Seasoned farmers and beginning gardeners alike know that tilling hard, rocky soil to prepare it for planting is backbreaking work. Raised bed gardening eliminates this laborious chore, and as such is one of the best reasons to try it. However, there are many other advantages to gardening in raised beds versus planting directing into the ground.
The advantages of raised bed gardening
Raised beds allow you to create the ideal soil composition. You can fill them with a mix of bagged soil and topsoil bought in bulk from your local garden center, peat moss, compost (you can easily make your own) and other organic material.
The soil in a raised bed warms up earlier in the spring than the ground does, which means you can start planting your garden much sooner. Soil in a raised bed also drains easier, and is much easier to cultivate because it has not been walked on by people or pets.
Raised bed gardening is easier on your body and more convenient, because you don't need to stoop, bend or squat to tend to your plants. This greatly eases the strain on your back, knees and legs.
Three ways to try raised bed gardening
1. You can build attractive raised beds out of lumber, bricks, lightweight faux-stones, boulders or cement blocks. You can make your beds virtually any length you like, but for the easiest access to the middle sections, they should be a maximum of five feet wide.
If you decide to build raised beds out of lumber and plan to grow vegetables in them, be sure to avoid pressure-treated wood (studies have shown it can leach arsenic into your soil which is then taken up by the plants). Two good rot-resistant woods for the longest-lasting beds are cedar and cypress.
2. You can buy snap-together plastic "planks" and edging materials from garden supply catalogs, hardware and garden retail stores, or shop online and have them delivered right to your garden. While these materials aren't the most attractive choices for raised bed gardening, they are very easy to put together, and last an amazingly long time.
3. The simplest way to get started with raised bed gardening (and the most fun!) is by a method known as "lasagna gardening." This term was coined by author Patricia Lanza, based on her innovative idea of layering organic ingredients to make a raised planting area. The ingredient list is flexible depending upon what you have or can readily obtain, but it includes peat moss, compost, grass clippings, barn litter, kitchen scraps, hay, wood ash, coffee grounds, chopped leaves, newspapers and more.
You can build a "lasagna" bed and plant your garden on the top layer right away, or let the bed "cook" by covering it with black plastic. The materials will break down some, and in about six weeks you'll have a raised bed that's composed of crumbly, very easy-to-work soil. Lasagna gardens encourage earthworms because they provide the conditions worms need to thrive, which in turn helps your garden.
You can even build the layers right onto hard-packed sod or grass, beginning with a thick pad of wet newspaper to smother the weeds and grass. In a few months time, when you dig down through the layers you will be amazed to discover that the hardworking earthworms have transformed the compacted ground into loose, humus-rich soil.