Raised garden beds are one of the key garden features I like to recommend to people looking to get into gardening. Whether this is your first time setting up a garden and you need a simple recommendation to take to heart, or if you have been gardening for decades (like myself), it is something well worth trying if you have not.
When I first started gardening, I struggled with growing certain vegetables, and always seemed to battle pests and veggie predators looking for a free lunch. Converting much of my garden to raised garden beds has significantly improved the quality of my vegetables, the quantity of my harvest throughout each growing season, and has reduced many natural-but-negative influences on my garden.
The Benefits of Raised Bed Gardening
Raised Garden Beds are good for…
1). Reserving space in your yard and aesthetic presentation.
Let’s be honest – despite the many benefits you may reap in terms of financial savings and being able to harvest your own food – most of us also want our garden to look good. I am no different in this line of thinking. Especially during peak season, my backyard garden is a beautiful thing. This translates into a lot of benefit that isn’t typically seen by outsiders.
The beauty of actively growing healthy vegetables paired with colorful decorative flowers, my pond, backyard water fountain, and simple architectural designs and placement help to create a space that is my own.
In a way, it is similar to the feeling musicians have when they see their compositions (which are very mathematical in how they are created) come to life as an art form. A garden is no different – with the proper education, it really comes down to simple biology and science. The presentation, then, makes a huge difference in whether it appeals to others, and to myself over a longer period of time. Raised garden beds add some structure to the gardening area, and can distinctly define where the garden is in your yard at first glance.
2). Reducing and eliminate weeds in your garden – weed free gardening for life!
Because raised bed gardens are set up on top of existing soil, it allows you to start fresh. By elevating and removing the gardening area from the existing soil – you can easily eliminate weeds forever. The best raised garden beds will utilize weed-free soil options. Each growing season I get a shipment of composted leaf mulch with topsoil from a local supplier (Barnside Farm for those of you in Eastern Pennsylvania) which has worked very well to keep weeds out of my garden.
You can, of course, take other precautions as well like laying down weed barrier/landscape liner before installing the raised garden bed. The savings to time and energy, not to mention money used to get rid of weeds, is quite significant. As a result of not having so many weeds, my garden also looks naturally healthy without unnecessarily frequent upkeep.
3). Significantly decreasing the number of pests intent on ruining your garden.
Every experienced gardener has dealt with the neighborhood pests that come to feast on the harvest before you even have a chance to pick some fresh veggies yourself! I expect this is one of the biggest fears many people have who are on the fence about setting up a garden themselves – putting all the time and energy into planting seeds and direct sowing transplants, and having it all seemingly go to waste because some insects or rodents decide to be freeloaders.
Prior to converting most of my gardening area to raised bed gardens, I struggled with this problem quite heavily. Pairing my raised garden bed with row covers and other measures has significantly decreased the amount of pests in my garden.
It is important to keep in mind that when growing an organic garden, it’s never really possible to eliminate pests entirely as no added chemicals and pesticides are being distributed throughout the soil. The major turning point for me is when I no longer saw harvests destroyed by insects, slugs, worms, squirrels and deer. Now, most of my vegetables grow abundantly, and I am happy to see the occasional animal get some nourishment from vegetables I can’t keep up with picking to use myself!
4). Better soil quality designed to make for a better garden.
There is a reason why gardening soil is sold in big box stores, at local gardening centers, and even online. The soil that naturally exists in our yards is often not suitable for growing vegetables (and sometimes – anything at all!). Here in Pennsylvania – Zone 6 – the climate may be close to ideal for many plants I am looking to grow during the spring and summer months, but the soil itself, not so much.
It is common to have infertile soil abundant with a lot of clay – the result of which is poor gardening conditions. By purchasing new soil at the beginning of the growing season that is certified weed-free and pest-free, and is also produced specifically for gardening purposes (ie: contains required nutrients for proper plant-growth), you are able to control one of the most important aspects of your garden: the soil quality.
5). Making gardening easier on your back and knees.
