Questions Raised About Raised Beds
Tom Tamulevich’s raised beds, Bedford, NH
Our customers often ask about raised beds and whether to use them or not. Here is the information we have, and we’ll let you decide.
We always encourage people to consider and acknowledge several advantages to growing with raised beds. First, they enable you to grow intensively in a relatively small area. Awesome. Two, they are quite easy to maintain, especially when it comes to weeding. Because it is a raised and contained area weeds cannot creep in from the sides. Another important advantage is if you have poor soil drainage. For example you have a lot of clay soil, raised beds will drain better. They also are best if you have ledge or very rocky soil or extremely sandy soil that drains too quickly. Next, if you have physical limitations, such as knee, hip or back problems and cannot bend or kneel for extended periods of time, raised beds are the answer. And the last reason we can think of, and there are probably others, in some settings raised beds just look more pleasing to the eye aesthetically. Remember, if you plan to use Garden Mats for raised beds, you should install beds that are 4’ X 6’, 4’ X 12’ or 4’ X 18’.
There really are no other reasons to use raised beds that we can think of. But if you can think of some, please let us know.
Over the years we have steered many people away from raised beds and back to growing right on the ground. There are several reasons.
First, the natural ground soil temperatures tend to be best for growing most things, when the soil is 55 F˚ and above. Raised beds (and even mounds) by their nature are above the ground so they are always going to be higher in temperature during most of the growing season because the air temperature above the ground, on average, is always higher. As a result, raised beds will need more water for the soil to stay moist, especially when the sun is hot at the height of the season. Raised beds are only ideal for hot bedding plants, like tomatoes and peppers. But tomatoes and peppers also do just fine with normal ground temperatures if the soil temperature is moderated with a mulch, like Garden Mats.
A drawback of raised beds is the expense, which is a significant consideration. Ideally, you would want to make them out of wood that lasts, like hemlock or cedar, but those woods are hard to find and are expensive. Then there is the time and cost of construction and the cost of top soil, manure and compost. And one must remember, they only last so long before you must replace them.
More importantly, there is the soil itself. When all is said and done, whether raised beds or not, it is all about the soil. Raised beds, like a garden on the ground, will always need new manure or fertilizer incorporated every year. A lot of people with raised beds wonder why they do not do so well after a few years. It is usually because they have not replenished the soil with enough new nutrients or new soil. If you do not maintain the soil it gets depleted.
When it comes to working the soil, we think growing on the ground enables you to improve the soil more easily over time, especially if you have a rototiller. We put new compost, leaves and manure on our garden every fall and then usually use a rototiller in the spring just before we want to put our Garden Mats down.
Whether you grow in a raised bed or on the ground, it really just boils down to what you prefer. So we will let you decide. We also welcome your thoughts.
The Mat Man