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Benefits of Raised Bed Gardening

I have raised beds.

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There are a lot of reasons for raised bed gardening.  There are also some great reasons not to use raised beds.  The choice is a personal one that will be different for everyone.  I have gardened the conventional way (flat ground – rows of plants).  I have gardened in containers.  I have gardened in raised beds.

Here are my Top 7 Reasons I chose Raised Beds:

Raised beds will cost you some effort to construct – but the payoff is huge and worth it  (I think).

If you have been on the fence for a while and wonder why people go to all the time and effort to build a raised bed garden I may be able to shed some light on the subject.  I have gardened in raised beds as well as traditional row-style gardens.  Both have some benefits.  Raised beds are not for everyone.

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Traditional Row Gardening

Raised beds do not have to cost a lot of money or too much effort.  There are so many ways to create raised beds.  Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t even need pretty boxes to outline your raised beds.  You can mound up some nice compost & soil in a 3 foot by 8 foot section (or whatever measurements fit your fancy) and call it a raised bed.

Here in Kentucky, that idea would soon flop because there isn’t a lot of flat ground.  Clarification:  There isn’t a lot of flat ground on the 23 acres we happen to own.  My pretty mound of compost would wash down into the creek in a spring month.  Have you ever heard of the “rolling hills of Kentucky.”  That’s where I live. Rolling hills plus crazy rain equals no soil.

If your land (and spring-rain showers) happen to resemble the ones here in Kentucky, you may want to put a perimeter around your raised beds to keep your beautiful soil from traveling to the creek.

There are so many good ideas for holding in that dirt.  Untreated wood.  Reclaimed wood.  Concrete blocks.  Logs.  Felled trees.  Cedar posts (laid on their side).  There are even more choices at the big box home improvement stores.  Many landscaping perimeters can be used to create raised beds.  You can spend as much or as little as you want framing out your garden beds.

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Once my beds were in place the next thing on the agenda was a fence.

No, we didn’t fence in the garden to keep the chickens out.  There have even been times when we intentionally put our flock into the garden to help out.  We fenced in the garden because I got tired of feeding the local wildlife.  Deer, racoons, possums, ground hogs – they all enjoyed my plantings.

It was either, grow a garden for the local wildlife or put up a fence.  There wasn’t enough food for all of us.  So, we built a fence.

DH acquired the cedar posts from our woods.  They were cedar trees that had fallen down during storms.  He just cut them into posts with his chainsaw.  We used a 2 man auger and drilled a bunch of holes.  We set the posts & stretched the fencing.  It took 1 weekend.  To see all the details on how we erect fencing go here.

The fenced in area is about 50 feet by 50 feet.  Inside I have over 20 beds and paths for walking.

Why Raised Beds?

 1  Beds You Can Reach

To keep the soil uncompacted we try to stay off of it.  Most of my beds are about 4 feet by 8 feet.  They are this size so that I can reach into the entire bed without having to step into it.  Keeping the soil around the plants light and fluffy is a top priority around here.  It makes it easy to plant, easy for the plants roots to grow, and easy for the rain to seep deep into the soil.

There are many things that will compact your soil.  Rain, snow, debris, among others.  Don’t let your feet (or your kid’s feet) be one of the things compacting your soil.  If you constantly walk around your plants and in your growing areas you will inevitably pack down the soil.

By creating beds that can be reached across, I never have to walk in them.

2  Pathways 

As mentioned above, I don’t want to walk in my growing areas, therefore, in addition to the raised beds I have designated pathways throughout my garden.  This way, I never have to step into a bed.  The paths are hard, horrible clay and it doesn’t matter.  They are only for walking on.

Designated paths make working in the garden simple and clean.  You can pull weeds right after a rain (this is when they come out the easiest) and not have to walk through mud to do it.

You can get as fancy as you want with your pathways.  I have covered paths with thick news papers.  I have covered paths with cardboard boxes.  I have covered paths with landscape fabric.  Other ideas include:  stones, straw, mulch and fabrics.  Anything that blocks light from getting to the dirt underneath (and the weed seeds) will keep your paths clear.

3  Get the Most Bang for your Compost

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Once the designated beds are erected it is easy to fill them with beautiful organic soil for planting.  I focus all my manure, hay, and compost in the beds.  No “good” stuff is wasted on my pathways.  I can top off my beds anytime with debris from the cow’s run-in or the chicken coop and be sure all that goodness goes straight to my plants.

4  Less Weeding

Creating pathways and beds for planting will greatly eliminate your weeding efforts.  I used to have a giant plot of land that was my garden.  It had rows of plants and rows that I walked in.  The entire space was huge and full of weeds.  I was always walking where things were growing and the weeds were unbelievable.

