Some of the prettiest gardens are made up of raised garden beds, lined up in neat little rows, overflowing with plants and separated by gravel pathways. Raised beds create a charming and organized vibe in a home garden. They are visually appealing, versatile, ergonomic, and grow beautiful vegetables. Although they come with a few drawbacks, they will make a great addition to your garden.
Raised Garden Beds: Versatile and Customizable
You can pretty much put raised garden beds anywhere, as long as there is enough sun to grow your plants. If your property has uneven surfaces or hills, they can be customized to fit almost any type of slope so that you have an even surface for planting. They fit easily in small spaces and can be tucked into empty corners. If you don’t have much land, you can put a raised bed on your balcony, patio, along the sides of your driveway, or even on a flat rooftop. If you do put your raised beds on a cement surface or rooftop, be sure the bed can drain well.
You can build raised beds in a variety of shapes and sizes, creating all kinds of different patterns in your garden. You can build long, thin beds to line patios and driveways or arrange triangle-shaped beds to create beautiful designs and pathways. Modular beds can be used to change the height of the beds as needed, depending on what you are growing. For example, you may want deeper beds for growing root crops. The ability to change the height of your beds can be very useful if you rotate your crops.
One of the biggest drawbacks of raised beds is the upfront cost of building and filling them. You can easily spend thousands of dollars on a small garden, especially when the cost of lumber is high. It’s important to remember, however, that you don’t have to build your beds out of store-bought lumber.
If you want to keep costs low, all you really have to do is mound your soil for it to be considered a “raised bed.” You can also use materials you find on your property to construct the beds, such as logs, branches, and stones.
Cut your costs further by making it a hugelkultur bed. With this method, you fill the bed with stumps, branches, and twigs before filling the remaining space with soil. You won’t have to water near as much because the stumps and branches you added act as a sponge, releasing moisture as needed.
Create the Perfect Soil Mix
When you plant in the ground, you’re at the mercy of your property’s native soil. If you are blessed with rich, healthy soil, do yourself a favor and just plant in the ground. If your soil is less than ideal, you can amend and till your soil, but it can still take a few years for it to have the tilth, pH, and nutrient profile that’s ideal for your crops.
However, when you grow in raised beds, you can create the perfect soil mix right from the start. You can mix up loose, rich, pH-balanced soil teeming with earthworms and beneficial microbes. You can even customize the soil in each bed for the specific crops you are growing. For example, you can mix up acidic soil for a bed dedicated to blueberries and sandier soil for a bed dedicated to root vegetables.
Raised beds can be particularly beneficial if you have contaminated soil on your property. If you live in an urban environment, you have a higher risk of heavy metals contaminating your soil. Root vegetables, such as carrots and beets, are especially susceptible to heavy metals and should always be planted in healthy soil because they will store contaminants in their tissues. The easiest thing to do when you have contaminated soil is to bring in new soil for your garden.
Raised beds are also great for reducing soil compaction. Since you probably won’t be walking across your raised beds, the soil will remain loose and it probably won’t be necessary to till your soil. Instead, you’ll just add compost and mulch to your bed each season.
You can create a no-till system in the ground as well, but with raised beds, you’ll be working with light, fluffy soil from the beginning instead of creating it over time. This rich, aerated soil coupled with the deep beds, gives roots plenty of space and nutrition to grow, often resulting in larger root systems. And as they say: the bigger the roots, the bigger the fruits!
Ergonomic Advantages of Raised Garden Beds
For some gardeners, especially as we get older, the pain from bending down and spending time on our knees can take all the joy out of gardening. Raised beds offer a more accessible option for people that use a wheelchair, walker, or have trouble bending down and kneeling.
A typical raised bed is one to two feet high and three to four feet across, so you can easily sit on a chair to work without straining your back, neck, and joints as much. Since tilling isn’t as necessary with raised beds, you can cross that back-breaking chore off your list as well.
Raised beds have superior drainage, which can be a pro or con depending on the gardener you ask. You will definitely need to water more often with raised beds. If you don’t like feeling tied down to your garden, you can install an automatic watering system with drip lines or soaker hoses.
Raised beds are an ideal solution to waterlogged or poor draining soils. They also work well for crops that don’t like their feet too wet, such as raspberries. Drier soil also warms up faster in the spring, which means you can get an earlier start on planting.
Most gardeners have struggled with pests and critters invading their gardens. Raised garden beds offer an extra layer of protection against some of the worst offenders. The height of taller beds can effectively deter slugs, snails, and even rabbits. You can line the bottom of the bed with hardware cloth to prevent moles, voles, and gophers from tunneling into your garden and eating your crops.
It is very easy to add hoops and row covers to raised beds. These act as another layer of protection against snails, slugs, rabbits, squirrels, birds, and even cats who may try to use your garden as their own luxury litter box.
When you build raised beds, you could fill them with weed-free soil, which means you’ll already have a head start battling weeds in your garden. Native soils are more likely to contain weeds and their seeds. If you mulch your beds, you have an even better chance of winning the war.
Be sure to layer cardboard or landscape fabric beneath your raised beds to prevent weeds and grasses from finding their way up into your garden beds. Since the sides of the beds act as a secure border, you won’t have to worry about grass creeping into the edges of your garden like you would with an in-ground garden.
The benefits of growing in raised beds far outweigh the drawbacks. They are beautiful, versatile, ergonomic, effective at managing pests, and give you greater control over the quality of your soil and food. As long as you can afford the initial investment, you’ll be able to enjoy your raised beds for years to come.