Raised beds

Raised beds are becoming popular and inexpensive. Walmart now carries them and just about everyone else. They are great for things like strawberries.


Raised beds are nice on the back when picking and weeding and about anything else. Some youtube personalities garden exclusively or nearly exclusively in raised beds.

Some people want to have a raised bed on the very inexpensive side and they all have a solution. Sometimes i would rather spend the money and other times they make sense. That is up to you to decide.

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That’s pretty niffy.

Walmart often surprises me with how in-tune they can be with the need and wants of “the little guy.” Not always, but they manage it sometimes, unlike pretty much every other retailer, who just chases “the current thing.”

As for raised beds, I view them as a technique or tool, which implies pros and cons. I’ve used raised beds most of my life, but I have come to the conclusion that for my current situation, the contra outweigh the pro.

I will lay what’s with that and what it compels me not to use raised beds, not to convince you that you shouldn’t use raised beds, but to help sort out what is good and not good about raised beds. Gardeners often fall prey to a sort of monomania when it comes to gardening methods (just look at the debates around “which plant variety” or “organic or not” or “sustainable or conventional” etc), and raised beds are a prime primer for that kind of mania.

So, my situation: I am someone who is managing a garden “on the side” as it were, having three or four different big things going on in life that usually take priority (stuff like work, raising the family, remodeling the house, and grad school), so in a best case scenario I am a weekend warrior gardener, and in most cases not even that. I have a large trailer and easy access to as much mulch as I can shovel without killing myself. I am in humid zone 8a, my soil that is a mostly unworked sandy loam–formerly a lawn–and, while my plot itself is pretty much flat, I am situated on a gentle downslope along a ridge. Aside from the trailer, a lawn mower, and a weed whacker, I have no mechanization (no tiller, garden tractor, real tractor, plow, etc), and only very recently even got a wheelbarrow. My growing preferences dictate a mixture of ornamental and practical, and a mixture of annual, perennial, bramble, and woody. Lastly, I am very much in the active phase of reclaiming my productive land from the lawn gods and king turf grass, and also have a fair amount of underground structure to contend with (a nearby septic system, an internet cable ‘somewhere,’ and tree roots, both favored–my pecan tree–unfavored but somewhat tolerated–the massive loblolly pines dividing mine and my neighbors land–and unfavored and not tolerated–the scruffy maple in the middle of my backyard whose days are numbered.

How does that all relate to raised beds?

Well, we’ll start at the beginning: establishing said beds. I do not, under any circumstances, have the time–especially in winter or spring, ie during the school year–to dig massive raised beds. This is especially the case since the pre-existing lawn and the underground structures make digging far, far slower than it ought to be given my lovely soil. And since I lack for mechanization, I can’t just grub up the grubby roots and till things over with the help of powered steel. The only steel assaulting the ground in my garden is a thin blade of boot-powered spade. I do not have the time, energy, freedom of operation, or tools to establish proper raised beds.

Now comes the use and abuse of those beds: or why I don’t. I do not spend much time weeding or planting, and my goal is to never weed or seed. I’ll explain. Of the things I want to grow, very few to none of them need/should be direct seeded. I do not grow plants that I can get at the store unless there is a stark, and I mean Tony freaking Ironman Stark, difference in quality, which also happens to rule out most of the annoying direct seed stuff, like carrots, various cool-season greens, and wimpy, plague-ridden cucumber vines. Of the few things I do direct seed, I usually am seeding something big enough that it can push through a bit of mulch (sunflowers, beans), or am putting down a thin layer of compost or potting soil to act as a seed-free germination substrate. I never, under any circumstances, leave native soil uncovered, and rarely am spending much time working at ground level seeding things since the vast majority of my seeding happens in trays at table-level. And since the majority of the things I do grow are also either trellised, staked, or self-supporting, I also do very little harvesting at ground level. So, in short, I don’t need to raise the ground level, because I barely ever visit ground level. For me, it is far, far, far less effort to cover the ground in a hearty layer of mulch, and then just shove plants through that layer, than do all the traditional “gardening” stuff like seeding, weeding, thinning, digging, and being miserable.

Finally, the final purpose of said beds: the ends aren’t my ends, and the means hurt my means. Raised beds are, first and foremost, a system of improving drainage and creating loose, fluffy, warm soil that doesn’t waterlog. Well, I do not need any of those things. My land does not hold standing water, and my soil is light enough I can plant cactus directly into it and not worry about their roots rotting. That’s just what it’s like out here on the coastal plains. On the flip side, any garden bed or row that’s raised even the slightest bit dries out in an cruel hurry. In my neck of the woods, you don’t call them raised beds, you call them sand dunes. As for heugelkultur or whatever the Dickens it’s called, or the more traditional just dumping stuff into the bottom of the trench and covering it up–I prefer to keep my organic matter on top of the soil. With the heat and moisture I have, I have to be very careful about adding carbon to the soil itself, because the higher microbial activity can really get out of hand when it comes to N management. And, I need every bit of that organic matter on top of the soil to protect it from the merciless sun and burley nearly-tropical weeds. If I wanted to grow agaves and prickly pears, I’d make raised beds. Otherwise, no, I am fighting enough as it is keeping the water and the cold in my beds, not out.

So, are raised beds bad? No. Are they good? No. Are they a tool that achieves specific effects, effects that can either hinder or help you? Yes. If you need to front-load your body-raking labor and off-load knee-pain to back-pain, if improving ground-level ergonomics at the cost of the labor of unlevling the ground is worth it, if you need more heat and less water in your beds, and if your climate rewards rather than punishes you for inverting the soil layers and stuffing the C-horizon with organic matter: then yes, you should use raised beds. In my case, none of those things are the case.

I rest my case.

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Good argument for not using raised beds…at least in your yard.

But, not everyone has good soil, deep soil, and soil that perks…and raised beds can let someone grow things on a rock, a concrete drive, a rooftop, or in a pond even.

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My latest creation…

2 bricks high… 200 lbs of homemade compost added… microclimate location, heat reflects /radiates off the brick wall, slopes to the south…

Protected from critters, will be covered when neeeded, heated when needed… growing greens all winter and spring and into early summer.

Soon leaf lettuce and spinach to be seen.

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Great work! You definitely have a pipe bender on hand!

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@Shibumi … that structure over the bed is cattle panel… and can be bent by hand and feet.

TNHunter

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I was actually referring to the metal posts you had to bend to put the panel on.

BTW cattle panels are the best for backyard gardens. Reasonably cheap (though they’ve gone up quite a bit the past few years).

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Absolutely. It’s all about context, situation. My point is merely that raised beds shouldn’t be seen as an absolute good. They are a tool, not an end in themselves. A very useful tool, I’ll add.

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I really like using them. Big enough to be useful for large projects, small enough for one man to move. Relatively cheap, like you said. And just so darn versatile.

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What I haven’t tried though is putting one whole 50"x 16’ panel onto my Outback. I always cut them into two 8 foot sections.

It will fit as my car is about the same length but I’d have to put a lot of cushions on the hood end to make sure it doesn’t scratch my car.

Since I live on a 75’ x 150’ residential lot, raises beds and vertical gardening are useful.

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