Raised Garden Beds

Raised Garden Beds

rThere are many ways to grow food and different cultures around the world practice various methods. Using raised garden beds, is a popular way to grow in many parts of the world. Especially in some mountainous areas still is the way to grow food. Here in the US we see raised garden beds as a way to grow food for the home garden or for those who are physical challenged.

Finished raised bed planted with strawberries

Benefits of a Raised Garden Bed System

  • I see the raised bed as an efficient system.
  • Requires fewer resources
  • Gives more yields
  • Preserves the soil structure
  • Makes the maintenance an easy way to garden – or, if on a large scale,- to do some real farming.
  • A raised system allows us to start fresh with new soil.
  • If you have a soil that is very rocky or has been infected with a lot of chemicals, you can replace the soil.
  • A highly organic mixture can be brought in and supplemented with any amount of organic material. This organic material then becomes food for worms and for reestablishing the soil flora, which makes our soil alive and full of nutrients.
  • We are not adding organic matter to a large area, which can be quite extensive, just the area of the raised beds.

Aeration and Root Development

By not walking on the raised garden bed, we allow the soil to have minimum compaction. The only compaction would be from rain storms.  Use mulch to minimize compaction. The mulch receives the first impact of the rains.

Once a bed is established, and proper organic matter added, the aeration in the soil increases. In turn this will result in the root system being able to penetrate deeper into the soil.  By having a greater root system, you end up with a better plant. A healthier plant has greater absorption of water and nutrients. Good root development is one of the greatest benefits of raised beds.

Size of a raised bed

See video for greater details on   Building a raised garden bed.

The raised should not be less than 4 feet and ideally around 5 feet. This allows ample reach from both sides for planting, weeding and harvesting. If we make a raised bed too narrow then it will dry out too quickly in the summer. Also it may not give us the proper width for planting enough vegetables within the bed.  As for the height of the bed, it can be as high as you can get it without any support. The wider the bed, the greater the height before the soil begins to fall along the sides.

The worm population increases with the addition of organic matter. The worms will not stay confined to the raised bed. The worms will begin to move into the lower parts of the soil and loosen up those compacted areas. This will result in the soil being richer and deeper for growing.

More Advantages

Having raised garden beds has other advantages:

  • The soil warms up faster in the spring than soil that is at ground level.
  • Cover the bed with straw mulch in the late fall, in order to plant earlier in spring.
  • In the fall prepare the beds that will be used in early spring. The garden bed will then be ready once the grounds thaws and gets warm enough to work with.
  • Remove straw mulch from prepared bed in the spring and plant.
  • By having the raised bed warm up faster, you have earlier germination and are able to transplant seedlings earlier in the season.
  • It’s easier to control watering in the raised garden beds. You only water the beds not the paths.
  • You can run trickle irrigation or other system of irrigation just on the beds. This allows maximum saving of water. Those vegetables that need more water can be grown together.

Other Benefits of Raised Garden Beds

Another benefit of a raised bed is that it lends itself for plants to grow in greater proximity to each other. Instructions on planting are based on using rows. When you grow this way, you walk between rows, and compact the soil. In many cases, its assumed machinery is being used to grow the food. Growing food the traditional way reduces air and water available to the plant due to compaction. You then need to plant the crops further apart.

Once you change to a raise garden bed the air and water is available along with the organic matter, then you can plant closer. I have planted closer for each vegetable than what the instructions call for on any seed packet. Not only do I still get a greater yield but also all of them had delicious flavor.

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I treat every vegetable individually and study how big each type of vegetable will get in terms of height and width. Then plant accordingly. By planting a bit closer I find that the plant leaves touch each other as they grow. The ground in the bed stays shaded from the leaves of the plants. I then have minimal mulching to help maintain the moisture in the bed. This added benefit allows me to save on watering.

Watch Out for Insects

The drawback of having the plants closer together are that insects can hide easily. The leaves need to be inspected thoroughly for insects. Therefore, a lot more care has to be exercised.

Once your raised garden bed is finished you will need to fill it with good soil or a compost mixture. If the soil you have is poor quality read the blog on restoring the soil.