Why raised beds vs in the ground?

claire.stadtmueller
claire.stadtmueller Posts: 4 ✭✭✭
edited April 2023 in Garden Design

Hello. I'd like to understand why the emphasis on raised beds? It's costly! Either wood or cinder blocks, and then to buy the soil, as I just moved to a place in January and haven't been composting here; can get free horse manure from my daughter. I don't need to be "comfortable" so what's wrong with planting in the ground, as we did when I was growing up?

And as far as 'one hour a day," I started at 7 a.m. last year with tweezers taking cucumber beetles out of my squash flowers. That alone took an hour!

Answers

  • kbmbillups1
    kbmbillups1 Posts: 1,372 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited March 2023

    Welcome to the forum!

    There's nothing wrong with planting in the ground. I think it just depends on the kind of soil everyone has and what works best for them. In my area where we have a lot of red clay and it's really hard to grow in it. So, I have raised beds.

    I have a new cinder block raised bed but that's only because my daughter brought them home from college last year. She was going to loft her bed with them and the girl she got them from told her they were $25 a block. 😁 When she got home, and we told her how much they really are she left them here. We figured if she needed them, we would buy them once we got there. So, there are lots of reason why people have raised beds.

  • vickeym
    vickeym Posts: 2,102 ✭✭✭✭✭

    In our case there are multiple reasons. I live in Alaska where we have a short growing season, very little "soil," mostly a little mossy growth, a few inches of top soil, some heavy clay, then a lot of gravel and rocks.

    Typically in our area, we have to buy top soil, compost and other amendments for growing.

    It can be done in the ground, but takes a lot and with all the snow and such it will erode without some type of walls to contain it.

    My husband and I both have health issues including torn meniscus in our knees which makes getting up and down off the ground very difficult.

    For us building raised beds will make things much easier on our knees and our backs and if we incorporate the hugelkultur concept into the raised beds it will require much less soil while conserving water.

  • claire.stadtmueller
    claire.stadtmueller Posts: 4 ✭✭✭
  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,632 admin

    @claire.stadtmueller Welcome to TGN's forum. When you have a chance, check out our introductions section and let us know what part of the world you are from.

    There are many reasons why people use raised beds. In my case we have very rocky ground, bedrock in some spots. Very little top soil. So we built raised beds and brought in truck loads of soil and very old manure. As we age, I wish we had built them deeper to avoid so much bending.

    We are in the north, so raised beds tend to thaw out faster in the spring, so we are able to get them prepared earlier and extend our season a wee bit.

    Ours are spaced wide enough apart that it is easy to get a lawn mower in between them.

    It is easier to build hoops to fit into beds rather than straight in the ground, although it can be done. So a bit easier to cover beds if necessary.

    Snakes are less likely to find their way into raised beds.

    Some plants have much different soil requirements or growing conditions that are easier to manage in smaller plots like raised beds.

    Benefits of growing in the ground would include being able to use machinery (larger tillers or a tractor) to prep the ground every spring.

  • claire.stadtmueller
    claire.stadtmueller Posts: 4 ✭✭✭

    Thanks for your comment. I live in Connecticut. The snakes in my RI garden were welcome, as I figured they were eating insects.

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,632 admin

    @claire.stadtmueller Snakes are good for a garden as long as you don't have a phobia about them. :)

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,980 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited March 2023

    In my case, my ground floods in the spring, when the snow melts and the rains come. I have (no exaggeration) an inch of standing water in parts of the garden in spring! Any seeds or plants would drown.

    But with raised beds, the actual growing soil sits six inches above the flooded ground, and easily drains through the bottom of the beds. So I can have my plants growing even under these flooded conditions.

    If you have good soil that drains well, you probably have no need for raised beds.

    If you live in an arid, semi-desert climate, the last thing you want is raised beds. They would dry out quickly and your plants will die. In that case, you may want to do the reverse and create sunken beds, where you dig down into the native soil and grow your garden six inches below the normal ground level. Then water will drain into the sunken beds instead of out, and be the area that is still wet in the desert.

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,513 admin

    @claire.stadtmueller As for me, I had major ant issues in my raised beds. A raised bed certainly would be much nicer for my knees & back! As others have shown above, they can be very beneficial! I see some benefits above that I would aldo like to have. But, I would also need an awful lot of them for our large family and the costs would be way too much to set up and I really don't want to put that amount of effort into that many ant hotels!

    I have done wide bed gardening too. That didn't work for me. So, I'm back to the traditional row system. However, I will be growing a few things vertically up cattle panels again this year. I really like that idea. Covering things last year for frost was tricky, but we figured it out.

