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Home Grounds, Gardens and Home Pests > Home Grounds Blog > Posts > Home Grown Vegetables are a Sensation in Raised Beds

Home vegetable gardens are making a comeback in 2009. Seems like everyone plans to have one, already has one, or wants one. However, limited space and time are typically the two main factors of why many people are hesitant to grow their own vegetables. The best solution then might be to grow vegetables in raised beds.

Raised bed gardening is a convenient and easy way to produce home grown vegetables. Unlike traditional in-ground gardening where lots of space is usually required, raised bed gardening is a perfect alternative for people that cannot garden due to limited garden space, poor or rocky soil, inadequate soil drainage, or physical limitations.

The idea of raised bed gardening is nothing new. Many farmers and gardeners have mounded soil up to grow plants for centuries. Raised bed gardening is unique in that the soil level is raised above the surrounding soil, 6 inches to waist high, and enclosed with frame materials to prevent soil from spilling out. The contained soil is formed into 3 – 4 foot wide planting beds, small enough that a person can maintain it without actually stepping onto and disturbing the planting area.

Raised bed gardens offer several advantages and some disadvantages over conventional garden plots:

Advantages

  • Raised bed gardens can help maximize all available space and are typically smaller

    than traditional gardens making them a more convenient option in areas with limited space.

  • Higher soil levels and improved soil quality provides a means for better access, less maintenance, and easier harvest.
  • They can be utilized as a solution for areas with poor and rocky soil or sloped terrains.
  • Beds are usually filled with high quality soil mixes that have large amounts of organic matter which improves drainage and may increase yields.
  • Soil raised above ground level tends to drain better and warms up much quicker in the spring, thus allowing for faster seed germination and transplant growth.
  • Dense planting techniques result in higher production per square foot of garden and helps reduce weed seed germination.
  • Raised bed gardens can be entered and maintained soon after rains or irrigation without compacting soils.
  • No expensive power cultivation equipment is needed.
  • The formal orderliness and arrangement of a raised bed gardening can be extremely attractive and a prized addition to the home landscape.

Disadvantages

  • Elevated beds tend to dry out more quickly in the hot summer months, thus increasing the need for supplemental watering.
  • Frame and soil materials for establishing a raised bed are an added expense.
  • Limited rotation of crop families may lead to increased soil borne disease pressure and nematode problems
  • Increased plant density may increase some pest concerns, especially foliar diseases.
  • They are not well suited to sprawling vegetables such as watermelons and cucumbers.

Raised beds can be made just by mounding the soil but these require a lot of maintenance. However, most gardeners prefer to use some sort of framing materials to contain the new soil. Old railroad ties, landscape timbers, wood planks, rock, concrete blocks, or decorative bricks are commonly used for constructing raised beds. If wood products are used, they should be treated with wood preservative to increase the life of the structure

The size of a raised bed depends on the gardener. Sizes ranging from 4 x 4 foot to 4 x 12 foot frame is ideal. The 4-foot width is preferred because it allows for an easy reach from either side without having to step into the bed, thus keeping soil compaction to a minimum. Length of the bed can also vary depending on type of construction materials used and the space available for the bed. A soil depth of 6 to 12 inches is desirable as this will allow for improved drainage and adequate root development to produce healthy plants.

There are numerous growing media options available when creating a raised bed. Any combination of purchased topsoil, compost, fine pine bark mulch or soil conditioner, and/or peat will do well for growing vegetables in a raised bed. Commercially pre-packaged growing mixes that contain such items are also available.

For a truly productive raised bed garden, the gardener must re-learn many aspects of planting. Gone are the long straight rows and wide spacing between rows. Raised bed gardens use space more efficiently to maximize production. Block planting with proper spacing between plants is used to optimize yields.

by Shane Harris, Regional Extension Agent


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