Raised bed gardening is a very popular method for growing vegetables and other produce. There are several distinct advantages to growing in raised beds. They can really make growing vegetables much easier, and you can usually get a much larger harvest for the space.
But, for me, 40 years ago when I first used raised bed garden it was a way of combating heavy clay soil that would be cold and water-logged too long into Spring. In years past I had rototilled it with my Troy Bilt (electric, no less) rototiller, churned in lots of compost and horse manure but the task became too daunting.
John built simple box frames (no bottom) out of 2 x 4’s, which were laid directly on top of the bed areas. We shoveled the soil from the pathways into the boxes to fill them up after we spread layers of compost, horse manure and other nutrients.
After 40 years I can’t quite remember what all we put in but I’m guessing some lime for the acid soil and probably bone and/or blood meal. We planned to provide an excellent basis for the beds that would only need top dressing for years to come. It worked and was a boon to a very pregnant mom who didn’t need to bend quite so far!
But even with all that convenience, creating raised beds – and coming close to making my beautiful Troy Bilt rototiller obsolete – was the fact that with less rototilling, less digging, and much less garden plot being walked on, the soil became less compacted. In fact, in the beds themselves, the soil remained light and easy to work. As compost was worked in each year just by top dressing, the top soil remained friable and healthy.
What's the difference? Raised Beds don't have a bottom to them. they are really just a frame that is placed directly on the soil or even grass. Containers are actual containers, they may raise the height of your growing plot but they have a bottom and are often re-potted every year.
What's so good about raised bed gardening?
One of the biggest advantages to using raised beds is the fact that you can save a lot of space over traditional gardening. If you plant in rows, as most people do in traditional gardening, about half of your garden space is taken up by the paths between rows!
That’s a lot of wasted space. But if you plant in raised beds, you save a lot of space, and you can plant more per square foot than you could in rows. This means you can harvest a lot more produce from the same amount of space.
Another distinct advantage is the fact that you can have good soil more easily with raised bed gardening than you could in a traditional garden. In a traditional garden, you have to mix your compost in with your tilled soil. This means you have to first use a tiller to loosen the soil.
Then you have the back-breaking task of turning the compost into the soil. This can take a very long time, and is very hard work. With raised bed gardening, you can simply use compost as your soil!
You can choose to till the soil underneath your raised bed, or you can leave it alone. Most plants will grow without the tilling of the soil underneath. Then you can just fill your raised bed frame with compost and plant directly into it. It’s certainly much easier than turning compost into existing soil.
Raised beds are generally about 4 feet wide and 6 feet in length. They’re made from a wooden frame set on the ground, often on tilled earth. They’re generally spaced about 18 to 24 inches apart to allow for walking between the frames to care for the plants.
They’re usually separated into 1 foot sections, with each section holding a certain number of plants based on the size of the mature plant. Very large plants may need an entire 1x1 foot square. Smaller plants may be planted 4, 8, or even 16 per 1 foot square. You can plant up to 16 radishes or carrots in a single square foot!
In order to divide your raised bed, you would section off 1x1 foot areas. Then you would section those off into smaller sections based on the size of the plants you wanted to grow there. For larger plants like tomatoes or broccoli, you’d simply plant one in each square foot.
If you wanted to plant lettuce, you can fit 4 per square foot, so you then divide each square foot into four equal squares. For radishes or carrots, you’d divide each section into 16 equal squares. Once the space is divided using string or small pieces of wood, you plant your seeds or seedlings in the center of each section.
Another fantastic benefit of raised bed gardening is the fact that you don’t have as many weeds to deal with. Since the soil you place on top is generally fresh compost or soil mix, there shouldn’t be as many weed seeds in it as there would be in tilled soil. Any weeds that do make it into your garden are easily spotted and pulled out.
Those who utilize raised bed gardening often find caring for their gardens much easier. With fewer weeds and plants that are closer together, gardening becomes a pleasure rather than a chore. It’s a great way to get more produce out of the space you have available, and it’s generally easier, too.
Good for People with Disabilities or Mobility Concerns:
These higher garden plots is good news for people with disabilities, too, since it reduces the amount of bending necessary. You can make your beds as high as you want them to be for complete ease of planting, weeding and harvesting. Don’t worry those tall boxes aren’t filled to the bottom with soil. Build an inner shelf that holds a box that is deep enough for whatever plants you are wanting to grow.
Leave the rows between the raised bed gardening boxes wider than just a walking space if you use or anticipate the use of a wheel chair. If your raised bed gardening will be of the higher box sort, remember also that you may need extra width between them to accommodate a wheel barrow, too.
My aisle ways were narrower but lower so my wheel barrow could overhand the beds without a problem.I threw lots of “old” hay that I gleaned from our local farmers onto the pathways. Much easier to kneel on, I found, which is what I preferred to do over bending.
And that's another great thing that I like, it's so flexible. You have choice of size, building materials, height and then you get to choose just what you want to plant. I prefer companion planting but I still put the tallest plants in the middle and the fastest growing lower plants, like lettuce, near the edges. As with my flower beds I liked to have thyme hanging over the boards giving off their beautiful scent when ever I brushed up against them. They also attracted a lot of bees and kept pests away from cabbages and strawberries.
Looking for more information on how to build raised bed gardening boxes? Look here.
Raised Bed Gardening; Return To Homepage
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