    We have a tractor & implements. We also have a tiller. We also have children to pitch in to help. They have become a driving force to keep a garden going. They don't want to be without one. (That is good as long as they pitch in!)

    Last spring, they came in announcing that the garden space had just been doubled! 😳 That turned out to be beneficial, even though it was a bit weedy with grass & dandelions.

    Last fall...it got doubled once again. Mind you, hopefully the rows will be spaced a bit further apart & some fruiting shrubs will hopefully go in there as well.

    I have to say that there is no such thing as an hour a day gardening at our place. Lol But, there are those new to gardening that have a small plot, & saying only 1 hour a day is likely a very doable thing for them. Achieving this depends on a few factors to be sure. It is also an encouraging thing to those considering gardening for the first time.

  • jowitt.europe
    jowitt.europe Posts: 1,452 admin

    @claire.stadtmueller welcome to TGN. I have high beds. I can work standing next to them. It is very comfortable. The other reasons have already been mentioned by other members: good for the spine; we are in cold climate, so the soil gets warmer faster, I can cover them and they turn into greenhouses, thus I harvest much earlier; our soil is very poor - rocks and rocks, thus all my Mediterranean herbs grow on the ground, but vegetables are in high beds. We have long dry periods and high beds keep the moisture, or I can cover them against too hot sun. Or cover them after watering.

    after reading what you wrote, I think you do not need any. As long as you are happy, why bother. Only if some problems appear, then it could be a solution.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,980 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @LaurieLovesLearning An hour a day is probably not realistic when first setting up a garden, even a small garden.

    In the spring, when you are hoeing or plowing the soil, turning compost piles and moving compost into the garden, planting seeds, etc. it definitely takes more time.

    But if you are only gardening a few hundred square feet, I would say that an hour a day in summer is very realistic once the soil is prepared and the plants are growing. (That is not counting harvest and food storage time, such as canning or dehydrating.)

    Then in the fall, the amount of work required goes up again as you pull the remaining plants, compost them, mulch the beds for the winter, and so forth.

    My garden probably works out to an average of an hour a day over the course of the year, but that is an average of almost zero in winter and considerably more than an hour in spring and fall (especially spring).

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,980 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited March 2023

    @LaurieLovesLearning "I would also need an awful lot of [raised beds] for our large family and the costs would be way too much to set up."

    Raised beds may not make sense for you, Laurie, but the cost can be negligible if you skip the fancy wooden or stone borders that hold the soil and just rake the soil up, much like hilling potatoes.

    I do use wooden frames to hold my soil, but that has more to do with the grass growing all around the garden and the wet clay soil here.

    David the Good and Steve Solomon recommend just raking the soil appropriately.

    @claire.stadtmueller If your soil is so poor it won't grow food effectively, you are going to have to buy it, or at least buy a lot of supplements. That is true whether or not you go the raised bed route. Steve Solomon invested in trucking in a lot of good loam topsoil at his Tasmanian property and dumped it on top of the native clay, but did not create raised beds.

    If you have good soil but drainage problems, you can set up raised beds using your own soil.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,980 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @claire.stadtmueller "I started at 7 a.m. last year with tweezers taking cucumber beetles out of my squash flowers. That alone took an hour!"

    You have more patience than I do. :-) I can't imagine spending an hour tweezing cucumber beetles out of flowers.

    I've read that the suggested organic control methods for cucumber beetles are:

    - Use floating row covers over susceptible plants until they bloom; then remove the row cover once plants bloom to allow insects in to pollinate the flowers. Keep a floating row cover in place after pollination.

    - Spray with pyrethrum or neem when seedlings emerge or transplants are planted

    - If your climate allows, wait to plant the squash and cucumber crops until around June 15, after the beetles have emerged and left the area. (The exact date will depend on your gardening climate and calendar.)

    In any case, one hour per day is at best an average. And you cannot always limit work on the garden to when you want to do it. Sometimes you have to get out there for several hours and do what needs to be done, but you can often take a day off later to balance it.

    I agree that you cannot say "I am going to work exactly one hour in the garden each day, no more."

    Carol Deppe has written at length about the need to keep a garden from being too ambitious, making sure to leave room for the other things in your life that have to be done. She spent years taking care of her aging mother, and that had to take priority over gardening tasks.

  • claire.stadtmueller
    claire.stadtmueller Posts: 4 ✭✭✭
    edited March 2023

    Thank you for your suggestions. I am a beekeeper. I've read that neem is not the non-toxic pest control it is thought to be; that bees can no longer intake food after exposure. (Even if I weren't keeping bees, I had thousands of other types: bumblebees, little tiny bees that LOVED the tops of grass because I wasn't manicuring the heck out of my yard.)

