The two things I least look forward to at the beginning of each spring are turning over compacted soil and pulling weeds from hard ground. Even though I’m enthusiastic about gardening, I also have a lazy streak in me, so I appreciate a good, honest workaround for these two challenges.
I found one solution in raised bed gardening. It’s a bit of work up front–you’ll need to build (or buy and snap together) the frame for the raised bed, then haul a bunch of soil to it. But once those two steps are complete, gardening becomes sooooo much easier.
Raised beds offer a number of advantages (for all gardeners, not just lazy ones like me):
You can control what kind of soil your food grows in. If you rent your house, or you’re the second or third owner, or if your house is build on former brownfields or even fill land, who knows what’s in the soil? Find your favorite organic soil–or gather up your compost–and use it to fill the bed.
Raised beds tend to have a higher yield. Because you’re filling your raised bed with quality soil instead of whatever happens to be in your garden, you’re going to have more nutrient-rich soil, which usually translates to more vegetables and flowers. Be the envy of your neighbors!
Raised beds can be cultivated at a variety of heights. I tend to make my raised beds only about nine inches deep, but again, I’m lazy and not likely to invest in constructing bed beyond the frame. If you have back or joint problems, you can raise your beds off the ground completely. You can find a variety of raised bed garden construction plans online (at Sunset, Popular Mechanics, HGTV, and Micro-Eco Farming, for example–that last one has plans that are accessible for people with mobility disabilities). If, like me, your woodworking prowess ends with screwing four boards together in a rectangle and plunking it on the ground, but you want something more attractive and accessible, you can buy a raised garden bed that resembles a table.
Raised beds reduce soil compaction. Most raised beds are no more than four feet across, which means most people can reach all parts of the bed from its edges (with a little stretching). Because you’re not walking on the soil in the bed, the soil doesn’t become as compacted. That’s not only good news for you–you’ll spend less time struggling to turn over compacted soil at planting time–but also for your plants, as less compacted soil allows more air to reach your plants’ roots.
Raised beds have better drainage. In part because the soil is less compacted, raised beds allow excess water to seep away relatively quickly. Again, this helps air reach plants’ roots. If you live in an area with saturated or clayey soil, a raised bed filled with good soil can do wonders for your garden’s drainage.
Raised beds tend to have fewer weeds. If you’ve filled your raised bed with weed-free soil (and why wouldn’t you?), and if you put a weed barrier under at the bottom of your raised bed (under the soil you added), you’re probably not going to get a lot of weeds. Those that do pop up should be easy to pull because, as described above, raised beds tend not to have compacted soil, which can make it difficult to extricate weeds’ roots.
Raised beds can deter mammalian invaders. If you have a problem with gophers or rabbits, you can place chicken wire or a similar barrier at the bottom of the raised bed. Similarly, you can put a cage over the top of the garden to prevent incursions from above. This also keeps cats from using your garden as a litter box–a problem I’m dealing with myself right now.
There are a ton of resources online about raised beds, but they’re of uneven quality. There are, however, some excellent books about raised bed gardening, and they’re packed with useful, actionable information. My favorite is Mel Bartholomew’s All New Square Foot Gardening.
There are also many raised bed garden kits available. This one is really impressive. It is large, attractive, and, because it’s made from cedar, ecologically friendly. It features a built-in trellis, automated irrigation system, and even a gate. This one has two tiers, which also can be really attractive.
If you’re battling garden critters but don’t want to poison them, and if, like me, you’re not particularly handy with building things from scratch or are just plain impatient (also like me), you can simply buy a small-animal barrier.
If you have experience with raised bed gardening, what suggestions do you have for others? And if you’ve never tried it, what questions do you have?