Today is Day 11 of our 30 days of homesteading Q&A on the podcast where I usually reach out to some of the best bloggers and podcasters in the homesteading space to answer your questions about homesteading.
However today I didn’t reach out to anyone for the answer, instead, I really wanted to answer this question because this is something I put a lot of thought and research into back when I started gardening on my homestead.
Today’s question is “I am starting a vegetable garden and wanted to know if I should plant directly in the ground or should I build raised beds?”
This is a really good question and I want to tell you that the answer is “it depends”
In this podcast, I give a rundown of the reasons you might choose to go with raised beds instead of planting in the ground and you can determine which one is right for you.
Why Use Raised Beds Instead Of Planting In The Ground?
This is a question I received from a reader recently after I posted a picture of the raised beds I was building on Facebook. He wanted to know “why would you go through all the trouble of building raised beds instead of just planting your garden directly in the ground? What are the benefits of raised beds?” So I thought I would share my answer to him with everyone because maybe others are wondering the same thing.
Here are 9 benefits to gardening in raised beds
1. Raised Garden Beds Provide Better Drainage
Although I am listing this as a benefit, in certain climates it can be a disadvantage if the soil dries out too quickly. It is more often that great soil drainage is extremely important for the health of your plants. Wet soils favor root rot because they leave little space for air to get to the roots and plants rarely recover.
2. Raised Garden Beds Heat and Cool Quicker
Again I am listing this as an advantage but this entirely depends on your climate as to whether or not this is a good thing. Garden beds that heat up quickly can allow for earlier planting and faster seed germination. Beds in a hot climate can benefit from an evening shade that falls on them allowing the soil to cool quicker which cools the plants and preserves some moisture in the soil.
3. Raised Beds Prevent Pathway Weeds From Creeping Into Your Garden Soil
Anyone who has ever had a garden planted directly in the ground knows this battle well. It is a never-ending fight to keep your garden boundaries defined. The paths get wider and the garden gets smaller if you don’t constantly work your edges. But with raised garden beds this war is won. Major benefit if you ask me.
4. Raised Garden Beds Prevent Soil Compaction
This I believe is the number one reason to use raised beds. Being able to maintain loose, workable soil without tilling and damaging the health of your soil is a big advantage. Walking or driving on your soil each year causes soil compaction which is why we break out the tillers and other heavy equipment. When you have to turn your soil you upset and damage the healthy ecosystem of the soil, so of course, if you don’t have to do this you maintain a healthier garden. Building raised beds a manageable size in order to be able to access all parts of the garden without ever stepping in the garden is very important so as to take advantage of the greatest benefit they offer.
5. Raised Beds Give You Instant Access To Healthy Soil
For many gardeners, it can take years to get your ground soil in the condition you would like it to be in. But with raised garden beds you can start out with the soil you want. Just like a great baking recipe, you can mix in all the ingredients you need to build the perfect soil for your garden and have the best soil you can imagine in your first year.
6. Raised Garden Beds Reduce Soil Erosion
We work hard to build and maintain the health of our soil, so why wouldn’t we want to keep it? The obvious is true, when your soil is boxed in it is less likely to go away, unlike the soil in a standard garden which has a much higher rate of erosion due to wind and rain.
7. Raised Bed Gardens Create A Pest Barrier
Having a wall around your garden helps to prevent unwanted visitors like slugs and snails. It won’t keep them all out, but when you make it more difficult for them they seem to want to go the path of least resistance. When you practice gardening using organic methods you can use all the help you can get for managing the pest population in your garden.
8. Raised Bed Elevation Can Make Gardening Easier
Maybe some of you young folks won’t get this one and I probably wouldn’t have either when I was 25, “but times, they are’ a changin” and when I bend over I don’t stand back up as easy as I use to. Amazingly raised beds help quite a bit, I find that every time I build a new raised bed I make it a little taller. Coincidence? I think not.
9. Raised Beds Can Be A Beautiful Addition To Your Homestead’s Landscape
There are many awesome designs for raised garden beds out there and you are only limited by your imagination. Beautiful garden bed design and layout can transform the look of your property and make you want to spend every spare hour in your garden. Maybe this shouldn’t be listed as one of the benefits of raised garden beds, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t one of the reasons I use them.
To be fair I should mention a couple of disadvantages to raised beds.
Raised Beds Have a Higher Initial Cost
They can be expensive and that cost depends on what you’re building them out of. Lumber, Stone, Metal, and other materials that are commonly used aren’t cheap. It will also cost you quite a bit for your soil mix, it will probably amaze you at the amount you will need to fill a 4’x8′ bed. So you will want to count your cost before you decide to start going the way of the raised garden bed.
Building Raised Beds Can Be Hard Work
I’m not just talking about building the frame of the bed but also filling it up. The running back and forth with the wheel borrow shoveling and mixing the soil. It’s a lot of hot and sweaty work and should be considered before taking it on yourself. Hint: great chore for teenagers. 🙂
Hopefully, this helps you decide if raised garden beds are right for you and your homestead. So whether your planting in raised beds, the ground, or in a pot in the window seal just plant something and get yourself started on a path of healthy food freedom, it will change your life. Happy Homesteading!