There are worthwhile reasons to grow your own foods in a raised bed garden
No matter how often we resolve to eat healthfully, it can be a challenge. From waking early to shop at the farmers’ market to managing the grocery budget as droughts and supply chain issues cause food prices to soar, finding fresh, affordable produce seems exhausting.
Don’t give up. Instead, enjoy the pleasure and convenience of growing your own food and flowers in a raised bed garden. With a sunny space, a bit of effort, and a little creativity, healthy eating can be cost-effective, convenient, and delicious. Plus, designing a garden-to-table space in your backyard sparks an incredible feeling of satisfaction, especially when you create seed-to-fork meals for family and friends.
Why raised bed gardening?
Farmers grew crops in the ground for centuries, so why is gardening in a raised bed so appealing? Well, for many gardeners, growing space is limited, and it’s easy to pack lots of plants into a raised bed.
Whether you’d like to grow on a sunny acre with multiple raised beds or plan to plant tomatoes in a small space on a patio, raised beds are easy to build, adaptable, and can meet any budget. Plus, an elevated raised bed makes gardening accessible for individuals with mobility issues.
Raised bed gardens provide many benefits:
1. Aesthetic appeal
Many people want to grow veggies, fruit, or herbs, but homeowners’ associations and landlords sometimes frown on untidy gardens. By creating artistically designed raised bed garden spaces, unruly vegetables are contained, edible flowers and pollinator plants add beauty, and the raised bed becomes an attractive focal point in the garden. Construct several beds, place them at equal intervals or in a potager-inspired design, add stone paths and an arbor, and suddenly you have a beautiful, raised bed garden worthy of a magazine photo shoot.
2. Superior soil
Raised beds offer soil control. Whether you battle clay soil, or you’ve experienced a soil-borne disease in your garden, these beds allow you to control the content and structure of the soil, ensuring a nutrient-rich environment for your plants. When filling your raised bed for the first time, you’ll begin with a pre-made soil mix or a combination of several ingredients to give your plants a healthy start. After harvest, simply refresh the soil with additional compost to keep the garden flourishing the following season.
3. Healthier harvests
With several raised beds in a kitchen garden, it’s easy to practice crop rotation. Rotating crops helps maintain soil health and thwarts pests that overwinter in the soil.
Additionally, as nutrients in the soil become depleted each season, replenishing soil in a raised bed is simple. Adding compost or specialized soil blends can provide micronutrients to existing soil to refresh beds and ensure healthy, productive plants.
4. Prolific produce
You don’t need acres of land to grow lots of nutritious food. By adding vertical supports for vining crops, a raised bed maximizes growing space. Peas growing on a trellis can be under-planted with lettuce. Add a border of radishes along the bed’s edge. With multiple raised beds, it’s simple to install a trellis that joins two beds, creating an arching tunnel for beans or cucumbers to grow over the walkway. You’ll increase your food production—and the ease of harvesting. Plus, adding vertical elements in raised beds is not only practical, but it also adds visual interest to your garden.
5. Water control
Raised beds allow the soil to drain well, avoiding the waterlogged challenges of many in-ground gardens. Irrigation is also less wasteful in the confined space of a raised bed. Properly installed drip irrigation systems can target the plants’ roots, ensuring healthy plants, as well as saving money on water bills. Raised bed irrigation kits help maintain soil moisture, reducing watering chores.
6. Pest protection
While backyard wildlife habitats make a terrific garden addition, no one appreciates furry and feathered friends eating carefully tended veggies intended for dinner. Raised beds protect crops from becoming snacks for wildlife. By reinforcing the bottom of the bed with a wire barrier, voles and gophers can’t access your tasty root crops, while a row cover over the bed helps keep cabbage worms at bay. Easy-to-install mini-hoops protect your crops.
7. Season extension
After cold, gray winter days, gardeners can’t wait to get outside and start planting. In the spring, these beds’ soil tends to warm more quickly than the ground, allowing earlier planting of spring crops. Plus, with the addition of simple low tunnels, harvests can continue well into late fall. Additionally, reclaimed windows work well to create a cold frame for winter growing, using a raised bed as a base.
From saving a bit of backache to controlling the composition of your soil, raised beds provide many benefits in the garden.
Types of raised beds
Take a look at Pinterest, and you’ll find all kinds of raised beds. While there is a wide variety of styles and materials used to create these beds—bricks, fallen logs, straw bales, and even concrete blocks—the most common style of a raised bed is easily built from lumber. If you’re eager to start growing right away, you’ll find dozens of ready-to-install raised beds available, from metal, including long-lasting cedar or composite raised beds. Elevated raised beds provide easy, comfortable access to grow your favorite veggies, herbs, or flowers.
