What is Raised-Bed Gardening? And is It Better?


Gardening can be hard work, especially if you have a disability or mobility issues or are enjoying the later years in life. The constant bending over can mean that its difficult for some gardeners. This is where Raised-Bed Gardening comes into play. But it also has a host of other benefits.

What is raised bed gardening? Raised bed gardening is a way to provide growing areas on poor rocky ground or to raise them to a more comfortable level. It protects plants from insect attacks and prevents excessive flooding of the growing area during heavy rains. It also provides warmer soil conditions earlier in the spring.

A raised bed sits on the ground like a large container with no bottom. It’s a simple, elegant and cute-looking addition to your gardening space. At the same time, it offers great scope for growing vegetables and all kind decorative plants with appreciably higher productivity.

Raised beds are filled with high-quality soils that you can prepare yourself keeping into account all prevalent factors like the type of plant to grow. It allows you to control the conditions required for individual cultivars

Raised garden bed design

The raised garden beds come in a variety of designs, shapes, sizes and looks. They can be portable or fixed permanently in your garden or any open space. They can be made of plastic, recycled brick stone, wood or galvanized iron sheets.

You can also make a DIY raised garden bed with scraps and things readily available in your home. It can be fixed at any desired elevation so that you can achieve both convenience and design novelty.

If you don’t have much time or suitable space to pursue your interest in gardening, raised bed gardening can be a great option for you. It can fit into any size of space you may have and can be productive enough to make you feel content and proud of your gardening activities. You can expect plenty of harvests even in your first attempt.

Why use raised garden beds?

A raised bed garden offers endless options; it’s a highlight of your landscape, an asset to your garden. You can use it for perimeter garden activity, or to decorate the entryway, hideaway an eyesore and grow vegetables in your backyard. It allows you to grow plants in close proximity with small-space gardening, succession planting and vertical support methods.

Through this method, you are able to use every inch of the space. A raised bed garden allows better draining of water and the soil gets warmed up quickly in spring. You can start your spring gardening even earlier with the help of suitable garden fabric and covers. A raised bed garden allows you to prepare and use the ideal soil blend which can have a great bearing on the kind of harvest you have whether you are growing vegetables or anything else.

You can also add a soil acidifier which reduces the soil pH for acid-loving plants such as azaleas, hydrangeas or Blueberries. Raised bed gardening can be utilized for defence gardening against pests such as carrot root fly.

It allows denser planting and this leaves little scope for weeds to grow. Even if a few of them grow in the gardening bed, it is easy to pull and remove them from the loose soil.

It allows people from all walks of life to garden no matter how agile or mobile they are. This means that this perfect past time is open to all who wish to participate. And, It is much easier to prepare a single raised garden bed over a whole plot of land, so you feel like you accomplish things as within a short time you can start planting.

In short, I can say raised-bed gardening is a fantastic alternative to gardening in the direct soil.

Many varieties of raised beds

As discussed above, there is a large variety of raised bed gardening kits available on the market. You can have kits with aluminium corners or even made fully out of recycled plastic, galvanized steel, composite wood, or cedar. You can also find raised beds with an elevation that would spare you bending for tending and caring for the plants.

You can also opt for raised beds that last longer. They can be set up in a matter of minutes and last for decades. They are made of recycled or composite wood and have a fancy cedar look. These kits would not rot or splinter. For a more permanent structure consider having them made from concrete or stone.

Raised garden beds are available in different heights, usually starting from 6 inches. While choosing the height, you should keep in mind that the bed with more height will be able to contain more soil and the roots will have more room to grow freely. Usually, roots of garden plants grow up to 12 inches. Also, a bed with more depth can retain moisture for a longer period requiring you to water the plants less frequently.

If you have problems bending over consider waist-high garden beds. However, consider that these beds will take a lot of topsoil and compost to fill. This can be quite costly but it will allow those who suffer from back pain to continue to garden without the worry of needing medication after.

Compacted or concrete surfaces

You can set up a raised gardening bed on compacted or concrete surfaces. But in this case, you should go for the deepest bed you can find. However, for ordinary gardening purposes, a depth of 12-14 inches would be sufficient. While a deeper bed allows you to have a more versatile plant profile, you would also need more soil to fill them.

