I can contain myself no longer.
Everyday I read about someone wanting to grow vegetables but they have to wait to save up for the "special raised beds" and then for the soil to fill them. In this instance I am talking about the 12'+ high corrugated iron beds that garden centre and hardware stores are selling in their trendy dozens. On average these cost about $200 each (filled).
How does an average family afford that.
A raised bed is only essential for people with a disability that prevents them from gardening. There is no reason that anyone else should find it essential to have a raised bed in order to grow vegetables.
There is a massive consumerist movement at the moment trying to convince people that they need to spend a fortune in order to grow food.
In the above photo you will see various building materials that cobble together a containment line. It is something that you can mow and edge too and would be equally practical if you have a mind to gravel paths. It cost nothing.
In fact since this photo we have reverted to no containment lines and just spaded edges.
So lets step through some of the myths.
1."They are perfect for dealing with difficult soil types like clay"
The way to deal with difficult soil types is to improve your soil. Period. If you buy those raised corrugated bedding surrounds, you are going to need a lot of soil bought in just to fill them. If you are looking for an instant start then you may well buy your soil but you don't need an expensive 12" deep bucket to put it in. How about just getting some free stable manure and mixing it with collected leaf matter and green waste. Within a few months you will have something rich starting to happen but that's not the end of your soil work, you have to keep feeding it and replenishing it so make your compost piles on the side as well for topping up. (And if you are tempted to reach for gypsum read here first)
2."Raised beds increase the efficiency and yields of crops because the soil is deep, loose and fertile"
It is entirely possible to have the same soil properties in a normal garden bed. It's what gardeners call "tilth" and if you are nurturing your soil (see point 1) then you will realise efficiency and yield.
3."Raised beds save time and money because you need only dig, water and fertilise the beds not the paths"
Well that goes without saying whether you use a containment line border or a spaded edge.
4."You don't need to weed as much as plants grown close together lessen weed competition"
This is based on the premise that container gardening is intensive gardening in that you are cramming in plants in a limited space for maximum yield. I would argue that is the case for any backyard grower. Unlike big farms and mono cropping concerns we are trying to harvest a bit of everything so the very nature of how we grow is intensive. We have the luxury of constantly top-dressing soils with compost, pea straw, manure so as we take the goodness in harvest we keep replenishing. Growing crops and different vegetable types close together like this is possible in conventional non-raised beds too.
Here are some reasons not to go spending hundreds of dollars on raised beds.
Having conventionally dug garden beds means you can change their location from year to year and change their size to adapt for household needs. This year you might want to have a large corn crop but next year you might be wanting to devote more space to herbs. If you buy pre-fabbed tubs for raised beds then you are pretty much locked into their size and shape and where they will sit. As your family needs change so too does your garden. As children grow you might put in a sand pit and a cubby house but a few years on these give way to trampoline and a basketball hoop. Your dug garden can conform, wrap, skirt and re-locate much more easily than fixed sized beds.
Raised container growing means more watering. There is more water loss generally due to the extra drainage created within the beds.
Harvesting and removing crops like broad beans and corn is much easier with a garden fork and some boot grunt. There are times that you just need to get in and fork it over which is pretty hard when you are trying not to damage bed edges or break seams.
4. Temperature Control
The raised bedding system is advantageous in the early spring when it raises soil temperatures but it must surely be harder on the plants in the height of summer. With a conventionally dug bed. thick dense mulching keeps the soil temperatures even and prevents moisture loss.
Here are some reasons why you would choose raised bedding
For someone with back problems or for older people with agility loss a raised bed system is a great solution, particularly if they are built with narrow edges for sitting while digging but these beds would need to be narrow and limiting in the types of crops.
Some people see gardening as a bit messy, especially vegetable gardens. They prefer to have something more pleasing to the eye like neat conformity and if that is your taste then these raised beds are a very conforming neat way to go.
If you are renting or in a retirement villa you may not want to radically change the structure of the yard so a raised bed may be the ideal solution if you are planning to grow for only a year or two before needing to dismantle and move on.
This would deter some dogs from trampling and digging but still wouldn't be out of reach of chickens (heh heh)
If you really want to grow vegetables and you live in ordinary suburbia, you don't have to spend a fortune. Just go into your yard, front or back or side, and turn over a sod. It starts there and costs nothing.
If you think you need raised beds for growing, make a list of the reasons why, weigh that up against the cost and then reassess and make sure it's not because the consumer market told you that you need them or because you saw other people do it that way. There is a big ground swell and movement back to basics but the retailers need you to keep buying so they are going to try to sell ice to Eskimos. Save your money.
And now over to you with comments,