Once I created beds and paths the weed problem greatly decreased.   Pathways can be covered in straw, rocks, stone, landscape fabric or other light blocking substance.  This prevents the weeds from growing in your pathways.  Once the paths are in place you only have to fight the weeds in your beds.  Yay!  What a difference this made for me.

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5  Less Watering

I have a unique perspective on water.  I don’t water (much).  I’m serious.  I water about 4 times all summer.  One of those times is usually when I first plant the seedling or seed.  There are as many opinions on watering as there are people who garden.  I’m not saying I’m right.  I’m just saying I don’t water (much).

Why?  The raised beds help a lot.  They are deep.  They are filled with moisture holding compost (in the form of cow manure around here).  They are usually mulched (which holds in the water they do get).

But the main reason I don’t water is because of what Papaw (Mamaw’s husband) said to me 6 years ago when I was touring his vegetable garden.  It was sumer.  It was hot. It was dry.  BUT his plants were thriving.  They were lush.  They were green.  Everyone else was watering to try to save their tomatoes from the scorch.  And Papaw was out walking his rows with a hoe.  No water.

Here’s what he said,

“When you start waterin’ – you’re into waterin’.”  

Huh?

Then he explained that his parents couldn’t water.  They didn’t have the resources, time or money to spend all those efforts on providing water to their garden. There were just more pressing, more important things to do on the farm than water the garden.  Yet year after year, his parents always filled jars and jars of food with the harvest from their garden.  Without ever watering.

Papaw said that once you give in and start to water your plants – you’ve turned them into sissy’s and you’re stuck watering for the rest of the season.  If you give those tomatoes some tough love & let them hold out for the next rain, you’ll have stronger plants, stronger roots systems (because they have to search out moisture), and probably still have a nice harvest.

Is my harvest smaller because I don’t water (much)?  Possibly.

Maybe we just have the time, the water and the ability to baby our plants – and so we do.  Maybe our plants would be fine if we didn’t water.

Your situation may be different.  If you live in Nevada, I’m gonna say that your garden probably will need some waterin’.  Here in Kentucky I have a little more freedom to tell my plants to “suck it up.”  There’s usually rain somewhere on the radar around here.  🙂

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6  More Plants in Less Space

Another benefit of using raised beds is the ability for the roots to travel down.  When my garden was one giant plot of flat land I had to space my plants out quite a bit so the roots had somewhere to go.  The soil was compacted.  The ground was hard.  The compost was thin and spread everywhere.  The roots couldn’t go down; therefore, they went out.  The plants needed space to perform.

With raised beds, those plants have more depth to travel.  They have light, well-fertilized soil that is full of nutrients and easy for root systems to maneuver through.  Because of the fertile, workable soil in my raised beds, more plants can be supported in less space.

7  Lower Maintenance

When I had a big, traditional-row garden it was a jungle.  It was hard to differentiate the paths from the rows.  It was hard to find the plants within the weeds.  It was no fun.  Going out to weed the garden was like, “Why don’t you just die.”  It made me want to cry.  Weeding was a never-ending battle that I always dreaded.

With raised beds it is much easier to keep the garden under control (especially with 4 children).  Even though I have over 20 raised beds, I feel that they are easy to manage.  It’s not that hard keeping them tidy.  I don’t have to maintain the paths.  I only water, feed, fertilize (with compost), weed and care for the beds.

Since raised beds support more plants in less space, there is a lot of shade when the plants mature.  Lots of shade on your beds means less weeds. Which means less weeding.  I love it when July arrives.  Really.  By July, the plants are nice and big.  The ground under the plants is almost completely shaded and there is no fuel (sunlight) getting to the soil to encourage any weeds.  Everyone is staked, happy and I can wish them well and go to the pool.  They are on their own.

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A raised bed system may not be the ideal choice for your garden, but a few smaller raised beds could be a wonderful compliment to a traditional row garden.  Larger plants like tomatoes, peppers, squash, tomatillos, pumpkins and gourds can soar in row gardens.  Some (smaller) crops can be easier to manage and grow in smaller, raised beds.  If you have had bad luck growing lettuce, kale, radishes, turnips, carrots or beets in a row garden – raised beds could be the answer.

As I write this I am pulling up my boot straps and getting myself psyched-up to build quite the garden spectacle.  We are adding more beds and  are about to more than double the size of our garden.  Why?  Although we adore our little (50 X 50) garden area we would love more space to grow additional crops.  In order to add things like: corn, blueberries, strawberries and gourds (and more) we just need more space.  It is going to be a chore to get erected, but once it’s in place it will provide a wonderful, fertile environment we can grow in for years to come.

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Happy Gardening!

Candi

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