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,980 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I don't know much about neem, never having used it. I have had few pest problems, except for snails, slugs, and Japanese beetles.

    I am lucky to have a healthy wild bee population that gives me generous pollination, and without needing to do anything for them except avoid poisons. There are some flowers adjacent to the vegetable garden, which can also help attract pollinators.

  • Lisa K
    Lisa K Posts: 1,915 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I have a combination of raised beds and in ground gardens, the reasons for the raised beds are bad soil (I am on an old landing strip and is all sandstone and clay) and creatures such as gophers and ground squirrels. With raised beds, I can use my own compost to the clay soil along with purchased soil to help keep costs down and for the creatures I can put hardware cloth on the bottom of the beds. Another benefit is by having them high enough up so that it helps my back.

  • nicksamanda11
    nicksamanda11 Posts: 741 ✭✭✭✭

    I use raised beds (some) because that's how I like to garden. Everyone is free to garden as little or as much as they want to- thank God!

  • MissPatricia
    MissPatricia Posts: 318 ✭✭✭

    I would agree with you, but I bought Lynn Gillespie's system and have installed some raised beds. I quickly realized that filling the whole bed with her soil mixture would be very expensive. So after the first small raised bed, I started using things like logs, sticks, etc (hugelkulture) and wood chips and then the soil mixture on top. I cannot do all my gardening in raised beds because I don't have enough raised beds. I was impressed with my sweet potato crop in the raised bed. Also I knew exactly where to dig, which is a bonus. Things like corn will go into the soil, that is, in the ground. I plan to plant potatoes, strawberries, and greens in my raised beds.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,980 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @MissPatricia Any time you have to buy high-quality soil ingredients, it's going to be expensive, raised beds or not.

    I'm sure I spent a significant amount to buy the peat moss, vermitculite, and top quality compost that went into my raised beds. The good news was that I can keep them producing with annual additions of homemade compost and occasional peat moss, so the high expense didn't continue into future years.

    I tried creating a small hugelkultur bed (not in a raised bed), and several years later the hugekultur material has still not rotted out sufficiently to form soil, despite starting with beginning-to-rot wood found in my woods.

    I've tried dumping thick layers of leaves to form leaf mold, and while it works, it is very slow, multiple years. Much slower than a compost pile.

    I think there is a very inverse relationship between speed and cost. You can buy excellent soil ingredients and get your garden productive right away, which is expensive, or use cheaper ingredients, and wait years to form good soil there.

    Of course, some gardeners will be lucky enough to have great soil or at least excellent soil ingredients available for free, but many of us don't have that advantage.

  • katymockus
    katymockus Posts: 9

    I belong to a community garden and I'm one of the only ones without a raised bed at this point. I use stones to outline my garden and I do add compost some years, but I don't need a raised bed to do so. I think they look nice and neat, but I haven't had time and money to spend on constructing one and don't find it necessary. I do have to find my stones after the winter has passed as some become buried, but that's easier that building a raised bed. Now if someone offered to build one for me, that might be a different story. 😁

  • Lisa K
    Lisa K Posts: 1,915 ✭✭✭✭✭

    The newest thing that I have seen is using metal raised-beds but they are expensive, so if I decide to change the ones I have I will see if there is a Farm Supply store so I can get water troughs for horses. And maybe smaller ones for my asparagus.

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,632 admin

    At the community gardens in the town closest to me, all the boxes are pre-built for each participant. So when you rent a space, you get a raised bed already prepared with topsoil. There aren't any spaces for in-ground planting.

  • nicksamanda11
    nicksamanda11 Posts: 741 ✭✭✭✭

    It does take time to build soil. I agree. After Back to Eden gardening for 4 years (and some raised beds and hugelkultur mixed in) it was really excellent soil.

    Then we moved! I shoveled as much as i possibly could to take with us😂. My new garden was so gigantic at the new place that the soil/woodchips I brought looked so puney for all the work it took to get it here.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,980 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @nicksamanda11 That's a challenge that a lot of Americans, including me, face. We move too often to get the benefit from a process that requires 4+ years. We don't see multiple generations of a family who live in the same homes, or even within a few miles of each other.

    It's really nothing new. Settlement patterns in North American drove everyone onward, and that became embedded in the culture.

    I'm glad I invested in good quality soil when I built the set of beds for the garden. It produced well right away, and the cost and effort to keep it producing since then has not been very high.

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