If you have a limited land base, lack growing space or are interested in maximizing productivity and diversity, consider moving to a raised bed style of gardening. Popular with market gardeners (of all sizes), SPIN farmers and urban farmers, this style of garden design is one of the easiest and most efficient way to become more self-sufficient on the local food front (numerous studies have demonstrated that raised bed gardening is 1.5-2 times more productive than conventional). Utilizing a raised bed system of gardening has the following advantages;
- Reduced soil compaction. Plant roots need air and root crops thrive with unimpeded room to grow, a result of loose fluffy soil. Conventional gardens often become compacted as there is little separation between paths and crop rows.
- Closer spacing of plants. Because the planting bedis physically differentiated from paths, you can plant closer together without worrying about space for moving around in the bed. An added bonus is less space for weeds to come in. A note of caution, resist the urge to over-crowd your new, super-high efficiency gardening method. We subscribe to the square foot garden method for determining the appropriate spacing of plants (a future article of its own).
- Easier to build/amend the soil surface designated for crop production. If you live in an area where soils are limited, raised beds are easy to fill and add compost where it will be used for maximum efficiency. Raised beds also promote concentrated watering so pathways and weeds are not also benefiting from your efforts
- Facilitates gardening in difficult spaces. If you live in an area where soils are hard to come by, space is limited or the terrain is too rugged, this style of garden will ensure food production is possible.
- Easier weed control. Once prepared, the soil in raised beds typically remains “looser” and is easier to remove the entire weed including its root system.
- There is the initial expense of construction (through sweat equity and possible costs of building materials) however, the benefits vastly outweigh these expenses and well constructed raised beds will last for many growing seasons.
Like many other agriculture construction projects, there are many resources available on-line with DIY tips for the construction of raised beds. At Greenwood Gardens, we have adopted two different styles of raising our beds; 1) physically constructed beds with wooden perimeter and 2) mounding loosened soil to create well defined pathways with mounded beds. Both systems work equally well and serve different purposes. The wooden raised beds use local rough cut lumber (fairly cheap), and were designed to maximize our growing space, reduce weeds and concentrate our efforts for soil amendment and watering.