Raised Beds

One of the many advantages to gardening in raised beds is that it’s not necessary to till them.  We’ve been swamped with rain over the past two weeks, making it impossible for me to till and prepare our fall gardens.  Although we have some raised beds, I planted sweet potatoes in them once the spring lettuce was done, and the sweet potatoes won’t be ready to harvest until October.  So yesterday, in the rain, I began making some more raised beds.  I’ve been planning to add more anyway, but the prospect of a muddy remainder to summer motivated me to move that project up the priority list.

Raised beds, overflowing with sweet potato vines.

Raised beds, overflowing with sweet potato vines.

With raised beds, crop plants can be grown close together (there being no need to leave space for walking or tractor tires).  Not only does this dramatically increase the yield in a given area, it has the effect of crowding out and smothering most weeds, cutting back on the time spent weeding.  And without the soil compaction caused by a tractor, weeding is much easier.  With a smaller area under cultivation, the available compost and organic matter can be concentrated on the area where the crops are grown, enriching the soil faster and more efficiently.  With a smaller area to protect, it’s easier to keep the deer out too.

Many people incorrectly assume that you have to have a large farm in order to grow enough food to feed yourself, or make a significant impact on your food budget.  But, using raised or permanent beds, a typical city lot is more than large enough to provide food for a family.

We may gradually transition to that style of farming, but for now we’re still primarily using our 18 large gardens, emphasizing crop rotation and cover cropping.  If I was starting all over again I’d probably try to implement a more intensive method of raising vegetables, using raised beds or permanent beds, rather than row crops that require a tractor for cultivation. For anyone thinking of trying to start growing some of your own food, I’d recommend starting with a backyard raised bed or two.

19 comments on “Raised Beds

  1. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, you are right on with this post. It’s how I started. Probably seven or eight years ago I started my come back to gardening with one raised bed in the back yard. Then it became three and then five. Now with the expansion of the garden to other properties it’s back to four. Terra Nova has raised beds as well but also has areas for vine crops like pumpkins, squash, watermelon, etc. that are not raised beds. Raised beds are almost entirely manual labor but it’s true they do produce more in a smaller area …. if the soil is taken care of. In my experience because to the high density of growing in a raised bed, they have to be rejuvenated from time to time. Raised beds and closer planting takes more water, more nutrients, and more care than row crop growing. Since I don’t really own any power equipment other than a lawn mower and a weed eater for the garden, raised beds have always been my choice.

    Have a great raised bed building day.

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    • Bill says:

      I have some things to learn about gardening that way but it certainly has lots of advantages. I’ll probably keep adding raised beds, while still continuing to do row crop gardens too.

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  2. valbjerke says:

    I swear by raised beds – it’s the only way I grow produce now. Like you say – less/next to no weeding once the plants are established, no til, I find they hold moisture better and also drain well and yes you can be quite intensive in your planting.
    Two 4×8 beds of beets has given me 75 pints of canned beets.

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    • Bill says:

      I’ve found that our raised beds don’t hold water as well as our regular gardens, but that’s probably because the garden soil is primarily clay. I have to water the raised beds more often, but they’re compact so it isn’t a problem. I’ve been very impressed with our yields from the raised beds. And they’re definitely much easier to weed and protect.

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      • valbjerke says:

        You might experiment with the ‘soil’ in the raised beds – ours consists of plain old dirt, manure, hay, straw all mulched together and added to every year. We line our beds with a weed barrier – bottom and up the sides – which come to think of it might also help with water retention. 😊

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  3. Joanna says:

    It’s how I started too. I still use wide beds even now when I cultivate. The criteria is I have to be able to reach the middle of the row from one side and then multiply that by two and we have the bed for whatever we are planting. We even had arks for our chickens (basically moveable chicken coops) that fit on a bed to fertilise them in a concentrated manner.

