Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Number One Myth About Raised Bed Gardens

Although I have been living in the city for the past 20+ years, I have still managed to put in a garden from time to time.  When I was younger, growing up in a small town, my parents put in huge gardens every year that supplied the whole family of six the year round with the help of a sizable chest freezer.  The rows of vegetable provided plenty of produce, but were quite large and labor intensive.  The four of us kids were sent out weekly with 5 gallon pails to go up and down each row, hand picking every weed in sight.  Not may idea of Saturday afternoon fun.  So for my own vegetable production, I changed things up a bit with the use of raised beds.  Now when one imagines a raised bed plot, we think of an area 4' x 4' or so surrounded by a foot high wooden or brick frame, looking something like this...
No, that's not me, I borrowed this pic from the internet.  And that is certainly not my raised bed.

This kind of frame around your bed is probably the biggest myth about raised beds that there is.  Try doing a google search on raised garden beds and you will find thousands of sites showing you how to construct a frame then fill  it with organic soil.  I don't know about you, but one of the reasons i garden is to reduce food costs.  Imagine the lumber costs to frame my beds for a 20' x 50' garden.  How many years of production would it take to gain that investment back?  Probably about as many years that the frame itself would take to rot out and need savings here!

Instead, try something else...yes 4' wide is about right, because you want to be able to reach the middle of the bed from either side, but you can go about any length you like.  Mine will be about 9' so that 2 of them will fit width wise in my space, allowing for walking space between them.  However, instead of building up a frame and filling it with soil, I will simply dig down a bit over a foot to loosen up the soil.  Then, compost, black earth, and peat moss will be tilled into it.  This will give the existing soil much more volume and form a hump above the ground a few inches higher than the ground.  This will give you a good growing depth for your veggies.  A cross section would look something like this...

To keep the edges neat, I dig a little trench around the perimmiter, and pack the edge of the mound firm with a hoe.  This trench has to be cleaned up a bit from time to time, but really doesn't take much effort. Between the beds, you can lay a mulch of just about anything you like.  This will kill off the grass and weeds, preventing your lawn from creeping back into the garden.  In the spring, the bed will thaw faster than the rest of the soil if you give it a good tilling in the fall to keep things loosened up.  Covering your beds with plastic sheets will also speed up the process.

So, if you have wanted a raised bed garden, but were afraid of the bill at the lumber yard, remember that you don't actually need to frame out your beds.  Also, this will keep your yard from looking something like this...


  1. Good info, very similar to my planned garden once I move into my new home.

  2. What do you do about birds?

  3. Birds have never been a gardening problem...more concerned about squirrels, ground hogs, raccoons etc...But I have ways to dean with them.

  4. For those with a dark side dig the bed 4'x8' with the sides sloping down as you show and put a "headstone" at one end (list what's in the bed with a map if you like). The beds have a natural look of a boot hill or pioneer grave.

    The bed you have looks like a variant on Jeavons' double-dug beds. Dug mine 5 years ago and.except for using a fork to turn the top 2" I haven't had to do a thing. Yours looks like it could do the same thing.

    Thanks for this article! Cheaper than traditional raised beds and easier on the environment.

    By the way, don't use salvaged wood that has been treated to resist rot. The chemicals they use leach into the soil and contaminate your crops.

    Thanks again!