If you spend any time reading garden-related topics, you will be inundated with posts about raised beds.
What’s the best material to use to build a raised bed? What common mistakes should you avoid when raised bed gardening. How to build a raised bed for only $100. What’s the best soil mixture to put in a raised bed? How to fill a raised bed on the cheap.
Raised beds, raised beds, raised beds. You can’t throw a stone without hitting one. You can’t open Pinterest without seeing them.
Because they’re pretty great when it comes to gardening, sure, they have their challenges, but that’s gardening in general. They’re neat and tidy and visually appealing in your backyard, and they are great little gardens.
But sometimes, raised beds aren’t the best option for everyone.
With raised beds all around us, it’s easy to assume they’re a good option for everyone. Before you commit to a raised bed garden, let’s take a look at a few reasons why you may wish to stick with a good ol’ fashioned vegetable patch right in the dirt.
1. It’s Not the Only Way
So many new gardeners these days get it into their heads that raised bed gardening is just how it’s done.
This stems from the popularity of raised bed gardening right now. Not to mention there’s an entire DIY industry out there that wants you to think you have to buy XYZ Gardening Gadget, or you won’t be able to grow those amazing tomatoes. This includes expensive raised bed garden kits.
I’m here to tell you, new gardener, that raised beds aren’t the only way to grow your own produce.
In fact, it may not even be the best way for you. The best garden is going to be the one that fits your budgets – your time, money, and space budgets.
And that isn’t always a raised bed.
If you’re a new gardener who has seen these gardens everywhere and thinks that’s just how it’s done, I would encourage you to spend some time researching other gardening methods. For instance, Cheryl uses a no-dig garden with great success. If your goal is to grow vegetables for your family successfully, do your research, you may find another method that fits your life much better.
This is the wonderful thing about gardening; anyone can do it. I live on the second floor of an old Victorian building, and I do it with container gardening. If space is an issue, give the Garden Tower a try.
2. But Vegetables Grow Better in Raised Beds, Right?
There seems to be this common misconception that raised beds produce bigger yields. That somehow by choosing to go this route, you leap ahead of those of us with a standard rectangle of dirt in the backyard and have bumper crops year after year.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
Everything you have to deal with in a normal garden you still have to deal with in a raised bed. Pests, weeds, diseases. Yup, still there.
Raised beds were initially started to help those with poor soil grow vegetables. That’s it. They aren’t a magic gardening silver bullet. They’re merely another option. So, if you’re choosing to do them for some perceived advantage, you may want to think again.
3. You’ve Got Great Soil
For many folks, the biggest factor in choosing to make raised beds is they have poor soil. It can be pretty costly to amend your soil, and it often requires equipment that not everyone has access to – a trailer to haul compost or other soil add-ins and a rototiller to till it all in.
But what if you’ve already got good soil?
If you live in an area with good soil, it doesn’t make sense to go through all the fuss of building and filling raised beds. Not when, with a little work, you could easily use the very ground under your feet.
Or, perhaps, your soil only needs a little work to become a great patch of dirt to grow in. Maybe the smart move is to go ahead and amend your soil. Before you run out to buy prepackaged soil mix for those raised beds, get your soil tested. Talk to your local county extension office about the soil in your area.
You may be pleasantly surprised to find you already have what it takes to grow a nice garden.
4. Raised Beds Can Be Tricky to Water and Feed
Because they’re above the ground, raised beds dry out much quicker than a traditional garden planted directly in the soil.
When you grow plants in the soil, there’s a lot more soil retaining water, so it takes them much longer to dry out. This keeps your plants happy and growing.
To avoid stressing plants out by the constant merry-go-round of drying out and getting water, you need to water more frequently or install a soaker system, which can be expensive.
Because you need to water raised beds more frequently, you’re also flushing nutrients out of the soil when you do. In addition to the need for more water, you’ll have to fertilize more often too.
Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong here; it’s just more work to keep a raised bed watered and fed. So, if you’re looking to start them with the idea that they are easier to maintain, take this into consideration.
5. You Want a Garden Without the Huge Carbon Footprint
Here’s the dirty little secret about raised beds that no one talks about. Almost everything you need for a good raised bed comes from far away. Think about it, if you buy a premade kit, it’s manufactured somewhere else and then it needs to be shipped to you or the store you’re purchasing it at.
If you build your own raised bed, you need lumber, and unless you get it from the local sawmill down the road, that lumber needs to be shipped to the store where you’ll buy it.
Unfortunately, it’s not much better when it comes to soil.
Most of the premixed soils we use contain peat moss from Canada.
And with peat moss, you have more than shipping to worry about. Peat moss holds nearly a third of the world’s soil carbon. By digging it up, we’re releasing that carbon (via carbon dioxide) back into the air. Carbon dioxide is a major problem where climate change is concerned.
Coconut coir is becoming a popular green alternative to peat moss in soil mixes, but shipping comes into play again. Coconut coir is mostly manufactured in South America or South Asia.
None of this information shared is meant to make you feel guilty about choosing raised beds. It’s all about what’s important to you. For some people, the environment comes first in their decision-making. For other people, taking charge of their food supply is more important. Neither of these things is more ‘right’ than the other. Do what’s best for you and your family.
6. Raised Beds Can Be a Pricey Investment
Gardening with a raised bed is one of the only methods that come to mind where you need to make a large investment. Whether you choose to build your own or purchase a premade raised bed, they rarely come cheap.
Not everyone has the money to drop a few hundred dollars on lumber and soil. However, this should never be the reason for someone not to have a garden. Growing your food is a right.
I spent a good deal of my young adult life being broke as broke can be; raised beds were always a luxury someone else could afford. But as long as I lived where there was dirt, I still had a garden. With some extra elbow grease and $1 store seed packets, I had fresh veggies.
Don’t let the cost of a raised bed stop you from growing your own food.
When it comes to choosing raised beds or another gardening method, at the end of the day, it really is a personal preference. This is an activity that should make you feel good; if it doesn’t, you’re going to give up and have a vegetable patch or a raised bed garden full of weeds and dead vegetables.
Gardening friend, I want you to enjoy the satisfaction of eating veggies you picked from your garden. Before you jump into raised bed gardening with both feet, take the time to figure out what will work the best for you and your family. You’ll be glad you did.