How many times have you found yourself saying “I wish they had that #$%^&*() when I was a kid”? Well, I wish I would have had known earlier how much easier gardening in raised garden beds was going to be. Knowing now, all the advantages raised garden beds have to offer, it is no surprise that their popularity is growing so rapidly.
Going back in time, when you wanted to start a garden you would choose a sunny site out in the yard and have the lawn area plowed and/or tilled. Others would rent a tiller or turn the soil by hand to break ground on their new garden space. Most of us are blessed with an abundant supply of wonderfully sticky clay based earth topped off with a meager layer of topsoil not usually fertile enough to support turf grass let alone a hi-yielding vegetable garden. This means that it is necessary to add organic matter to help drain soils and to help add the elements necessary for healthy plant growth. Year after year we are amending soils, tilling and planting cover crops to build a healthy garden soil. Once we finally achieve our dark and loamy, earthen nirvana, we are quick to realize that not only do our vegetable plants grow much better but so does every weed seed blowing in the wind and landing in our plot of peaty perfection. Soon after the back breaking job of tilling, raking and planting are done we are back out there, bent over weeding and cultivating to keep the competing weeds from overtaking our cherished plants. The pressure is really on once the harvest begins. Pick the beans while they are small and tender, get the squash before the skins get tough and dig the potatoes… so much bending over, kneeling and just plain… fun?!
I feel I am in good company with my creaky old knees that don’t like to bend let alone kneel on the ground. My back just doesn’t bounce back from those long stretches of digging like it used to and I simply can’t get as much done in a day as I used to… until I put in raised garden beds! Now I don’t need to do the backbreaking cultivating or tilling because the blended topsoil I added is soft, loose and does not compact over time. I am not bending over as much to weed or harvest because the raised beds are meeting me part way and, best of all, the plants perform much better than they did when they were growing in the ground beds.
There are many styles of raised beds and each offer specific advantages that may appeal to you. My long and narrow beds were easy to install and have plenty of capacity for all my growing needs. There are table-like beds that are raised even higher bringing your plantings up to waist height. These are usually on wheels so they are easy to move across a patio or driveway and are ideal when sunny space is limited. Growing edibles in pots and larger containers is also growing in popularity and has proven to not only be very productive but can also be very ornamental if well designed. Raised beds don’t need to be fancy to be functional. A few cedar boards (avoid pressure treated wood) held up by rebar and wood screws, a landscape fabric base and good, blended topsoil will suit many applications. Landscape stone and raised garden bed sets are available for more a more finished presentation. Arbors, trellises, irrigation systems and fencing are all possible additions to your raised bed system to help increase yields and protect your efforts from wildlife damage. New bed systems like keyhole gardens are emerging as the success and popularity of gardening off the ground gains momentum and gardeners develop new techniques and growing systems.
You will want to be mindful when selecting plants for your raised garden beds. Take account of mature plant sizes when planning your garden. Look for the many of the more compact selections of vegetable plants now available that are ideal for the limited space available in raised beds and container gardens.
So for those who want to grow more produce with less effort and better results, some form of raised garden beds may be just the solution for you.
Now go outside and have fun in the dirt!