You can also use a soil calculator for this purpose. If you are to add a bed above these areas, consider breaking up the soil by forking or the concrete with a sledgehammer this will ensure water doesn’t puddle and build up. It is not a necessity though but just good practises.

How many raised beds?

Looking at the benefits, you must be considering starting with raised bed gardening in your front or back garden. So, how many of them should you have in your garden? If there is a constraint of space or time, you can start with just one that you can manage easily in the space and time you have. But if you are looking to grow lots of vegetables for your own use, you can have multiple units of them – as many as you like, space and time permit you.

You can search the internet for some useful and interesting gardening planning tips and designs. They can also help you with choosing and placing the right plants and crops. If you have the room, consider building them in groups of 4. So 4, 8, 12, 16 and so on. The reason for this is it will help you to practise crop rotation which is usually done on a four-year basis.

Where should you place your raised beds?

For the vegetables or flowers to grow healthy and to their full potential, they need adequate sun of at least 8 hours. This will ensure optimum plant productivity. For this, you should place your raised garden beds in the sunniest part of the garden.

Make sure that you don’t set them up in shadowed or soggy areas. Also, you will need to water the plants from time to time, so make sure it has easy access to the water hose or room to add in some water storage containers.

What kind of soil you should use?

The greatest advantage of raised bed gardening is that it allows you to choose the soil and when you do so, you can create your own blend. This allows you to make it as loose, rich in nutrients and fibrous materials. This kind of soil helps the roots of the plants to grow freely and provide the moisture and nutrients that they need for healthy growth. The whole trick is that the soil in your bed is distinctly superior in quality than the native soil. 

Preparation for setting-up raised beds?

Before you set up raised gardening beds, prepare the spot by removing the grass and weeds and loosening the soil with a shovel or garden fork. Loosen up to a depth of 5-12 inches. This will allow the raised garden beds to have better drainage of excess water and maintain adequate levels of moisture.

With this preparation, you can work with a raised garden bed of even smaller height, for example, of 5 inches or so because the gardening bed extends into the ground and offers necessary depth. In such set-ups, you can grow vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, or any vegetable or flower.

Soil constitution for raised beds

If you are going to make some of these gardening beds, you may need a good amount of soil to fill the beds and you may want to buy it in bulk. You can use a soil calculator readily available on many gardening sites to calculate how much soil you would need for your raised garden beds.

However, you may use the following proportions of different materials to create the right blend of soil for your purpose.

  • 55 % topsoil
  • 25 % compost
  • 20 % potting soil

Potting soil is a soilless mix of peat moss, perlite and vermiculite (optional).

If finding good quality topsoil is difficult at the place where you live, you can create the soil for your raised gardening beds with a blend of compost and potting soil in a 50-50 ratio Or even go and collect some molehill mounds, this is perfect loam-based soil to use in your garden beds.

In any eventuality, don’t allow the peat moss to exceed 20% of the total volume because it’s acidic and is not good for growing vegetables. Why it is used is because it can hold the soil in its place and retain the nutrients.

What plants to grow?

Setting up a raised garden bed on your property is a choice and you would perhaps know why exactly you are having it, what you do want to grow there. However, if you are still unsure, we would like to suggest that you grow the vegetables that you like to eat most.

For salads, you can grow head lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes. For vegetables, you can grow potatoes, leeks, peppers, onions, and herbs. You may also like to grow one or two such vegetables that you have never tried before. It is always good to try and extend one’s pallet

Spacing & productivity in raised beds

The idea of raised garden beds is directly related to maximizing productivity. The key is to grow as much as you can but make sure that you haven’t planted them too closely or densely. If you overcrowd your garden beds with plants, none of them would be able to grow to their full potential.

Their roots would be competing intensely for space, nutrients, and water while the plants themselves would need adequate sun and proper air circulation. Some garden planners available online can help you understand this better with relevant tips and guidelines.

I can also offer you some basic understanding of the relationship between the spacing of plants and their productivity. Subject to the plant varieties and the growing conditions such as availability of sunlight and the overall climate, spacing measurements would vary.