While the physical aspect of gardening may not be difficult for everyone, a raised garden bed can make it easier to garden because you do not have to get so low to the ground. Having an elevated garden bed leads to easier access. You can even have planters (most of which would fall under the "container garden" term, but is very similar to raised bed gardening) that come up to waist height (or higher) so you have to do very, very minimal bending and straining of your back or sitting on your knees.
If you struggle with arthritis, or similar symptoms of aging, having a raised bed garden can reduce this pain and make gardening a great hobby for you as well!
6). Creating a portable garden.
Not all raised garden beds are alike. In fact, raised bed gardens cover a spectrum of shapes, sizes, materials, and purposes. A simple definition I could give would state that:
As a result, raised garden beds can be as simple or complex as you want them to be. I made all of mine from scratch, but they are also available to be purchased from a variety of retail sources and online (usually for more options). While mine were not designed with the intention being portability (as I am not planning to move from the home I built with my hands!), you can certainly make this a feature of one you build or buy.
All purchases through these links benefit Plant-Smart Living as a small commission is received on each item – allowing me to reinvest the money into continued content generation, better equipment, etc.
7). Produce higher quantity AND quality of fruits and vegetables.
Every gardener judges their garden by the nature of the harvest. A good garden tends to have universal qualities everyone can notice – it has to look good and well-kept, but most importantly, the produce output needs to be high.
As great as the process of gardening is, getting down in the dirt and getting your hands dirty, there would be no point if you were not able to see actual plant-life grow into something usable. I love my garden because it enables me to live a sustainable lifestyle, save money on groceries, and get outside throughout the year.
I treat each raised garden bed as an investment into my garden – one that is reusable year after year – and have not been let down yet as I see my bountiful harvests. I might even say the amount of vegetables I am able to pick straight from my backyard garden, during high growing season, borders on being excessive. Because of this blessing, I am always happy to share the wealth of produce with friends and family, and keep the conversation going about gardening and a plant-based diet (the two go hand in hand for me!).
8). Lengthen your growing season by increasing temperature of soil.
Most crops you would want to grow in your backyard garden could benefit from increased soil temperatures. In fact, gardening seasons are based around temperature as well as other aspects of climate. Raised bed gardens warm up faster, and retain heat longer, than the ground under your lawn. The result is an extension of your growing season!
Additionally, some raised garden beds can be specifically designed with a “cold frame” to help retain heat further. Essentially, this is a greenhouse enclosure for your raised garden bed! Just like the raised garden bed itself, there are also options for purchasing these online if you do not feel like making one from scratch!
9). Allows for easier crop rotation (or eliminating crop rotation needs).
Crop rotation is a common gardening/farming practice whereby you grow different plants, vegetables, fruits, etc. in a location each season or year. You may remember this from early history lessons when settlers arrived in the USA from Europe, and met Native American’s that taught them about this practice. It fundamentally allows you to retain your growing area longer, and replenish nutrients in the soil. If you specify each gardening box to only 1 or 2 vegetables, you can more readily use that box for a different vegetable during the next growing season.
Alternatively, you can replace the soil entirely each season (or every couple of years) to eliminate the need for rotating crops. Adding this new, nutritionally rich soil provides a perfect growing ground for the vegetables you will want to grow in your backyard garden.
10). Creating an inexpensive gardening tool suitable for novices and pro gardeners alike!
Another concern many people have before they get into the gardening hobby is not wanting to spend too much money on it. I can appreciate anyone trying to be frugal!
Fortunately, raised garden beds are a very affordable option for those just starting out, or who have been gardening for many years (like myself!). If this is your first garden, you may consider just setting up one raised garden bed and see how you like the hobby and outcome of your hard work. The maintenance time required will be far lower than the amount I spend in my garden (as I have many garden boxes and different areas of my property growing vegetables).
