The concept of raised garden beds can be applied to almost any crop that we have been discussing in the Survival Gardening series of articles here at Prep-Blog. For a backyard garden, small or large, using raised garden beds offers certain advantages over a ground-level gardening. There are also a few disadvantages. But if you have a large garden, I think you will find it useful to have a least some area devoted to raised beds.
1. Better Soil Drainage: If your climate is subject to heavy rains and/or excess soil moisture, a raised bed allows the soil to drain quickly. This prevents root rot and discourages fungi. Make certain that you amend the soil with sufficient organic material (compost is best) so that the soil retains some moisture.
2. Faster Soil Warming: During spring and fall, the soil in a raised bed will heat up more quickly during the day, promoting faster plant growth. This allows you to get started gardening earlier in the spring, and extend your growing season further into the fall. One disadvantage, though, is that the soil will also cool off and freeze more quickly at night and in winter.
3. Protection from Pests: The type of raised bed that has walls around it can make it easier to protect against certain types of pests. For example, a copper strip around the wall of the raised bed will prevent slugs, snails, and perhaps some other pests from climbing into the garden bed.
4. Less Work: Once the raised bed is established, it takes less effort to weed, prune, and harvest from a raised bed. The plants are closer to arm level, and so you don’t have to bend down as much to work on the plants. At times, you might be able to sit on the side of the bed, while working with the plants.
5. Rich Loose Soil: If you set up the bed correctly, the soil in a raised bed should be much richer and more fertile. This is because a raised bed is filled with a careful combination of soil, compost, fertilizer, and other soil amendments. Suppose you have a one foot high garden bed. This allows you to loosen one foot of soil below ground level, and then add another foot of loosened and amended soil into the raised bed. The result is two feet of loose rich soil, without the effort of double-digging.
6. Higher Yields: The combination of better soil drainage and greater depth of loosened amended soil allows you to space the plants in a raised bed closer together. These factors, along with faster soil warming and greater protection from pests, gives you a higher yield per square foot. If space is limited, the extra effort required to set up a raised bed garden is worth it for the extra food.
7. A Better Looking Garden: The raised bed garden looks (and typically is) well-organized and neat. The paths between the garden beds are clearly demarcated. And an apt choice of material for the sides of the beds will make your garden look as productive as it is.
The disadvantages of a raised bed garden are relatively few. The initial cost of setting up the walled beds can be high. But if you are handy with tools and have some extra wood laying around, you might be able to set up the beds for very little money. It also takes more time to set up raised beds, than simply to till and amend a ground-level garden bed. So, if you need to grow a large amount of food, in more of a mini-farm than a large backyard garden, then raised beds would be too time consuming and expensive.
If you have a large garden already, you might want to try adding one or two raised beds. Then see if you think adding more raised beds would be worth it.