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    • Bill says:

      I love the idea of having moveable coops that match the size of the beds. Great idea! I use wide beds in the garden too sometimes, but it’s hard to cultivate the middles with a tractor, so most of the time I make a single row. I know that’s not the most efficient use of space.

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  4. avwalters says:

    From 1982 until 2007, I had a tiny urban back yard in Oakland, CA, and even with that–a lot was shaded. I had two primary raised beds, four foot wide by fifteen. Using “Square Foot Garden” methods I grew enough to keep my household, and many of the neighbors in beautiful fresh vegetables most of the year.

    We haven’t yet decided on the garden format here in Cedar. We do know that the soil, mostly ancient dune sands, needs a lot of help. We’ll start building it this fall, as soon as the regular building is complete.

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    • Bill says:

      Square foot gardening is a great way to grow food. Most people are unaware of how much food can be grown in a small area. Good for you for doing this long before it became trendy!

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  5. Willow says:

    I use raised beds for our veggies.
    Our farm is small and compact and they work quite well for us.

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    • Bill says:

      I’ve never known anyone who uses raised beds for gardening to say they didn’t like them. The no-till factor is a big advantage of them it seems to me.

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  6. ain't for city gals says:

    We have two raised beds and we grow a fair amount of food…if it were not for our little farmer’s market we would certainly have a few more. We have been spoiled the last couple of years with local organic vegetables…It would really be hard to go back to store bought ones….and to think I use to think they tasted pretty good. I just didn’t know….

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    • Bill says:

      Once folks discover what real food tastes like, they don’t want to go back to the industrialized stuff. 🙂 We’re trying to spread that message as much as we can!

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  7. Martha Caldwell-Young says:

    Bill, are you familiar with Hugelkultur?

    Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture: A Practical Guide to Small-Scale, Integrative Farming and Gardening
    http://smile.amazon.com/Sepp-Holzers-Permaculture-Small-Scale-Integrative/dp/160358370X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1408544412&sr=8-1&keywords=sepp+holzer

    Holzer AgroEcology
    http://www.holzeragroecology.com

    The Victorian Stumpery Meets Hugelkultur: Timeless Matchmaking With Permaculture
    http://permaculturenews.org/2014/06/25/victorian-stumpery-meets-hugelkultur-timeless-matchmaking-permaculture-panama/

    “…the Austrian “Agro-Rebel” Sepp Holzer, who simply observes nature and works with it quite successfully. He built one of the biggest functioning permaculture farms in Europe. Included are: Farming With Nature, Aquaculture, and Terraces and Raised Beds. …”
    http://www.greenplanetfilms.org/product/sepp-holzers-permaculture-3-films-about-permaculture-farming/?gclid=Cj0KEQjwjtGfBRCN4-LU9ODG1-wBEiQAy_Xp71jHGlhpU6jdetvKTZsb1ZOzRLzFuv-CMNZonmPkM7EaAqID8P8HAQ

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  8. We started out with several raised beds, larger than they should have been, surrounded by logs we’d dragged from the woods. We augment them every year with well-rotted manure from our cows, leaf mulch, and plenty of weeds because I lay the corpse of weeds down right where I pull them to mulch. Now the logs are well rotted and we’ll be pushing what’s left of them into the garden itself this winter, hugelkultur-style. Here’s the resource we’re using to learn more about that. . http://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur/ Raised beds are wonderful. I haven’t noticed that they cut down on weeding, however….

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    • Bill says:

      Pushing the rotten logs into the garden is a great idea. We made our herb beds of logs that are starting to rot, so maybe we’ll do that too.

      I’ve found there are fewer weeds in the raised beds because growing the plants closer together tends to crowd them out. Those that do come up are much easier to pull up because the soil isn’t compacted and has great tilth.

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  9. Vertical and well-integrated planting is so much more manageable in so many ways than the sprawling rows of the farms we all grew up thinking were the only way. It’s good that people all over are working so deliberately toward wiser use of space and resources. And raised beds are simply much nicer looking and less back-breaking anyway, as you know! Great post.

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