As an example, you can buy a Greenes 5’ x 8’ x 10.5” cedar raised garden bed, gardening soil, and seeds or transplants for less than 200$. This is a low cost for the opportunity to grow your own organic produce with ease – and a low cost of entry by the standards of really any hobby.
11). Makes garden expansion easy.
One of my favorite aspects of raised garden beds is how easy they are to construct, and to build upon your gardening area as time goes on.
My garden started out in a very humble manner – just a patch of soil in the ground – nothing overly special. As I continued to educate myself about organic gardening, raised bed gardens seemed to be a logical step. As already noted in this article, the many benefits they offer and ease of creation makes them a simple tool for better gardening.
Since creating my first raised garden box, I have added many others throughout my property. This has enabled me to increase my crop outputs by simply building new raised garden beds as the years go on.
12). Allows you to add organic supplements to specific patches of your garden.
Sometimes too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. When you really get into the biology and horticulture of growing fruits and vegetables in your garden, you may start to notice a lot of recommendations for specific nutrients and nutrient levels within your soil. This can be quite difficult to manipulate and keep on top of without organic nutritional additives (or inorganic ones, but I do not recommend these).
A simple example is alfalfa tea fertilizer, which is an all-natural blend you can make yourself.
For some specific plants you may be looking to grow, too much of a given nutrient can be detrimental. Because raised garden boxes separate growing plots and soil, you can add necessary additives to specific garden beds, while not doing so in others. This can also be useful for experimentation to make notes of in your garden journal – something I highly recommend you keep.
For example, you could try growing broccoli with a specific organic supplement additive in one raised garden bed, and growing broccoli in another without the supplements. Make notes and compare the difference in crop quality.
13). Create a good source of water drainage.
Raised garden beds generally enable better water drainage than just growing vegetables in the earth. A part of the reason for this is simply to do with gravity – water flows from the top of your garden bed soil down to the bottom and out of the bed, or because the precipitation is just simply utilized by the plant’s root structures as nourishment. Best practices for increasing water drainage quality also includes good gardening soil selection and the use of biodegradable, organic matter like composted leaves and food.
It should be added, because of this great drainage system that is naturally a part of the raised garden bed architecture, this can lead to the garden drying out quicker than your standard in-ground garden. This is easily remedied by keeping on top of watering your garden - one of my favorite garden chores!
14). Enable you to “shape” your garden(s)
This goes hand-in-hand with the aesthetic presentation of your garden, but is a very specific component of the way we visualize our raised garden beds.
Raised bed gardens can be created in a variety of shapes and sizes. While I use the “traditional” rectangular elevated garden beds in my garden, primarily because they are easier to assemble and provide better points of access for maintaining the vegetables that are growing, many other gardeners have tried other raised garden bed shapes as well. These include squares, hexagons, circles, and more.
Keeping this in mind, you should choose (or construct) the raised garden bed that will suit your needs best, both from a plant-growing standpoint and from a visual one, too!
15). Keep roots away from contaminated and poor quality soil.
Soil quality is one of the major reasons people turn to raised garden beds as an alternative to traditional gardening styles. In cases where soil quality is naturally poor, or even contaminated, a raised bed can provide an opportunity to garden even in extreme circumstances.
Raised Garden Beds are an Easy Solution
There are many great reasons to consider (or continue) raised bed gardening. In my experience, they seem to best suit the natural environment and climate I am working in, and having had gardens in the past that were not of the raised-bed variety, I feel I have had the best results so far using them. That is not to say in-ground gardening, container gardening, or other styles are not viable for some people – as they can be – but in terms of sheer simplicity, ease of access, ability to better regulate nutrients and soil quality, it is hard for me to think I can beat the positive impacts raised garden beds have had on my gardening experience – and importantly: the crop output!
If you decide to try out raised garden beds for yourself, be sure to let me know how it goes in the comments (or contact me directly). It is always great to swap gardening stories and to see if I can’t continue to better the results I am having in my own garden.
Also, if you are looking to purchase pre-built raised garden bed kits, consider shopping online where you can support Plant-Smart Living in the process!