Raised bed gardening is a wonderful option for creating a healthy and organized backyard garden. Gardening in raised beds allows you to transform and adjust your garden space to your needs. Instead of gardening in traditional rows, the garden is created in a box and raised up from the surrounding surface. This is a great system for people with poor soil and drainage, difficulty bending over, a small gardening space, or someone looking to minimize root compression and maximize yields.
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Benefits of Gardening in Raised Beds
There are many benefits of gardening in raised beds, and since raised bed are relatively easy to build, it’s an excellent tool for increasing the harvest on your backyard farm and in your backyard vegetable garden. Here are some of the benefits of gardening in raised beds:
- Great for intensive planting and in areas with limited space
- Allow for an easy method to improve your soil and improve drainage
- Raised beds warm earlier in the spring than a traditional garden so you can plant your vegetables earlier in the season
- There is less soil compression since the garden is not walked resulting in higher yields
- It is easier to control weeds
- The raised height makes it easier to manage if you have difficulty bending over
- Raised beds allow you to build a level garden space on a hillside or slope
- Raised beds can create order and beauty to your garden
How to Build Raised Garden Beds
When creating raised beds, you can use an material you have available to make the outside edge, include: boards, branches, logs, rocks, and cinder blocks. You can also purchase these materials or find a kit (see some options below) Remember that whatever you use will come into contact with your food, so use safe sealers on any wood surface or choose hardwoods. Rock will retain heat better, but will cause the soil to dry out along the edges. We’ve created raised beds with logs, rocks, bricks, and boards.
Another method of gardening in raised beds is to simply mound up the soil to create a raised row. This type of raised bed is less well defined, but since there are no borders, the soil along the edges does not dry out like it sometimes does in other raised beds. You can find out more about using this method at Old World Gardens.
Most raised beds are created 3 or 4 feet across (just wide enough for you to reach the middle without stepping in the garden). We try to create raised garden beds that are about 4 feet wide, 8 feet long and 2-3 foot wide paths between them. This allow for room for a wheelbarrow. The higher, or deeper, you create your beds, the stronger your plants with grow. If you are building raised beds over poor soil or on top of cement or another hard surface you need at least 12 inches of healthy, organic soil.
If you are building your raised garden beds over top of existing soil, you can fill your raised bed to any height you desire. Soil is the foundation of any garden, so make sure your fill your garden with high quality soil and compost, especially if you’re planting a perennial bed. It’s easier to start with great soil up front, but you can also build up your soil over time. If there are weeds in the area you are going to plant, you should get rid of the weeds before putting in your soil by pulling them or covering them: cardboard or newspaper work well.
Make sure you place your raised garden beds where they receive at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. Also consider your gardens proximity to your home and a water source. If pests are a problem in your garden (like groundhogs or deer), you may want to consider a fencing system or other predator deterrent. You can read more about setting up your garden here – planning your homestead garden.
If you don’t have the time to build your own raised beds, there are many options for purchasing a raised bed. You will still need to fill your garden bed with soil and will need to assemble the bed when it arrives. Purchasing a raised bed is a great option if you are looking for something waist height for easy maintenance.
Maintaining a Raised Garden Bed
Just like any garden space, you will need to work out a system for watering in your raised bed, especially since raised beds may dry out faster that the surrounding ground. If you have just one or two beds you can hand water or used a small sprinkler, but if you have many raised beds, you may want to set up a drip irrigation system.
Gardening in a raised bed also means managing weeds. You can do this by hand weeding, hoeing, and mulching. Mulching also has the benefit of conserving water in your garden and replenishing nutrients over time. It’s important to keep the soil healthy in your raised bed, so consider adding a top dressing of compost every year to improve the soil.
Planting in a Raised Garden Bed
You can plant in a raised garden bed just like you would in a normal garden row but you can place the plants closer together since you have deep, healthy and well drained soil. Square foot gardening (where you plant a certain number of plants in every square foot) is a popular method for planting in raised beds. You should think about maximizing productivity in your raised beds with strong, healthy plants
Keep in mind when you are gardening in raised beds that the garden will dry out a bit along the edges, so you’re best bet is to plant plants along the edge that handle dry conditions well. Some of your plants (like squash and cucumber) will also sprawl making it hard to maintain the area between your raised beds, especially if you’re mowing. Make sure to give these plants enough room, or stick to smaller plants that grow vertically.
Does the Benefit of Gardening in Raised Beds Outweigh the Cost?
The quick answer to this is – yes and no. By the time you build raised beds from store bought lumber (or a kit), purchase soil and plant your first seeds, it might seem like expensive vegetables. It might take years before the raised beds really pay for themselves! There are of course many other benefits to raised bed gardening including enjoyment but if you looking strictly at cost, you are better off trying to source less expensive materials for building your raised beds to cut down on the cost.