I see contained raised beds in magazines that are showing off someone’s beautifully laid out garden. Some are quite elaborate and look lovely. The walled raised beds used in landscaping (for example to control erosion on a hill) make a great improvement to the property and if one can afford the expense and labor in constructing them they should last for a long time.
Our framer of years past (my husband is an artist) had a stone wall that enclosed a flower bed. She had an infestation of copperhead snakes in it one year and although I know that is not the case with everyone, that kind of thing has never appealed to me since.
Framework made with wood – in particular cedar – is very appealing to me not only because of its beauty – but I like the idea that it will last just about forever and still look pretty good. Two foot high raised beds from cedar made for wheelchair gardeners would be ideal.
If you have read all the posts on this site you already know that for 32 years I have simplified and then simplified again my garden and kitchen chores so that I can have the time to grow our food and prepare good wholesome food as well as tend to my other responsibilities of making a living.
Contained raised beds have too many disadvantages for me:
#1. Just the idea of building the frames make me immediately go into overwhelm. With all I have to do I want nothing extra to do if its not necessary.
#2. Weeds are easier to keep at bay if there is nothing there but ground.
A good example is our garden fence. When we moved here almost 12 years ago it never occurred to me that I would need a fence until I went out to the garden to pick green beans one day and some dog with bowel trouble had been there. I almost gave up gardening that day. It was years before I would even use that area of the garden. If it had not been for the encouragement of my loving husband (who immediately put up a fence for me) I think I would have thrown in the towel.
Anyway — you can see the fence is a necessity — but it’s a nightmare for weeds. The grass and weed roots entwine with the wire and won’t come out, so I pull all I can and then heavily mulch close to the fence on both sides. It always bothers me, but I can live with it. The point is — when you have any barrier — you have more trouble with weeds. (I don’t consider chemicals an option for me.)
#3. Watering is part of their maintenance.
“How-to”s for contained raised beds suggest at least 6 to 12 inches of soil. I guess if I wanted to start lettuce seed, 6 inches would be more than adequate, but I can do that in a flat.
My lettuce in the garden puts down roots of 4 to 8 inches – especially in dry times. And my tomatoes have roots that can be 2 feet or more. Contained raised beds dry out quickly and have to be watered, its part of their maintenance. Except for my flats with seedlings, it is another thing that I don’t do.
(Part of how I get out of watering is addressed in my post of March 5, 2010.)
#4. Another supposed plus for Contained raised beds is to not dig the ground, but rather put down card board, newspapers or straw and put your preference of soil on top. They say the weeds underneath will disappear. Interesting. In 32 years I never found that to be the case.
Of course you have seen it coming – another story:
Last year because of some unpleasant circumstances and goings-ons on the property that adjoins us we were unable to tend our back borders. At the first opportunity to go back there I covered the border with a fairly thick layer of straw in order to make sure it looked at least presentable until I could work it. It did the job and held the weeds at bay almost a year, but their roots were still there when I was finally able to tend the border this January. Thanks to the straw it was relatively easy to get the weed roots out and work the bed.
An old quote: “If you don’t have time to do it now, when will you have time to do again.” Take your pick. Sooner or later you will have to deal with the “soil below.”
Except for perhaps some unusual circumstances it seems to me very much in the best interest of your time to address it upfront rather than wait.
Contained raised beds? NO WAY! Not me! All the advantages of raised beds like ease of working, improved soil conditions, and higher yields can be reaped without having them contained; thereby totally eliminating the disadvantages mentioned above and saving you lots of time to do more of what you want.