It’s smart to use raised beds! Sounds really boring, right? Hold onto your cucumbers. I wish to state my case! What if I told you adding raised beds can be a total game changer for the success of your garden? And the key to solving a host of problems? And an ideal choice for a beginner gardener? Would that make you think twice about trying these silly boxes? I hope so. Let’s dig in.
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The Curse of the New Gardener
My first garden was an insane challenge. Not only was I brand-new to gardening (very green!) but (I later learned) I was starting out on a nearly impossible piece of land.
Our property was built on one massive, solid block of clay. Not just heavy clay soil but, in most spots, all clay. Clay so pure I could (and did) make little pottery items with it. Great for making dishes: an incredible challenge for growing.
I should have had a clue when I could not even dig without putting my full weight on the shovel and hopping on it like a pogo stick.
Adding a tray of plants would take an entire afternoon. And, despite my efforts, few would thrive or perhaps even survive.
And how could they? A healthy garden is all about healthy soil—some combination of sand, silt, clay, and organic matter. Not clay-clay-clay. And a place for all the life-givers including microbes, worms, and much more, to do their thing.
Perhaps your soil is not this bad, but it’s a safe bet that most of us have soil conditions that could use some improvement and ongoing amendments.
Everything I learned about managing that block of clay known as my former garden I now apply to my current garden which is pure sand.
Here’s an easy way to understand the composition of your garden soil:
Does Double Digging Work?
I don’t think so.
Through these years of struggle, experienced gardeners would advise me to double dig.
The basic idea is, you dig deep trenches in the soil, add ingredients your soil is lacking (in my case, everything!), turn everything over, and reform the garden bed.
It sounds all good and fine, and the immediate results seem promising but nature is not so easily changed.
Over time, the underlying characteristics of the soil take over again. The clay or sand (or whatever imbalance you have) remains dominant and all that money spent adding soil amendments washes away.
After several failed double-digging trials, I basically gave up and accidentally caused the solution I was looking for.
Instead of amending deep down in the soil, I started adding things like good compost on top of it. See Composting 101 here for how-tos.
More and more and more of it.
I also learned later on that there’s good science behind this: soil is a living thing with a specific structure. The less we distrupt that structure, the better it is.
That’s when my garden started to really grow. No more double-digging for me. It was all about building up new layers of healthy soil. The clay would remain deep down below. The life-filled soil would become the top six inches of the garden—and the key to healthy growth.
So what does this have to do with raised garden beds?
With raised beds, you put your best soil in one place saving money and giving plants their best chance at success.
Let me convince you.
10 Smart Reasons to use Raised Garden Beds
1. Raised beds offer more options for growing locations.
- With raised beds you have more flexibility to choose the location you want despite obstacles like slopes, trees or bad soil.
2. Raised beds make the best use of your soil.
- Most gardens could benefit from better soil. Good compost and humus will either take time (to make your own) or money.
- With raised beds it goes right where you need it.
- Also, raised bed growing is a much safer option if you are uncertain of the health or safety of your existing soil.
3. Raised beds can help with mobility issues.
- Back, knee, or other mobility problems? Tall, narrow raised beds make it easier to reach.
- You can also build a box on legs if bending is not an option.
- You can find more tips for a back and knee-friendly garden here.
4. Raised beds provide a weed and pest barrier.
- Snails and slugs don’t want to climb those walls! And nearby weeds will find it harder to invade.
5. Raised beds can solve drainage problems.
- Some gardens retain too much water, in others it just washes away. A raised bed with good soil and mulch on top manages water very nicely.
6. Raised beds prevent soil compaction.
- A well-built raised bed can provide a level growing area despite a slope, allows better drainage (without too much run-off), and, you can avoid having compacting soil (by making it just the right size to reach into without standing in it).
- Most how-to articles recommend a bed not greater than 4 feet wide. I find them easiest to manage at 3 feet wide x any length you like.
7. Raised beds prevent soil erosion.
- Got slopes? Add raised beds to provide level, contained growing space.
Related: Back and Knee-Friendly Garden Ideas
8. You can plant more in raised beds.
- The richness and depth of the soil in a good raised beds allows much denser planting conditions.
- Where I would normally follow the guidelines on seed packages in an in-ground bed, a raised bed can accommodate more crowded conditions and produce higher yields.
9. Raised beds extend the growing season.
- Soil in raised beds warms faster in the spring and maintains warmth longer in the fall.
- Use the frame to attach cold frames or other weather protection.
10. Raised beds are beautiful.
- Yes, I think so! And there are so many options for materials and design from rustic to industrial. It’s functional art!
- You can see more examples here on my Pinterest board: Garden Veggie Beds.
- And no, you don’t just have to grow veggies in them. Anything grows!
Tell me I have convinced you to give them a try!
- The best wood for raised garden beds | Balancing safety, sustainability, and cost
- Free plans for building raised garden beds| Lots of options
- How to keep squirrels out of raised beds | Make a squirrel screen
- How to Make Compost for Healthy Garden Soil | You can do it
- DIY Outdoor Privacy Screen with Bug Hotel | Here’s the privacy wall on the other side of my garden
Want Ideas for Veggie Garden Layouts?
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