In the past I have always had a vegetable garden “in the ground”. A couple of times we have just dug up lawn and made garden beds right there by adding cow manure and minerals. But in my latest garden I decided to try raised garden beds and I definitely prefer them to in-ground beds. Here’s why I prefer raised garden beds.
Better drainage and potential to hold moisture
My raised garden beds are made from roofing iron. I bought four raised garden beds from the local tank maker. They are about 3 ft (1 m) wide, 6 ft (2 m) long and 3 ft (1 m) high. I filled them in layers. Firstly using about a foot of our local clay sub-soil to seal the base. Then a layer of wood chip, saw dust and logs of different sizes. The aim of this layer was to mimic a concept called “hugelkultur” which uses buried wood to hold moisture in the garden.
I added polypipe with holes drilled on top of this layer, to use a concept called “wicking beds” which is based on watering into the root section rather than the top of soil. Wicking beds are usually lined with plastic, but I didn’t want plastic in my garden, so I used the clay layer to sort of seal the bottom of the garden bed and the wood layer to absorb the water.
The final layer was soil and manure from our cattle yards. This layer drains well and is good for planting seeds and seedlings directly.
Overall, the layers give me the equivalent of an in-ground garden bed dug to 3 feet deep (I’ve never been able to dig that deep before!). I can control the moisture in the bed by watering directly into the wood layer in hot dry weather, but they will also drain well if we get a lot of rain.
So far I have found that these raised beds hold water better than any in-ground bed that I’ve used. In summer we get very hot and dry weather, so keeping moisture in the soil is a huge problem for me. My vegetables grew better in the raised beds as I was able to keep more moisture in the soil.
With my in-ground gardens in the past I found that I needed to regularly dig the garden, including working over with a fork regularly. With the raised garden beds I just need to top up the soil with composted manure as they settle and the level of the soil drops. This is relatively less work compared to the in-ground beds.
Easier on the back and knees
Having the beds at 3 feet high has been so much easier than gardening in the ground. I don’t need to bend or kneel all the time just to reach my plants. Weeding, mulching, planting and harvesting is all at waist level or higher.
The only draw back is when initially filling the beds, all the material has to be lifted up into the beds. We were fortunate to use a tractor for this, but if you were filling by hand, this could be hard work. You only have to fill them once though! After that the occasional top up is pretty easy.
Keep out critters without a fence
With previous gardens I have needed to fence the gardens to keep out rabbits, wallabies and other ground dwelling critters. Even my dogs have a habit of squashing plants if they are allowed near the garden! With the raised beds any animals that can’t jump or fly up 3 feet are naturally prevented from getting into my garden, without the need for an ugly garden fence.
Easy to set up shade and trellises
With previous gardens I have had trouble setting up shade over individual garden areas. The raised beds have been very easy to set up shade and trellises using basic fencing equipment. The soil is lose down to 3 feet, so its possible to put stakes or posts deep into the beds. Alternatively, posts can be screwed into the outside of the beds.
Overall, my preference is raised garden beds for vegetable gardening, I would never go back to in ground garden beds if I had the choice! If you are reconsidering your in-ground garden or planning a new garden, I encourage you to look at raised beds as an option, they may work for you too.
Liz Beavis is a small-scale cattle farmer and soap-making beekeeper in rural Queensland, Australia. On her Eight Acres Farm, she sells beef-tallow soaps, honey and beeswak, and is the author of Our Experience with House Cows, A Beginners Guide to Backyard Chickens and Chicken Tractors, Make Your Own Natural Soap, and the Solar Bore Pump Handbook. Connect with Liz on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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