What to Know About Raised Bed Gardens

Raised gardens are becoming quite popular. As more people find themselves renting property or living in high rise apartment buildings, they have little or no access to garden space. There are many reasons why using raised gardens are desired over tilling the soil for those who wish to have smaller gardens and are limited on space in which to do so. At the same time, those who desire bigger yields are often dissatisfied with the limits of raised gardens. The choice is ultimately yours but I will try to point out some of the pros and cons of this type of garden so that you may decide for yourself.

Plants need air as much as they need good soil and water, and that is often difficult when planted in garden rows as soil becomes packed down with the frequent traffic that is necessary to properly maintain a traditional garden bed. By using a raised garden, which is designed to be worked from without rather than within, there is little fear of compacting the soil around the plants. At the same time many lifelong gardeners feel the inability to walk around in their gardens is a disadvantage in itself and prefer to be able to do so. This is often a matter of preference rather than practicality but a valid opposition just the same.

You can actually plant more plants in the same amount of square footage in a raised bed because there is no need for rows. You should also be aware that plants in raised beds often tend to grow larger than plants in traditional garden rows. That being said you should resist the urge to over plant within the raised garden bed, as this will eliminate that slight benefit. Many traditional gardeners have seen the results of overcrowding in these beds and feel that their way of doing this is much butter.

One huge benefit to raised beds for summer gardens in areas that are nearly saturated with excess moisture is that raised beds allow much better drainage than traditional row gardening. This is one thing that the average gardener will not argue with unless he lives in an area in which this isn’t much of a problem. Most gardeners in the south though, where there is a great deal of humidity and moisture will agree that proper drainage is a problem.

Raised beds are much easier on your back. By being above ground, raised gardens offer easier access for planting, weeding, planting, and investigating for signs of pests. Another great thing about raised gardens is that they are not as quick to cool as the earth, which renders them more productive and with longer growing seasons that most gardens that are placed in the ground.

For those who have unusually shaped yards or growing areas, raised gardens allow the opportunity to have a beautiful summer garden in almost any shape you can build the box for. This means you are not limited to rows, as many gardens tend to be and that you have a few more options for aesthetics when planning and growing your summer garden.

The downside to raised summer gardens is that they are difficult to dismantle and nearly impossible to till. This means you must do all the working of the soil by hand and many gardeners do not fully appreciate the beauty of that process. The most important thing however, is that you choose a summer garden system that works for you. You may find that combining the two provides the best results and is a great use of your time or that you prefer one over the other. There really is no wrong answer only the one that is wrong for you.

Healthy Strawberries and Tomatoes

Everbearing Strawberries are Pest Free
Everbearing Strawberries are Japanese Beetle Free

Despite a visit from the Japanese Beetles last week (which I removed promptly and drowned in soapy water), the Everbearing Strawberries are producing a fine, sweet crop of fruit.  I have not encountered any more of the voracious pests that can easily destroy a crop overnight.

There will be fresh strawberries for our Sunday morning waffle breakfast tomorrow, along with blueberries from northern Minnesota, a treat from a co-worker.  I added some of the blueberries to our morning oatmeal today, and I doubt that there are better tasting blueberries anywhere.

Unfortunately the tomatoes growing on the plant in the Topsy-Turvy upside down tomato hanger have not fared so well in their fight again blossom-end rot.  Most of the tiny little tomatoes develop black ends before they get larger than my thumb.  I’ve been keeping them evenly watered and it doesn’t seem to have helped much.  I may try adding Tums to the water, as I’ve read that the added calcium can help against BER.

The tomato plants in the raised bed garden are very healthy looking and have not had any BER at all.  I think the soil mixture that I used in the beds and in the upside down tomato hanger were from the same batch of compost, perlite, and peat, so they all got the same start.

Roma Tomatoes Grown in a Raised Bed Garden
Roma Tomatoes Grown in a Raised Bed Garden - No BER Problem Here

Above is a photo of the Roma tomatoes that are growing in the raised bed garden.

