Raised Bed Gardens: Advantages and Disadvantages

Raised bed gardens have their supporters, that’s for sure but they aren’t a cure…

Here’s the deal from my point of view gathered over 30 years in the nursery industry. I’m not going to sugar-coat this article because I know there are a lot of folks who really think raised beds are the greatest thing since sliced bread.

In many ways, raised beds are simply big container gardens.

I think it depends on your gardening style and garden. Here’s my experience with this style of gardening. You can either make raised bed gardens by mounding up soil or by constructing boxes (of almost any material) and then filling the boxes with soil.

These are however essentially two distinct ways of gardening and I’ll explain this below.

one of our raised bed gardens
Image by author of his garden

Our raised vegetable bed — I built it because we only had 3-inches of soil over shale rock. The overhead supports help hold the sides upright (the weight of the soil bowed them out) and used for growing tomatoes and other vertical gardening crops.

The Advantages of Raised Bed Gardens

  • The soil warms up faster in the spring. It’s above ground level so the sun gets to work on it from the top and the sides.
  • They are closer to the gardener. Which is just another way of saying the gardener doesn’t have to bend down as far to reach the plants. 🙂
  • Superb for differently-enabled gardeners who may not be able to bend or kneel comfortably. Wide rows between the beds enable wheelchair access.
  • A good raised bed can act as a garden when you don’t have enough soil (like my garden).

Disadvantages of Raised Bed Gardens

  • Raised bed gardens use more water than soil-level beds.
  • Large (taller) beds act more like containers than garden beds so you have to modify the soils and watch your fertility if you are going to have truly wonderful gardens.
  • Can’t be walked on or if too high, over top of (you have to walk around them and this gives me more grief than any other characteristic of them — from a practical point of view in my large garden.)
  • You can’t use machinery such as rototillers to till or modify soil — it’s all hand-work. On small beds, this isn’t an issue but when I tried to make permanent large beds in the old farm vegetable garden (a very large one) then it quickly became apparent that I wasn’t going to do a lot of digging.
  • Mulch is tricky to keep on top of raised beds. It seems to migrate to the sides of the beds.
  • Expensive. I have to raise my garden beds because I have very little soil and this means the costs of 6×6 beams and the extra costs of fill and topsoil to fill up these beds.
  • In-ground raised beds (where you use a hoe or rake to create raised beds in a regular soil garden) are more work every year and this extra work isn’t worth it if you mulch heavily for weed control (heavy mulching will slow down the heating and reduce the main reason for using these raised beds.
  • Perennials and woody plants might have trouble overwintering depending on the nature of climate and the size of the raised bed (bigger beds make it easier for plants to survive).
  • You’ll still get weeds and they’ll grow in the rows as well so your weeding isn’t reduced.

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The Answer to the Question…

Should you use raised bed gardening techniques? It depends.
 I use them because I don’t have much soil where I want to garden and my raised beds help me create the necessary depth.
Are you prepared to use the increased amount of water they require? Any time you raise soil above the ground level, gravity will suck water downwards to the normal below-soil-level mark.
Do you want extra early crops of vegetables? Raised bed gardening is one answer for you and combined with other early cropping techniques can really make your vegetable garden come alive earlier in the spring.
Do you have physical challenges? Then custom building raised beds may be the answer.
Are you concerned about the high heat of summer? Then raised beds might not be the answer as the soil temperatures can get too hot for good growth of some plants. For example — high heat will make vegetables such as lettuce quite bitter.

Bottom Line:

Raised beds will be useful for some folks for the reasons above. But they’re not a panacea. They don’t provide any form of garden advantage other than a physical one and/or an early crop.

Doug green

You’ll find these resources helpful for creating a great garden

Raccoons In My Garden *Updated*

This spring I moved our compost bin into the redesigned vegetable garden. It was an attempt to make the compost where we’d use it rather than having to dig and move it a hundred feet.

And that’s where the law of unintended consequences raised it’s curious head. 

We have raccoons – like many of you – and I was happy to let them eat the compost offerings out of the faraway bin if they’d stay out of the garden.  It was an uneasy partnership but it worked.

When the compost bins became part of the garden design, the raccoons simply assumed they were included as well and resumed raiding the bin in its new location.

Raccoons and Bird Feeders

That brought them to the bird feeders which are right outside our dining room window and at the edge of the new backyard vegetable garden (about 30-feet away from the newly-moved compost bins.)

In hindsight, bringing the compost bin to the new garden and having the bird seed there as well was a temptation that no raccoon was going to resist.

We began waking up to the three feeders and their poles lying on the garden with all the seed missing and or spread across the raised beds nearby. This destruction wasn’t an acceptable thing to wake up to every morning. 

Solution #1 Trapping

I started trapping the raccoons. This isn’t a great solution for either the raccoons or us. The initial problem is we have an inexhaustible supply of raccoons and the second problem is that I dislike killing any animal that’s only trying to keep itself alive.

Relocating Is Not Recommended

Before you suggest relocating the animals, that’s how raccoons got to the island in the first place as somebody thought by bringing the racoons here, that person would eliminate them in their own garden and they didn’t want to kill them. 

Relocating any animal isn’t a good idea.

And Then I Remembered

I also remembered we had raccoons at the farm but they didn’t bother the gardens because they were well fed from the compost pile.

Bottom Line: Coexistence?

The bottom line is that I’m moving the compost bins back to their original position. And, as long as the racoons leave the gardens and bird feeders alone, I’ll leave them alone while we share the contents in the newly restored bins.

If nothing else, it was an example of the law of unintended consequences working at full perfection.

We’ll have to see whether a fully fed raccoon will leave the bird feeders alone. But that’s another problem for another day.

Update: Two Weeks Later

Both the raccoons, the birds and the people on our property are celebrating with this new arrangement. The compost system was returned to its original position. I assume the bandits are raiding it over there but we don’t see them because they do it at night (or at dusk/dawn)

The bird feeders are now, once again, the exclusive property of the birds.

Peace reigns in our garden.

Update: Week Three

Well, that didn’t last long (enough.) Looks like I have to get the trap out again. The raccoons didn’t quite get it pulled all the way over but they’re back to the bird feeders.

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