
  11. Building materials are restricted because you want no chemicals that will leach into the soil.

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7/5/2019 7:56:39 PM

I am handicapped and can no longer really get down to the ground and then up again without a cane. I took my garden bed at my coop which was 4 x 7 and I made 3 raised beds out of cedar planks. As the garden already was 4 inches about the grade of the area from me adding compost, top soil and other soil additives over the years, all I had to do was dig out a space for the first cedar frame, shovel all the soil and more into that, dig out the second frame at the other end and pile all the center soil into that then place the 3rd frame and level all 3 frames. Since I double dug the garden for years, I already had at least 6 to 8 inches of prime soil which, in the 3 beds, crated 14 inches of prime soil. I had space to stand on either side of the center bed too! This enables to to plant closer together, the roots go as far down as they want, I do not have to get on the ground and the amount of produce is astounding. It does require more watering because the raised bed dry out faster so you have to get on top of that. But you never walk on the beds, you can easily replenish them with compost each year. For me it is a blessing. One bed produced 20 pounds of potatoes! It was only 2 x 4!

7/5/2019 8:36:55 AM

I love my raised beds! They are 30 and 32” high so no bending. We have eighteen 8’x4’ boxes and four 4’x2’ boxes made from 8”x3” white cedar. To help spread the expense of dirt, we laid straw bales on the bottom before putting dirt in. Then we top up each spring as the straw decomposes. Weeding is a breeze. We do have to water more often but our clay soil was horrible and the raised beds are significantly more productive. Because we have so many I can do yearly crop rotation. The raised beds have been a terrific investment.

6/8/2019 8:21:32 AM

Lois, I've gone totally to raised beds and bucket gardening. My neighborhood has the loose rock retaining walls. More and more of those rocks are being replaced with the nice looking concrete retaining wall blocks. I've been able to grab enough rocks to build a perimeter around 9 beds at Terra Nova Gardens. As I gather up for rocks I'll add a couple more layers. It's a little laborious but will last a life time when finished. I'm looking more and more for that life time garden construction. ***** Have a great time in the old fashion dirt between the toes sun-kissed dirt garden. ***** Nebraska Dave, Urban Farmer

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