For example, different varieties of watermelons can have varying sizes of vines ranging from 4 to 5 ft in the case of a bush watermelon, for instance, Sugar Baby, to 16 ft in the case of full-size watermelon like Ruby. Similarly, a tomato plant can top out at 4.5 feet in some places like Vermont while they can grow up to 8 feet or more in places like Texas or the UK.

With time and experience, you will develop an innate sense of spacing between the plants for most varieties and geographies. Another thing to look for in the context of spacing and productivity is the growth habit of various plants you intend to grow. Some plants are bushy, while others can be climbing or trailing.

These plant habits can affect their immediate neighbours. For example, planting carrots next to potatoes may be alright but planting cucumbers in close proximity to tomatoes can be a difficult proposition. However, you can take the help of cages, ladders and stakes to prevent the plants from interfering with each other. These accessories will help you keep the garden better managed – neat and tidy.

Tending for your raised bed garden

Weeds

If your raised garden is intensively planted and kept occupied for the most part of the growing season, it would grow very little weed. If you remove them once a week during spring, that’ll be just fine! By midsummer, there won’t be enough of them left. However, if weeds there are still there, it’s better that you remove them quickly, else they would compete with the growing plants for space, nutrients, and water.

Moisture in a raised bed garden

The soil in the raised garden beds takes longer to dry compared to regular garden beds. The protected sides don’t allow the water and moisture to ooze out while the plant themselves offer shade to the garden bed that prevents faster evaporation. By the time the plants have firmed up in their bed, your watering chores would be practically over, requiring you to water the plants only once a week or so or during the extremely hot weather conditions.

Fertilizers

Plants that take 3 to 4 months to mature would always benefit from a midseason second-round application of manures and fertilizers. However, almost all kinds of vegetables benefit from a monthly dose of water-soluble manures or fertilizers, the ones that contain fish emulsion, seaweed and humic acid work better than the rest.

Plants are able to absorb nutrients from water-soluble fertilizers almost immediately and that gives them health and resistance to ride out periods of stress including attacks from disease and pests.

Harvest

There is perhaps nothing more satisfying and enjoyable than the fruits and vegetables from one’s own garden. The best time to begin the harvest is when the fruits or vegetables look ready to be eaten. Too tender or mature fruits or vegetables are less tasty and nutritious.

You should harvest them just before they are at the peak of ripeness or maturity. When plants are fully mature and they have grown up fruits on them, you should take special care to protect the fruits and the plants from pests and diseases. Act promptly, if you find anything trying to spoil your harvest. The video below can help you with dealing with pests.

Some plants, including pole beans and most tomatoes, need a cage, trellis or another type of support to grow properly and produce a good crop. Plant supports also save space, help keep the garden neat and make it easier to access plants for harvesting.

Which fertilizer is the best?

Before the start of the plantation, you should prepare the soil by mixing an adequate amount of the right variety of fertilizers for healthy and productive plant life. You can use all-purpose granular organic fertilizers both at the start of the plantation and the midseason. You can also use other supporting materials such as garden fabric for transplantation and protection from frost. You can do more research as to what other items can help you with your gardening activities.

Is watering a raised bed garden needed?

Every gardener would like to see some amounts of rain every week. But since that will never happen, we all need to make arrangements for watering our plants ourselves. You will need to water a raised bed garden like any other garden. You should keep a watch on the amount of rain that has taken place in the past week before watering the plants. A good test is to plunge your finger into the soil and if its moist watering is not required.

Also factor in the kind of soil that you have. A loose and sandy soil would allow the water to pass down the ground more quickly than a clay-based soil, which tends to hold the water for a longer period. A soil that is a perfect mix of clay and sandy soils, which is actually quite fertile and good for your gardening beds.

The compost allows the soil to supply the water to the plant in the most efficient manner and in the most appropriate quantity. The presence of compost in the clay soil helps create better drainage for the water besides keeping the soil aerated. The presence of compost makes sure that the roots are never in a soggy soil condition that can prevent them from absorbing oxygen. The raised status of garden beds also contributes to better drainage of water from the soil.