Below is  a photo of the Roma tomatoes that are growing in the upside down tomato hanger.

Roma Tomatoes Growing in Upside Down Tomato Hanger
Roma Tomatoes Growing in Upside Down Tomato Hanger Have BER

I’ll have to remember next year, that the Roma tomato plants seem to do better in the raised bed.  Seems the elongated tomatoes are more prone to BER.  Cherry tomatoes might be  a better choice for tomato planters.  Honestly though, in general I think the upside down tomato planter is a little too high maintenance for me.  Tomatoes do wonderfully in raised beds, and as long as I have the room for the gardens, I don’t really see an advantage to the tomato hangers, unless there is no room for a garden.  Even then, I would probably just plant them in pots.

Raised Garden Beds are Planted

Planting a raised bed garden is easy and can be done without tilling.

Raised garden bed is planted
This raised garden bed has broccoli, cabbage, green beans, cilantro, and thyme planted.

Normally I do not plant my vegetable sets in the garden until Memorial Day Weekend or later, but given the fact that it was 95 degrees (and the humidity level was about the same) yesterday, I decided to break my rule of thumb and plant the gardens.

Last year I installed two 4’x4′ square foot gardens in Steve’s backyard. Now you should know that I have a 30′ x 50′ plot of garden space in my own backyard at my house, but since I spend very little time there since Steve’s stroke, it has pretty much become a weed patch. Anyway, I absolutely love the raised bed gardens. The reasons are many. Not the least of which is that there is virtually no weeding to be done.

You prepare the soil which is a mix of compost, vermiculite or perlite, and peat moss. Plop the seedlings or seeds in sections (I don’t adhere strictly to the square foot method, but it ends up being pretty close), water well, and pretty much just watch it grow.

I do install a “rabbit-proof” (in quotes because I’m not sure there is such a thing but this works pretty well) wire fence around the perimeter of the raised garden beds just in case they decide to mow my garden for me. I must say that the fence worked really well last year. I didn’t have any rabbits in the garden until the fall after everything had been harvested. By that time the fencing had come loose enough at the base that they could crawl under. Tent stakes work well to keep the fence adhered to the ground.

If you plan to use fencing, don’t bother with the green plastic stuff. I’m not sure why they even bother manufacturing that unless it’s to keep baby chicks in. Two years ago Steve and I spent an afternoon installing plastic green fencing around my garden at my house and the next day there were holes chewed in several places – just large enough for the rabbits to get through.

I was ready to start shooting the little critters – which would surely have had the local police and PETA members over within minutes since my house is in the center of downtown. That was before I knew about the used kitty litter trick and the rabbits pretty much destroyed a good portion of my garden that year.

So back to why I love my raised bed gardens. They’re easy to plant, water, weed, keep critters out, and harvest. You can also make little greenhouses out of them in the spring by making a canopy of flexible PVC tubing and plastic sheeting. Cleanup is a breeze in the fall and spring prep is simple too. All I did to prepare them before planting was add more compost from my compost pile, some more peat moss and mixed it well and that was it.

Because the soil is very loose, it drains quickly so I water every evening unless it rains during the day. The harvest of produce from these two little beds last year was amazing. From one 4’x4′ square, we picked 4 heads of broccoli, about 10 eggplants, 8 heads of cabbage and 20 onions. After the broccoli was harvested, I added 5 hosta plants in that space and overwintered them there. And that was just one bed! I grew tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, lavender, thyme, dill, green beans, peas, basil, and cilantro in the other bed.

Male cardinal stops by for a sip from the backyard pond.
Male cardinal stops by for a sip from the backyard pond.

After the planting was done, Steve and I relaxed in the shade by the backyard pond and enjoyed a visit from a male cardinal who stopped by for a sip of water.  It’s such a good feeling to finish the spring planting, and it took less than an hour this year!