What’s up with Raised Bed Gardening?

By Carrie Brown, Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator, OSU Extension Fairfield County

How have you used your Victory Garden seeds? Perhaps, you planted them in your backyard or community garden plot. Or if space is limited, you may have decided to plant into containers kept on your patio, balcony, or doorstep. Another popular option is raised bed gardening. Let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of this planting method.

There are many advantages to utilizing raised beds. First, raised beds can be built to fit your space. This can be helpful in overcoming poor site conditions, such as the compacted soils of an urban lot, and it allows you to maximize limited garden space. The beds can even be built at varying heights too allow for accessibility to all gardeners. Beds also give the grower the ability to create their own growing substrate. This can be very useful if you are trying to overcome poor soil conditions such as rocky soils or sites with high clay content. Because many raised beds can be easily adapted to include mini hoop tunnels or row covers, they can be used to extend the planting season. This applies especially to cold hardy plants such as onions, lettuce, and cole crops (broccoli, cabbage, kale, etc.).

While there are many reasons to utilize raised beds, there are also a few things to keep in mind. In effort to utilize all of the space in the bed, it is easy to overpack plants in raised beds. When vegetables are planted too densely, it can reduce air flow and trap moisture. This can result in increased insect and foliar diseases, so regular scouting is essential. Additionally, while most of our vegetable crops are fairly shallow rooted, bed depths can limit root crops such as carrots, parsnips or turnips. This can be overcome by incorporating sufficient depth when designing your raised beds. Increased drainage afforded by raised beds can be good for plants, but it also means that they tend to dry out quicker than in-ground gardens. Establishing a plan for consistent irrigation is a must. Finally, the initial cost of construction can vary considerably depending on what materials are used. There are a variety of framing methods to choose from including lumber, timbers, concrete blocks, and pavers. Take into account both the cost and lifespan of the materials used when designing beds. Of course, mounded dirt without a frame is an option too.

Raised bed gardening is unique in that it can be made accessible to all who are interested in getting their hands dirty, and it is a great way to enjoy fruit and vegetable production for years to come. Find out more about raised bed gardening in A Complete Approach to Raised Bed Gardening, available for purchase through OSU Extension Publications or at your local OSU Extension office.

Photo captions:

Fig. 1 – Raised bed gardening using cinder blocks in an urban lot. Photo credit: Bo Riley

Fig. 2 – Beds can be made to be portable, such as those constructed from watering troughs.

Fig. 3 – Gardens can be constructed to be a variety of heights. These raised beds allow for gardeners to stand while they work. Photo credit: OSU Extension, Franklin County

Fig 4 – A Complete Approach to Raised Bed Gardening publication

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