What is the perfect size for a raised bed?

when building and designing your raised beds you need to take the given space into consideration. However, the perfect size is 4 feet wide by around 12 feet long. The reason for this is that you can tend the middle of the bed from each side without having to step on it. Having it only 12 feet long means you only have to walk a maximum of 6 feet to be able to get to the other side.

Are there any disadvantages of raised beds?

The list below is some of the disadvantages of having raised garden beds. So consider them before you start off on your journey into building raised beds in your garden.

  • Unused growing Space in the garden
  • Possibly require regular maintenance
  • Require refilling as soil levels drop
  • Purchasing additional soil is expensive
  • Requires more watering
  • Soil can overheat in summer
  • Raises the harvest hight of taller growing plants

Let’s look into these in a little more detail.

The unused growing space in the garden

Ask most vegetable gardeners if they have enough room to grow and you will always get the same answer. NO! Although raised beds are very pretty and have all the benefits mentioned above, they also waste available space if you are looking to grow lots of food or flowers.

The reason for this is because between each bed there has to be a path for you to tend to the beds and plants within them. Some gardeners would not like this wasted space. However, if you are looking to just grow smaller amounts and want things to look pretty then this isn’t an issue.

Possibly require regular maintenance

Depending on what you decided to build your raised beds from will depend on the amount of maintenance that will be required. If built from Timber this will need painting with stain every year and may need replacing after 5 years.

If concrete this will also require painting as time goes on, but these will not rot like timber-built raised beds. Plastic or composite will last for years without the maintenance but a lot of people are trying to use fewer plastics these days.

Require refilling as soil levels drop

Due to the makeup of the soil in your raised beds, as the year goes by the microbes and worms are helping to break down the organic matter within the bed. This allows the soil levels to drop, you will need to replace these organic matters each year at additional costs to you.

Purchasing additional soil is expensive

As mentioned above having to buy soil every year is very expensive. If you have a lot of beds this could run into hundreds of pounds or dollars of your hard-earned money if you are unable to secure a free source of manure or compost.

Requires more watering

Raised garden beds could mean you will need to water on a more frequent basis. They drain much better than the ground does so a good water source must be available to you. You can alleviate this by using a soaker hose or drip irrigation and this will remove this disadvantage.

Soil can overheat in summer

Depending on what you build your raised beds out of, It could lead them to overheat the soil in the hottest parts of summer. This is sometimes an issue if soil levels are smaller, ie in shallow beds, but not so much an issue with beds deeper than 24 inches.

Raises the harvest hight of taller growing plants

Raised beds can be a problem growing tall plants like runner beans or climbing french beans. These plants can get to around 8ft and if this is on top of a waist-high raised bed then harvesting would be a real issue.

Another problem with these plants would be that any summer storms are likely to do more damage as they are higher than they would normally be and could be destroyed by winds.

So is raised bed gardening better?

I guess this would depend on your personal situation. I have grown directly in the ground and have also had many raised beds over the years. If I was getting older and struggling with bending over, or it was in my back garden where I was worried about aesthetics, then I would probably choose raised beds. But while I am able to I want to use as much space as possible.

With the content in this article, you can decide for yourself if they are better or not for you. After all, Who cares what anyone else thinks? As long as it suits your circumstances and you are happy in whatever way you wish to grow then it is only you can make that decision.

Conclusion

Looking at the myriad advantages of the raised garden beds and the simplicity with which they can be used to grow vegetables and garden plants, there are more than enough reasons to go for them.

However, the greatest advantage of this kind of gardening is that it allows you to pursue your gardening interest even if you have extremely compacted or even concrete surfaces. A raised garden bed of about 12- 14-inch depth can allow you to grow almost all kinds of vegetables and garden plants.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post about What is Raised-Bed Gardening? And is It Better? I trust it answered your question fully. If this was of interest to you, why not consider checking out some of my other blog posts and subscribing to the blog so you don’t miss future content.

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Remember folks; You Reap What You Sow!

Tony O'Neill

I am Tony O'Neill, A full-time firefighter and long term gardener. I have spent most of my life gardening. From the age of 7 until the present day at 45. My goal is to use my love and knowledge of gardening to support you and to simplify the gardening process so you are more productive

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