By Amy Grant and Teo Spengler
What are the reasons to use raised beds and why should you in the first place? So much is written these days about raised bed gardening that you might think the practice incorporates new growing techniques. But, in fact, gardening in raised beds simply means planting veggies in an area of soil raised higher than ground level. Like every other garden system, the raised bed system has some positives and some negatives. You want to understand both sides of the debate before you make any decisions. Read on for a discussion of the pros and cons of raised bed gardening.
Pros of Using Raised Beds
Amy’s viewpoint: A raised garden bed is a beautiful thing. Yes, there are some naysayers out there, but there are literally many advantages to using raised beds.
Of the many benefits of raised bed gardening includes how they speak to the neat freak in many of us. If you like things bordering on obsessively neat, then one of the huge pros of using raised beds is the ability to have more control over the location of the garden and how it looks. They can be used everywhere – on steep slopes where gardening would otherwise be impossible, in parking lots or other urban areas. In fact, many community gardens wouldn’t be the peaceful places they are without the use of raised beds. A raised bed clearly defines one plot from another and reduces inadvertent trampling of plants.
Another of the raised bed advantages is the ability to create a garden and use it to its fullest potential – meaning that if you have little space or poor soil, then this type of garden is an easy fix. Trellising works well for vertical growth and gardeners can walk along paths, so every ounce of space is utilized, and soil doesn’t get compacted and plants don’t get damaged. Since their primary function is usually to grow food, you’ll be happy to know that raised beds can produce twice the amount of veggies per square foot than a traditional garden plot. This is because the vegetables can be planted more densely and there is no wasted space.
A properly prepared bed will also drain better, allowing the gardener to have more crop options and helps prevent fungal disease. Better soil not only means healthier plant growth but provides an opportunity to grow certain plants that you might otherwise not be able to. In a raised bed, the soil warms up earlier, so sowing and transplanting can take place earlier which, in turn, means that you extend the growing season too.
The benefits of raised bed gardening include easier maintenance by allowing the gardener to control irrigation, fertilizer, mulch and other soil amendments. Using a raised bed allows you to have more control over pest and disease. Even if the slugs do somehow get into the lettuce grown in a raised bed, it is so much easier to see and do away with them. Reducing the number of pests can often reduce potential diseases, as some pests act as vectors for pathogens. Harvesting is easier too, and less weeding in yet another bonus! Unless you are fond of scooting around on your knees, a raised garden means less bending and stooping, so gardening is much easier on the body. A raised garden can also allow gardeners with disabilities to once again be hands on in the garden.
Cons of Raised Bed Gardening
Teo’s viewpoint: As you consider whether raised bed gardening is right for you, keep your options in mind. You can always dig up the soil in your backyard and plant right in it, just like people have done for thousands of years. This is a great way to avoid the inevitable downsides of raised beds.
One of the downsides of raised beds is the extra cost. If money is an issue, raised bed gardening might not shine so bright. Building raised beds may not break the bank, but it will surely cost more than shoveling out a garden patch in the earth. Even if you construct the raised beds yourself, you’ll have to buy all the necessary building materials and tools. If you pay a handyman to help out, you may be investing more than you will save on store-bought groceries in several years of gardening.
Another of the cons of raised bed gardening is the need to purchase soil. Like containers, raised beds need to be filled with good soil, and bagged soil isn’t cheap. Plus, you have to haul them in from your car and possibly up and down stairs to even get them in the right vicinity. Other noteworthy raised bed problems have to do with the quality of bagged soil. Store-bought soil may not have the nutrients and mineral content of natural soil. And it often contains peat moss, an unsustainable product. Don’t forget that soil in raised beds will heat up more than in-ground soil, and hot soil isn’t necessarily a boon to growing plants.
Need more reasons not to build raised beds? Here’s one. Everyone realizes the importance of conserving water these days. Raised bed gardening, like container gardening, requires more water more frequently than in-ground gardening. In hot summers, water evaporates more quickly in raised beds than in ground-level gardens. Deeper in-ground gardens catch and use all the rain available. And don’t forget that any type of automatic irrigation – like a water-efficient drip system – will be harder (and more expensive) to install in a raised bed garden. So you may end up watering by hand all summer long.
Do Raised Bed Advantages Outweigh Its Downsides?
Who can argue with growing twice as much food in a controlled environment that can be utilized almost anywhere at a comfortable height? This seems lie a no brainer. But it seems that neither raised bed gardening nor in-ground gardening are intrinsically better for growing crops. After weighing the pros and cons, the decision is an individual one, and you’ll have to make it with your own lifestyle and backyard in mind. Either choice can set you up with a lush and productive garden.