Before you begin
Proper planning will save you time and money when creating your new garden. First, consider what types of plants you want to grow. Are you looking to grow a few tomato plants each summer, or do you intend to feed a family of five with fresh produce from the garden? Or maybe you prefer to grow gorgeous flowers for garden-to-vase bouquets. Based on your goals, you can determine how many beds you’ll need.
Beginner tip: If you’re a new gardener, start small so that you enjoy the process without becoming overwhelmed. You can always add more raised beds next season.
Three tips for raised bed site selection
- Sun — Most vegetables, fruits, and flowers prefer full sun, at least 6-8 hours. Some crops, like lettuce and Swiss chard, tolerate less sun, but for good production of fruiting crops, the sun is important.
- Water — A nearby water source is critical. Choose a level site near the garden hose or rain barrel for ease of watering.
- Proximity — Consider the proximity of your new garden to the kitchen. A garden closer to the home adds convenience when cooking meals. It’s easier to harvest beans, snip fresh herbs, or pull an errant weed when the garden is nearby. You’ll also spot any potential problems, like pests or droopy plants, before they become big issues in your garden.
Raised bed site preparation
Once you’ve selected your site, remove the sod and any weeds. Lay a thick blanket of cardboard on the grass, which will kill it and serve as a weed barrier.
Filling your raised bed
Remember math class? To find the volume of your new raised bed, multiply length x width x height. If you’ve created a 4-foot wide, 8-foot long, 8-inch high bed, you’ll need 21.44 cubic feet of soil. 4’ (width) x 8’ (length) x .67’ (height).
Once you determine the volume, pre-packaged soil provides the perfect start for your plants. Just open the bags, fill the bed, and you’re ready to plant!
Or perhaps you want to create your own soil mix. The classic raised bed mix contains one-third blended compost, one-third peat moss (although coconut coir can be used as a more sustainable alternative), and one-third vermiculite, which provides excellent drainage and aeration.
After you’ve filled the bed, water the soil well to allow it to settle.
If you begin your raised bed journey well before the spring gardening season, lasagna gardening makes a low-cost option for filling your beds. Also known as sheet composting, lasagna gardening uses natural ingredients found in your garden and kitchen to create nutrient-rich soil, ideal for heavy feeders like tomatoes and pepper.
In the fall, begin by placing layers of cardboard in the bottom of the raised bed, which helps smother weeds. Next, place a four-inch layer of cut-up branches and twigs, broken into one-inch pieces, onto the cardboard. These will provide good drainage. Add an eight-inch layer of fallen leaves or straw on top of the branches, then water well to help the layers settle.
Next, add a two-inch layer of compost or well-rotted manure, followed by four inches of grass clippings or green yard waste, mixed with kitchen compost—such as vegetable scraps and coffee grounds. Continue alternating brown and green layers until the bed is nearly full, then water well. The layers will begin decomposing throughout winter, providing rich, organic material for your veggies, herbs, and flowers.
In spring, you’ll notice the layers have settled as they decompose. Add soil on top of the lasagna garden to fill the bed, and you’re ready to start planting.
Planting your garden
Decide what you or your family likes to eat and create your garden plan. Many garden centers sell vegetable plant starts, but some plants—like beans, peas, and radishes—grow easily (and inexpensively) from seed. Plus, it’s incredibly satisfying to harvest food that you’ve grown and nurtured from seed. If you want to grow unique veggies or All-America Selection varieties, starting plants from seeds is both a cost-saving and fun alternative to purchasing transplants. There’s nothing nicer than nurturing seedlings indoors during chilly winter days!
To increase the beauty and productivity of your garden, add flowers. A border of nasturtium or marigolds attracts beneficial insects, increasing pollination and eliminating many pests in the garden. Plus, many flowers are edible, making a beautiful addition to salads and other dishes. Flowers can be a pretty and practical addition in your vegetable garden. Or maybe you want to dedicate your raised beds to growing a productive cut-flower garden so that you can fill your vases with homegrown bouquets all season long.
Whatever your preference, raised beds make growing your favorite food, herbs, and flowers a great experience.
About National Garden Bureau — Founded more than 100 years ago, the National Garden Bureau educates, inspires, and motivates people to grow home gardens. National Garden Bureau members are horticultural experts, and the information shared with you comes directly from these experts to ensure your gardening success.