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Raised Bed Gardening

Gardening in raised beds was a common practice before colonial times. It is currently enjoying a popular resurgence because of smaller home lots and smaller families.  This has led to smaller planting areas and areas that are more convenient to maintain.  Raised bed gardening is fun and enjoyable for the gardening enthusiast.


What are "Raised Beds"?

A raised bed garden is exactly what is sounds like.  A garden on or in a ‘raised bed’. Mostly though you’re not raising the height of your entire garden, rather you’re raising it in little bits and pieces.  You accomplish this using large containers, or pots. Troughs are also a favorite, as they provide a longer length for the gardener to work with.

The "raised" part means that the soil level in the bed is higher than the surrounding area, and the "bed" part means that the size is small enough to work without actually stepping onto the bed.  A bed usually is no wider than 4 feet, but the length can be whatever works for the site or for your needs.  The bed does not have to be enclosed or framed, but framing has several advantages which I'll talk more about below.


Advantages of Raised Beds

1.  They Look Great

The first reason is purely for aesthetics.  Raised beds have a kind of "WOW" factor to them.  They just look great.


2.  They are Easier to Work
  • If you find it is difficult to bend down continuously to work your garden, then raised bed gardening is ideal for you.
  • Raised beds are smaller than traditional gardens, thus making them easier for most people to maintain.
  • Most people avoid working traditional gardens in rainy weather to avoid compacting the soil and muddy feet.  Because raised beds are designed for walking around, spaces between beds may be left in sod, mulched or even paved with stone or brick.
  • Soil raised above ground level warms up more quickly in the spring and this allows for earlier planting dates.
  • Mulching is easy because of the smaller dimensions.


3.  You'll Get Higher Yields

When you create a raised bed, it will generally be filled with high-quality soil which improves drainage and increases yield or plant quality.

In a traditional home garden, good management may result in about one half pounds of vegetables per square foot. Records of production over three years in a raised bed at Dawes Arboretum near Newark, Ohio, indicate an average of 1.24 pounds per square foot.

Raised beds do not require the usual space between rows for walking so vegetables can be planted at higher densities.  Also, the denser plantings help reduce weed infestations.


4.  Pest Control is Easier

  • If burrowing rodents are in abundance, the bottom of the bed can be lined with poultry wire or hardware cloth. 
  • Rabbits and groundhogs can be kept out by building the bed high enough to make it difficult for them to reach the top edge.
  • Because of the narrow dimensions of beds, you can suspend bird netting on flexible conduit frames to keep them from getting into your plants.


5.  You Can Conserve Water

The narrow dimensions of beds are well suited for using watering systems that are "of themselves", water conservation systems.  These include soaker hoses, perforated plastic sprinkle hoses and drip-type irrigation systems.  These all work well in covering long, narrow areas.

There is a slight downside to the watering and that is that elevated beds tend to dry out more quickly in the summer months, increasing the need for watering.


How Do You Make Your Bed?

In general, there are three ways you can create a raised bed planting area.

  1. One way is to use existing large containers such as pots, tubs and troughs.
  2. The second way is to simply pile up the soil in a mound without have a border or sides that contain the soil. This is the simplest method.
  3. The third way is to build your containers.  Usually this is done using railroad ties, landscape timbers, planking, rocks, manufactured blocks or bricks.

Wood products should be treated with wood preservative. If you are going to construct your own bed framework from wood, then you'll want it treated because wood rot will become a problem over time.

Is there a problem with using treated lumber in vegetable beds?

  • The most common wood preservative traditionally used (chromated copper arsenate or CCA) was phased out from all residential use on December 31, 2003.
  • Two other products, ACZA (ammonia cal copper zinc arsenate) and ACQ (ammonia cal copper quat) have replaced CCA and may be used for raised bed construction.
  • Well-documented research has shown that CCA, ACZA and ACQ may be safely used to construct vegetable beds.

Some gardeners still prefer to line the sides of beds with polyethylene plastic so that roots will not come in contact with the treated wood, however, don't use plastic on the bottom of the beds since this will prevent drainage

In conclusion, there are many benefits to raised bed gardening.  I think the best ones are that you don't have to get down on your hands and knees to work your garden and you get to stay out of the mud.  Maybe we could called raised bed gardening, the gardening method of getting more for less.

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