When we talk about raised bed gardening, it's simply means gardening in soil that has been mounded higher than the surrounding soil. That can mean containing the soil in some type of frame or box, or just hilling it up. Raised bed gardening is an old gardening practice, but it’s currently growing in popularity because it offers several advantages to simply growing your plants in level ground. For instance:
In a Raised Bed Garden, You Control the Soil
Obviously this will be good for your plants, since you can bring in the best garden soil and work in plenty of organic matter or soil amendments, as needed. Since you won't be walking on the soil, it will remain light and aerated, not compacted. It’s also good for the gardener because there is no tilling necessary! And even if the pre-existing soil in your garden is the worst clay or rock, the soil you put into raised garden bed will won’t need to be amended and worked every year.
You'll Get More Vegetables and/or Flowers Out of a Raised Bed
You can squeeze more into a raised bed because you don’t need to leave room for paths. You never walk in the beds, you just lean into them. Keep this in mind when you’re building a raised bed and don’t make it any wide than you can comfortably reach into.
Raised Bed Provide Good Drainage
Ever hear the expression ‘well drained soil’? Of course you have. Since raised beds are elevated, the soil drains more rapidly than garden soil and you get to that elusive "as soon as the ground can be worked" much sooner. You can work in the spring, when your yard is still muddy and rainy days won’t be lost days in the garden.
Of course this also means they can dry out faster, but raised beds are also easier to water than open gardens. The smaller area is perfect for installing drip irrigation. Even if you use a garden hose, you’ll be wasting less water and taking less time than watering traditional garden beds.
Critter Control is Easier in Raised Beds
It’s much, much easier to keep burrowing animals out of a raised bed. Just line the bottom of the raised bed with hardware cloth or chicken fencing. Repellents can usually be sprayed just around the perimeter. You can even cover the whole bed with bird netting.
Raised Beds are Easy on the Back
Every inch the bed is raised is one less inch you’ll need to bend. In fact, physically challenged gardeners and wheelchair gardeners can keep on gardening when beds are raised to a reachable height. I can see raised beds getting higher as we get older. Here’s a nice height raised bed design you can build yourself.
Building a Raised Bed
Raised beds are easy enough to construct. The simplest raised beds are just four boards joined together in a square. Cedar, redwood, the new pressure treated woods and even newer synthetic boards all weather well for several years. You can even get resourceful and build your bed out of bales of hay, stone, bricks, or what ever is handy. Or you can buy a kit that comes with everything you need to nail or pop your bed together.
It takes some initial work and resources to get your raised bed set up, but they will last for years and the only maintenance you'll need to do is keep the soil rich and healthy. The benefits of gardening in a raised bed certainly make it worth the effort.