Garden raised beds

Contained Raised Beds? NO WAY!

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, it’s 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.

Final Thoughts

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.


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  • 1. I find that weeds ARE “easier to keep at bay” when the raised beds are contained.

    2. About watering: Framed beds are great when you have a high water table + a wet year. Which we do where I live.

    3. I might add that frames around the raised soil mounds encouragae slugs in a big way. Surprised you did not mention this.

  • Thank you for your input Samia.

    As you already know, I disagree with your point #1. I have a 2400 sq. ft. veg. garden with 30 “raised” beds– no frames. I weed maybe about 10 minutes a week. The only place weeds collect is around my fence which allows wire grass, creeping charlie etc. to get in. Other than that, there is no weeding to do. Wish I did not have to have a fence. It would really be easy!!

    Regarding your point #2 — Our first garden was on a peninsula that was only 1 foot above sea level. I could always plant a month before everyone else whose ground was totally saturated.

    Thanks again for taking time to comment.

  • Weeds around the fence, huh? Boy, can I relate to that. I spend hours on my hands and knees with little tools of all kinds trying to extricate them. If you leave it for a couple of weeks, next thing you know, there’s enough hay for horses…

    Can you explain about your ability to plant a month before everyone else?

    It hardly stops raining this year, slugs are bad, so I disassembled my few raised beds made of small bricks with holes in them. The slugs hang out in those little hidey holes.

    However, I have several raised beds whose walls are made of heavy, beautiful bricks that were given to me so I guess they’ll have to stay. It is work putting them together, but I enjoy it.

    I enjoy reading about your gardening experiences.

    Green thumbs up!

  • I also wondered about the high water table—where we live—lots and lots of rain and cannot work
    the soil or plant many years until May/June.
    The raised garden beds seem like they would help to eliminate that problem.

  • Mary Jean, this post will tell you of my experience in the low lying area where we made our first garden.
    You can solve the problem as I did without the use of framed beds.
    All my beds are raised —BUT they don’t have frames.
    The original meaning of a raised bed was a double dug bed.
    It has only been in recent years (due to marketing) that raised beds are now thought of as being a frame that you put growing media in.
    So yes, the original raised beds — the ones without frames where the soil has been deeply prepared -absolutely will help the problem.
    As you will read in the post I linked to I was able to get into my garden a month before my neighbors could.

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