A month ago I shared my personal story of how I got started with organic gardening and raised beds. I was fortunate enough to be able to see a side-by-side comparison of this and traditional row gardening. The benefits were almost countless!
That was a very unique situation. I suppose without such an experience, I wouldn't have understood or believed that a new style of gardening could be so much better. That was 20 years ago and I have used intensive organic techniques with raised beds ever since.
So why do I prefer this over row gardening?
Most raised beds are contained with wood, rocks or block. Any natural building material will do but I completely stay away from treated wood to avoid any chemicals leeching into the soil. I prefer building a bed but you can attain the same results with mounds of soil.
The ground where I live is naturally heavy clay. To garden organically I have to add a lot of compost and other soil amendments. It would be very difficult to add enough to make a difference if I had to broadcast it over a whole field. With raised beds, I only have to amend to beds and not the paths. Also, since I never walk in the beds, the soil stays friable and drains well. Other gardeners I have talked to who do not have raised beds say it is impossible to garden organically. I agree that it would be much more difficult without the beds.
With traditional vegetable gardens, you typically have to roto-till at the beginning of each season. In my soil, I found this to be hard work and damaging to the soil structure. Repeated roto-tilling causes a "hard pan" to form below the surface at the depth of the blades. It also many times delays the planting because the ground is often too wet in the Spring. The initial construction of raised beds is a bit of work, but in each of the following years, I can plant at any time without tilling, damage to the soil, or much fuss at all.
Weeding is much easier with raised beds. I don't ever have to worry about hoeing the rows. I can hand pull weeds from the growing beds and once the plants get larger, they shade most of the bed space which prevents weeds from taking hold.
Raised beds make everything much more organized and tidy for me. It is easier to plan where each crop will be planted and keep better records. It is also nice to have a structure to attach things to for trellises or hoops. Here are some pictures from my Garden desk blog in the fall where I attached hoops to help extend the growing season.
The thing I like most about growing in raised beds is that it makes it much easier to implement square-foot gardening techniques, inter cropping and succession planting. I got more into inter cropping and succession planting on my GardenDesk blog. The main thing about Square Foot Gardening is that you can plant more in less space. This is not a bending of the rules. If a seed packet suggests that a plant needs 6 inches of space, that really means that it requires 6 inches on all sides. With the old row garden, people typically plant a row of beans, for instance, 6 inches apart in the row and 2 feet between rows. In a three foot by twelve foot space, they would have 48 plants. I'm using a 3x12 example because that is the dimension of some of my beds. When I plant bush beans in a raised bed with square-foot spacing, I can sow three times more plants! Maybe this diagram will explain it better:
Three times more vegetables in the same amount of space really helps the organic or small space gardener! Trying this approach without a defined bed would be much more difficult.
So to summarize what I've been writing here, The reasons that I prefer raised beds are:
I'm sure I've missed many other benefits to raised bed gardening.
If you grow in raised beds, what are your reasons? If you don't grow in beds, what are some questions you have about raised beds?
I'd love to hear from you.